I have many fond childhood memories of playing Commander Keen on my friends' early computers. We were a strictly Mac household starting in 1991, so I rarely got to indulge in the pleasures of cool video games at home (the Mac gaming market was severely lacking back then). But everyone I knew who had a computer had Commander Keen. And the fact that you got to play as a little kid — basically, as ourselves! — fighting off aliens made it seem like the coolest thing in the world.
Today apparently marks the 30th anniversary of the game's release, and How To Geek has a wonderfully nostalgic article looking on the release of the game, its historical context, and its influence over time:
The first Commander Keen game, Invasion of the Vorticons, is split into three episodes designed for PCs with MS-DOS. In the first episode, you play as Billy Blaze (aka Commander Keen), a kid who must travel to Mars to repel an invasion of dog-like aliens called Vorticons.
The aliens have dismantled your ship and scattered its parts across the planet. Your job is to retrieve those parts so you can get back home.
Along the way, Commander Keen builds a compelling backstory through special stages. The mini-narrative scenes present items like a pogo stick and an alien language written in glyphs. Keen also picks up whimsical items, like teddy bears and books with the word "KANT" on them. This gives the game a playful and amusing feel.
At the time of its release, Keen's real achievement was the fluid, Mario-style of platforming gameplay on the IBM PC. Few thought this was even possible, given side-scrolling platformer games were the most popular on home video game consoles at the time.
Unfortunately, it looks like Commander Keen is still hard to come by on Macs, even in the age of emulators. But at least I have my memories.