Jennifer Wilber is a teacher and writer. She holds a B.A. in English and an Associate's in Computer Game Design. She is a life-long gamer.
Commander Keen in Keen Dreams Comes to Nintendo Switch
In a surprise move, one game from the classic Commander Keen series was rereleased on the Nintendo Switch as a downloadable eShop title on February 7th, 2019, by Lone Wolf Technology. Commander Keen in Keen Dreams is the second game in the Commander Keen series, which was originally released as a single episode in 1991 (sometimes called episode 3.5 in the series, as it was released between the first Commander Keen title featuring episodes 1-3 in the series, and the second main-series title featuring episode 4 and 5). The original four Commander Keen games were published for MS-DOS in the early 90s, with a 5th stand-alone Commander Keen title for Gameboy Color being released in 2001.
The downloadable Nintendo Switch port of Commander Keen in Keen Dreams is available in the Nintendo Switch eShop for $9.99.
The Story So Far
Commander Keen in Keen Dreams follows the story of a boy named Billy Blaze, an eight-year-old genius who is working to create an interstellar starship in his backyard workshop using various materials including old soup cans, rubber cement, and plastic tubing. When his parents go out of town and his babysitter has fallen asleep, Billy goes to his workshop, puts on his older brother’s football helmet and transforms himself into the hero Commander Keen: Defender of Earth.
In this episode of Commander Keen, Billy is sent to his room after refusing to eat vegetables (he doesn’t have to eat his vegetables, he reasons, because he had just saved the Earth). Billy falls asleep in his bed, still angry at his mother about the vegetables.
Suddenly, Billy is awoken by giant potato creatures wearing metal helmets and carrying bayonets. He notices his bed is no longer in his bedroom, but on the top of a hill. The monstrous vegetables inform him that he was brought here by the Dream Machine, and that he must go with them to meet Boobus Tuber, their king and master.
Billy quickly grabs his helmet from his bed post to transform into Commander Keen. He grabs the Vorticon Hyperpistol from under his pillow and attempts to fry his captors to a golden-brown crisp, only to find that the weapon is empty. Just then, a child appears, begging Commander Keen to save him from the Dream Machine. Commander Keen jumps out of his bed and sets out on his quest to defeat King Boobus Tuber and destroy the Dream Machine once and for all!
As with the other games in the series, Commander Keen in Keen Dreams is a two-dimensional side-scrolling platformer game. The player can move the character left and right and can jump. Unlike in other iterations of the Commander Keen series, the player cannot make Commander Keen jump higher by using a pogo stick.
Each level is comprised of platforms where Commander Keen can stand and jump between to reach other parts of the stage. Some stages feature poles, similar to firefighter’s poles to access other platforms. To clear each level, the player must reach the stage’s “exit” point to return to the overworld map.
In this game, the enemies in each level are anthropomorphic vegetable monsters, including potatoes and broccoli. In this game, Commander Keen does not have his ray gun, but he does collect small pellets throughout each stage, which he can throw at enemies to temporarily turn them into flower-like creatures, which cannot attack or move. Pellets thrown at enemies can be retrieved and used again. Every time Commander Keep touches an enemy, is hit by an enemy projectile, or touches a hazard, he loses a life and must start over from the beginning of the level. If he loses all lives, the player gets a “game over” message and must restart the game by loading a previous save. Extra lives can be earned by collecting enough food items throughout the stages, or by finding small statures of Commander Keen.
Between levels, Commander Keen enters the overworld map, where he can enter uncompleted levels. Some levels are required in order to progress through the game, while others are optional and can be skipped. The player can also save the game or load previous saves from the overworld map.
Commander Keen in Keen Dreams - Nintendo Switch Gameplay (first level)
Will the Rest of the Series Come to Nintendo Switch?
Don’t get your hopes up for seeing other Commander Keen titles on the Nintendo Switch. Commander Keen in Keen Dreams is currently owned by a different company than the rest of the games in the series, which are owned by id Software, and its parent company Zenimax. It appears that id/Zenimax are uninterested in reviving the series via rereleases of the existing titles or creating new adventures for Commander Keen.
Commander Keen developer Tom Hall reported on reddit upon the release of the Nintendo Switch version of Commander Keen in Keen Dreams that he would love to make a new Commander Keen game, but he doesn’t have the rights to the IP. While he has tried to approach id Software and Zenimax about possibly working to create a new Commander Keen title, neither company has been responsive to his requests. According to Hall "[e]very letter to them has gotten a form letter response."
Though the main Commander Keen games are unlikely to be ported to the Nintendo Switch, if you are still hoping to replay Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons and Commander Keen in Goodbye Galaxy!, you can get them both on PC for a very reasonable price. These two main-series Commander Keen games (which feature episodes 1-5) are available on Steam in the Commander Keen Complete Pack. This pack normally sells for $4.99, and sometimes goes on sale for even less.
© 2019 Jennifer Wilber