Commander Keen 4: Secret of the Oracle

aka: Commander Keen IV, Commander Keen IV: The Secret of the Oracle, Commander Keen in ... "Goodbye, Galaxy!": Keen Episode Four - Secret of the Oracle

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Commander Keen 4: Secret of the Oracle is a platform game, the fourth in the Commander Keen series as a whole, and the first in the second series Goodbye, Galaxy.

Eight-year-old genius Billy "Commander Keen" Blaze receives an interstellar transmission while working on a Photachyon Transceiver (a radio that can receive signals anywhere in the galaxy). While the transmission is choppy, Billy manages to figure out that the galaxy is once again in danger from an alien race known as Shikadi. In order to get more information about this threat, he sets out to consult the Oracle. But it turns out that the eight Council Members necessary for the Oracle's activation have been kidnapped by the Shikadi and imprisoned in the dangerous Shadowlands. Billy heads out to save the Council Members.

The game begins with a top-down map of the Shadowlands. This is the level select screen, where Billy can walk around and the player can choose the next level they want to enter (though some of the levels are islands located on a lake and require you to find a wetsuit if you want to reach them). On each level, Billy has to make his way to the exit. Once a level is completed, Billy ends up back on the overhead map.

The levels are typically full of enemy creatures, such as poison slugs, deadly mosquitoes or hopping crazy mushrooms. There are also many hazards - pits, cannons, spears. If Billy gets shot or touched by an enemy, or falls into a pit or touches something hazardous, he dies and loses one life.

Thankfully, Keen can stun most enemies with his raygun, although some cannot be stunned at all, and some are only stunned for a few seconds. Keen also carries a pogo stick which allows him to jump very high. Other items to find include: ammo, gems that acts as keys to open locked doors, bonus items which give score, raindrops (100 raindrops give extra life) and the rare Lifewater Flask which gives an extra life.

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Credits (DOS version)

8 People

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Critics

Average score: 85% (based on 4 ratings)

Players

Average score: 4.0 out of 5 (based on 98 ratings with 7 reviews)

Often considered best part of the series. It's my favorite Keen game.

The Good
The graphics! The first trilogy "Invasion of the Vorticons" had simple graphics that just did the job. From part 4 however, an all new graphics engine is used. This new engine vastly increases the graphics. Instead of the simple graphics seen before, this game has beautiful comic-style graphics that are much better than most of Apogee's platform games of that age. The story continues as eight-year old genius Billy Blaze picks up a help sign from outer space. Once again he transforms into Commander Keen to go on another mission. His mission leads him to the Shadowlands, a diverse landscape on the planet of Gnosticus IV. This diversity makes it my favorite Keen. While most games in the series have more or less similar worlds this game has levels ranging from desert castles and Aztec-like pyramids to forests and caves. There is even a diving level where you meet the legendary Dopefish, one of gaming,s most beloved enemies. This brings me to another strong point of the game: enemies. You will meet many dangerous creatures such as the Poison Slugs, Skypests, Inchworms and many more. Also there are some friendly characters that could be useful such as Princess Lindsay, Bounder and the old and wise men you need to rescue at some levels. Another vastly improved point is gameplay. While the first trilogy had smooth gameplay for it's time, in this one it's even better. Jumping is much smoother now and thank goodness they fixed the annoying CONTROL+ALT shooting method (it's still optional, but what loser wants it anyway?). New gameplay twists include shooting in different directions, climbable poles and clinging to ceilings. Also included are some fun twists such as a secret level, a method to make Keen "moon" you and a pong-like mini-game which are nice. Another new feature that I missed in the first trilogy was sound card support. There's music now!

The Bad
It's a bit too hard at certain points, even when in easy-mode, mostly because you can take only one hit and you'll die. This isn't necessarily a bad thing for some people, though .

The Bottom Line
This has been improved so much from before that even those people who didn't like the first trilogy mat still love this (the same counts for part 4 and 5, since they use the same engine). Of all classic Apogee platform games this is probably the best one. You'll love it, it's brilliant! (This is not a surprise if you know that the same guys made such great 3D-shooters such as Wolfenstein 3D, Quake and, off course, Doom.)

DOS · by Rensch (203) · 2005

A massive upgrade to the Keen series

The Good
Secret of the Oracle is the first episode of Commander Keen’s “Goodbye, Galaxy!” trilogy (episode four overall) and is a major step-up from both Keens 1-3 and Keen Dreams. I am glad that id didn’t sign a publishing deal with Softdisk which restricts companies to create games on a single 360K disk. If they had, there would not be any new features.

After restoring peace and order to the Vorticons and their home planet, and realizing that eating vegetables is not such a bad thing, Billy Blaze creates a device known as the Photachyon Transceiver, which is capable of homing in on radio signals. He accidentally intercepts a strange message, and even though it is full of static, it is enough for Billy to find out that an evil alien race, known as the Shikadi, is planning to destroy the galaxy. He transforms once again into Commander Keen and flies off to the Shadowlands, a region of Gnosticus IV. There, he is told that the Keepers of the Oracle were kidnapped to stop them interfering with their plans to blow up the galaxy.

From watching the game’s attract mode, I could tell that the folks at id were fans of the Terminator and Star Wars movies, and these are sandwiched between the demo of the game and the high scores. There are some beautiful artwork in this game, and the first one of these is the title screen after the opening credits. The artwork behind the scrolling text is a bit horrifying; I found out that Keen is cruel to his pet Yorp all of a sudden by tying him to a tree.

I like how id got creative with the main menu. The options are presented on a small computer display on what seems to be Keen’s wrist (id calls this the “ComputerWrist”). It is also here that you can access the on-line help: screens and screens of useful information, beautifully interspersed with images. It also goes into a lot of detail into everything, including the ComputerWrist itself. I suggest you take the time to read it.

Upon starting a new game, a map of the Shadowlands appears. This time you can launch into Keen’s Bean-with-Bacon Megarocket and see how spectacular it looks from the outside, or enter the many structures that Keen can reach by foot. The region consists of forest, desert, and icy areas. There is also a watery area that you can’t get to without a wetsuit. If you enter one of the structures, you see a great animation of Keen giving you the thumbs up while the level loads.

This is where the game switches to a side-view. The object here is to find the exit while collecting items and extra ammo. The backdrops may be nice to look at, but don’t let these distract you from the many enemies that try to kill Keen upon contact. Some of these include poison slugs (their pools of acid is deadly to the touch), blue birds (follows Keen wherever he goes, even if it has to fly to the platforms he is on), and Lick (they bounce toward Keen, then try to flame him).

if Keen loses one of his lives, you are given the option to go back to the start of the level or return to the world map. Some of the passages in the level are blocked by doors that have a gem holder nearby, and you need to find the gem that corresponds to their color. Some of the levels have Council members that need to be rescued.

At any point during the game, you no longer have to press Space to find out your score, the number of lives you have, and how much ammo; those are listed in the scoreboard in the top-left of the screen (which can be turned off in the options). You can now press Enter to find out other information such as how many gems you have collected, how many Council members you rescued, and whether you are carrying a wetsuit. You can also save your game at any point, not just on the world map. This is useful if you have trouble with jumping onto very narrow platforms; you just get to the point where you fall off and do a couple of saves.

If you have enough Keen for a while, then why not play “Paddle Pong”, a version of Pong built into the ComputerWrist? You are presented with two small green paddles, in which one is the computer. The object is to score 21 points before it does. It’s very basic, but then so was Pong. At least the sound is more than just beeps.

Background music is present throughout the whole game, and it is beautifully composed by Robert Prince. Each of the soundtracks blend in with whatever level you are on. The most notable one of these is called Vegetables, which sound have been the music from Keen Dreams.

The Bad
Like the first three episodes, Keen cannot enter stages that he has already completed. To re-enter stages, you have to access the built-in cheat keys, if you know what they are.

Also, there is a bug where any keycards that you obtain will be lost if you save your current game then load it.

The Bottom Line
Secret of the Oracle is a major step-up in the Commander Keen series. The game has detailed graphics and nice backgrounds. There are more stages in the game, and in those stages, Keen has to deal with enemies that have more tricks up their sleeves, but Keen may have the last laugh since he can do more than just jumping and shooting. The opening credits, introduction, and extended ending are a pleasure to watch.

DOS · by Katakis | カタキス (43051) · 2022

The best platformer of all-time.

The Good
What isn't there to like? Huge levels, imaginative enemies, fanastic graphics, and a whole bunch of fun. The game still can prove challenging even to this day, and still strikes as one of the defining moments of my childhood, just plugging (and defeating) this wonderful game. The ending is treasurable as well.

The Bad
It was a little hefty for computers back in the day-- but this isn't a problem any more with much faster computers.

The Bottom Line
An amazing platformer reinforced with great ingenuity. Highly recommended.

DOS · by xofdre (78) · 2003

[ View all 7 player reviews ]

Trivia

Dopefish

Developer Tom Hall on the creating the infamous Dopefish (taken from the 3D Realms website):

"The Dopefish, upon reflection, is pretty much based on one of two little faces my brother, sister, and I would draw on everything. Except stuck on a fish. I guess they were sort of the emoticons of the seventies. And of course, he's inspired by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That's why they're the SECOND dumbest creature in the universe."

Eat Your Veggies

The song "Eat Your Veggies" in the Well of Wishes level actually was written for Commander Keen: Keen Dreams, but was removed from that game to save disk space. Explains the name, now, doesn't it?

Graphics

There was a special version released specifically for CGA, as the EGA/VGA version didn't support CGA.

CGA Composite

In 2016 VileR released an unofficial patch that allowed the CGA version of the game to use the CGA Composite mode. This results in CGA 16 colors graphics, as opposed of the CGA 4 color graphics of the original release.

OEM version

The game was bundled with the Gravis PC Gamepad

References

The opening sequence (with the words floating by each other) is a parody of the opening sequence of the movie The Terminator. When you select "Return to Demo" from the options screen, the story that's shown is an obvious parody of the Star Wars scrolling text opening sequence

Information also contributed by Itay Brenner, Jimmy Sherril, Kirschsaft, Roedie and Tony Gies

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Tomer Gabel.

Additional contributors: Steve Hall, Frenkel, Nico HafO, formercontrib, Neville, Patrick Bregger.

Game added August 15th, 1999. Last modified August 29th, 2023.