Commander Keen 1: Marooned on Mars

aka: Commander Keen: "Invasion of the Vorticons" - Episode One: Marooned on Mars
Moby ID: 216

Description official description

Billy "Commander Keen" Blaze, an eight-year-old genius, has flied to Mars in his Bean-with-Bacon Megarocket build out of common household objects. But while Keen was exploring Mars, the alien Vorticons stole vital parts from his ship and hid them in the Martian cities. Now Keen must find the stolen parts if he wants to return to Earth.

Commander Keen 1: Marooned on Mars is the first in a series of platform games. Your objective is to find the 4 missing parts to your ship.

The game begins with a top-down map of Mars. This is the level select screen, where you can walk around and choose the next level you want to enter. On each level, you have to find the exit, and possibly grab a missing rocket part which may be on the level. Once you reach the exit, you're back on the map of Mars.

The levels are typically full of enemy creatures. Most numerous are Yorps, which are mostly harmless, if annoying, but other creatures are a genuine danger. If Keen gets shot or touched, or falls into a pit or some hazardous object, he dies, and you're booted out of the level back to the map of Mars and lose one of the lives.

Thankfully, Keen can defeat some of the enemies with his raygun. He can also find a pogo stick which allows him to jump very high. Other items to find include keycards that open locked doors and bonus items which give score (Keen gets an extra life if he collects enough score).

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Credits (DOS version)

4 People

Creative Director
Graphics / Artwork
Level Design



Average score: 80% (based on 4 ratings)


Average score: 3.5 out of 5 (based on 80 ratings with 8 reviews)

A Definative Platformer. Definitely one of the Best of All Time

The Good
Apogee has always had a place in my heart with their games. Tom Hall, John Romero, and John Carmack have always been involved with making the best games ever made. Commander keen is no different and with Romero and Carmack's increadible coding "skillz" they produced a game that was fun and no eyecandy.. A major plus that seems to be lacking from most all of today's games (the most fun I've had recently has been Half-Life, and the game play of HL can't hold a candle to Commander Keen). Little Billy Blaze will have you staring at your moniter for hours playing through a broad spectrum of levels.

The light-hearted graphics and animations look like someone actually took the time to sketch out and draw what they wanted...they didn't just ley 3D Studio MAX do it for them. The other nice feature is the puzzles. Simple, straight foward, thinking puzzles, unlike many new 3D action games whos puzzles consist of finding new wepons to blow more stuff up(and even still, those puzzles are long, tedious, treks through nowhere [ie: the lame mario like jumping thing in HL]).

The Bad
There hasn't been a sequel in 5 years....

The Bottom Line
I'd rather play Commander Keen to any game I've seen newer than 1995... (except the occasonial Half-Life Lan Party..)

DOS · by Plix (197) · 2000

Who said side-scrolling platform games were not possible on PC's?!

The Good
Cute and colorful graphics. The gameplay was also great for it's time. Smooth scrolling gameplay was never (or at least not that I now of) seen before in platform games on the PC. Some cool innovations such as a pogo stick to jump higher made this game an instant classing. The gameplay was similar to that of Super Mario Bros. at some points, but it was not just another attempt to clone that game. The story was different from the classic "save the princess" formula. You are eight year old genius Billy Blaze and must stop the Vorticans from destroying earth. Billy travels to Mars in this first episode in a trilogy (this game was one of the first that were distributed following the infamous "get part one free as shareware and get the sequels too by buying them" idea that was used in a lot of Apogee games and many publishers have copied). On Mars his ship gets sabotaged by the Vorticans and now you need to collect the stolen parts to repair the ship and help keen continue his adventures. This story was quite original at that age.

The Bad
Some things are a bit dated now such as finding keys to put in the corresponding doors and the gameplay doesn't also quite do the job anymore after 15 years. When this game was released it didn't really have notable flaws, however.

The Bottom Line
Though this game is a bit too dated at certain points it's still a brilliant game that is still free available as shareware and you can still buy it's sequels. If you are looking for a good classic platformer on the PC, you may want to pick this one up.

DOS · by Rensch (203) · 2005

A definitive shareware classic.

The Good
Commander Keen is arguably a legend by now, one of the first really stellar games published by Apogee and famed developers id. The concept is super-simple and fits perfectly for these games: Billy Blaze, eight years old genius, builds himself a functioning spaceship and after donning his brother's football helmet and calling himself "Commander Keen" the biggest badass in space, decides to explore the stars looking for adventure. His adventures would eventually take him on 7 sequels and around some of the weirdest planets in the universe, but seeing as how this was the first shareware release, Keen just decided to take a trip to Mars. What he finds there goes beyond that stupid face, and he encounters the evil Vorticons, which have stolen key parts off his spaceship. Mission? Get the parts back and leave Mars before mom finds out you are gone!

The gameplay of Keen is that of a standard platform game in which you jump around a lot grabbing items, avoiding enemies and clearing insanely twisting levels filled with all sorts of platforms, columns, blocks, etc... You also have a lot of key-card collecting and some levels require more thought that just "getting all the way to the right-side of the level" but that's as far as it goes. While this alone would have meant a "Dear god, not ANOTHER Mario Clone!" from almost anyone, two key factors saved it from that abyss: first the undeniable charm present in the game with it's wacky yet cuddly story, cute colorful graphics, and inventive levels. The other saving factor was that it was for the pc. Yes, FOR THE PC!!! Holy Shit! You mean PCs can handle smooth scrolling and all that jumping-shooting action and not explode?? Yup. Goodbye Nes, I won't miss you... well maybe a little but just until they find a way to emulate Metroid and Zelda...

The Bad
Well, while most of my memories are laced with the sweet smell of nostalgia, I still consider that there were very few flaws in the Keen series overall and practically none in this first release. The backgrounds needed some work for this first CK, and the mixing of the jump, pogo and fire controls was kinda awkward, but overall this is an absolutely solid game whose only other flaws are those defined by its genre.

The Bottom Line
Anyway, very entertaining levels, great graphics, silky-smooth scrolling and no peyote-eating plumbers in sight!! That spells golden for me!

Really, I can trace this game to many childhood memories of my past. Clearly being amongst the kickass games that definetively grounded me into PC-gaming first and foremost since it was one of those games that proved that consoles just weren't any magic boxes and anything they did the pc could do better. :)) Ya!...but even if I am one rambling idiot and consoles are king of the hill, the fact remains that CK is a very very good platformer game.

DOS · by Zovni (10502) · 2003

[ View all 8 player reviews ]



Tom Hall (via Classic Gaming):

The first game was actually a joke. It was called Dangerous Dave in 'Copyright Infringement.' (John) Carmack had just gotten a little guy to move around over a tile map, and I looked over at the Nintendo in the corner. I said, 'Wouldn't it be funny to make the first level of Super Mario 3...tonight?' Carmack smiled and said, 'Let's do it!' I copied the tiles pixel for pixel and made a map out of them while Carmack feverishly programmed the guy landing on ground tiles and getting coin tiles. At 5:30 in the morning, we dumped that on (John) Romero's desk and went home to crash. Romero played it all the next day, saying 'This could make so much money!' It was pitched to a friend of a friend at Nintendo, and they liked it so much, they wanted a demo. We added Mario graphics and Koopas and stuff, and sent it to them. It apparently got to the head guys at Nintendo, but they didn't want to enter the PC market.

Softdisk didn't want to use the smooth scrolling trick Carmack had discovered (since it didn't also work in CGA!), so we thought, well, if they don't want it, we could do something ourselves.... So we thought, hey, we'll make our own game. We needed a topic. I asked if they cared what topic-sci-fi, fantasy, whatever. I think Carmack mentioned a kid that saves the galaxy or something. I went off and fifteen minutes later, came back with the paragraph that you see in Keen 1. I read it in a Walter Winchell voice (he's a nasal 40s radio/newsreel announcer). Carmack clapped after I was finished, and we were off and running.

We got contacted by Scott Miller of Apogee, and once Keen was published, it was making enough for us to live on, so we quit and formed id.


There are some level packs and even mods (files changing the graphics in the games) circulating for this game.


Throughout the game there are references to Keen's grandfather, whose name is William J. Blazkowicz. Interestingly, William J. Blazkowicz is the main character in Wolfenstein 3D, id's first person shooter made two years later.


The writings on the signs in the game actually make sense. Much like the runic writing in Ultima, you can translate it letter by letter and discover what they mean. There is a table to help you translate all those messages on 3drealm's website.


Marooned on Mars is the first of three episodes of the series Commander Keen: Invasion of the Vorticons.

Information also contributed by Accetone, Maw and Xa4

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Tomer Gabel.

Additional contributors: Xa4, Frenkel, Pseudo_Intellectual, formercontrib, Patrick Bregger.

Game added August 14th, 1999. Last modified August 29th, 2023.