I genuinely never expected Bethesda to bring back Commander Keen. Outside of a Game Boy Color one-off, the series has been dormant for almost 20 years. The original Commander Keen is based on a demo that id Software created to convince Nintendo that they could port Mario games to DOS. After Nintendo rejected it, they decided to use the engine for their own series of platformers featuring a kid on a pogo stick who blasts space aliens while collecting junk food.
The success of the Keen series directly paved the way for future successes like Wolfenstein 3D and Duke Nukem. The original games are well-loved among people like me who grew up in the era of BBS systems. While there is a sporadically active modding community, it’s never had the popularity of other id Software games like Doom and Quake. Thematically, Commander Keen games are what you imagine sitcom characters playing while they bang on an NES controller and random Pac-Man sounds play on a loop.
Oh, and the new one is set in the post-Nazi takeover United States of Wolfenstein: The New Order.
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The Next Generation
The new Commander Keen features the twin children of the original hero named Billy Jr. and Billie in a cute, Saturday morning cartoon styled, free-to-play mobile game where they take up the mantle as Commanders Keen. Much like the Rugrats in All Grown Up, time suddenly caught up to the original Commander Keen. This is horrifying. I’m Billy Blaze’s age. He already has a house and a wife and a family. You can’t just make Billy Blaze into a Homer Simpson.
Billy’s not just aging, he has a body. The man has a five o’clock shadow and he’s taking a dump in the trailer. Commander Keen had sex. Why does my friend the computer sprite suddenly have all these physical functions. This is all incredibly illegal and I can feel my elderly millennial bones slowly turning into a fine dust.
Anyway, while I’m not particularly interested in actually playing the new version, it’s still providing me with tons of entertainment by declaring itself a new branch of the extended multiverse of id Software games. As all true gamers know, the real game is updating the wiki.
We Have to Talk About Parallel Universes
According to id developers Tom Hall and John Romero, the original Commander Keen, a.k.a. Billy Blaze is the grandson of Wolfenstein 3D’s B.J. Blazkowicz and either the father or grandfather of the marine from Doom. This is what we’ll call the Classic Timeline. In this universe, World War II basically ended at the same time as it did here, even if a Mecha-Hitler was involved. B.J.’s son Arthur changes the family name from Blazkowicz to Blaze and becomes a newscaster and talk show host. Billy goes on adventures in space to save the universe.
The developers of the new Commander Keen have also decided to make Billy part of the Blazkowicz family, but in the world of 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order. The Wolfenstein games developed by MachineGames take place in a different continuity from the original series — we’ll call it the Rebooted timeline. Think of it as sort of the Ultimate Universe to id’s Marvel Comics. In this dimension, Nazis won World War II and conquered America until the 1960s. It seems likely in this universe that Keen’s mother is either Jess or Soph Blazkowicz from Wolfenstein: Youngblood, especially because on the wall of adult Billy Blaze’s house we see cartoony portraits of the newer B.J. and his twin daughters from that game.
This has so many implications for these stories.
First of all, good Lord, what an absolutely wild world to set something that seems like a cute kid’s game in. The new Commander Keen might be about wacky kids going on an adventure with their wacky gadgets, but there is a photo of two women known as The Terror Twins fighting their way through a 1980s Nazi occupied Paris at the barrel of a gun with a bottle of booze in the first second of the trailer. If I thought the new Keen would actually be popular, this is definitely one of those things that would end up in a YouTube montage of Secretly Adult Things You Never Realized As A Kid. Billy Blaze’s original birthday is in the 1980s. How soon after Youngblood did Jess or Soph give birth to him? Is this Billy younger than the original? The Terror Twins seem like they would be rowdy as hell moms/aunts which I respect.
Then there’s the connections to Doom. In the Classic timeline, it’s possible that Commander Keen is the Doomguy’s father. The original Doom games feature several sprites of Keen hanging from nooses which, while basically just a gag put in the game by Adrian Carmack, are actually incredibly horrific if you think of them as Hell itself making multiple dead versions of your father as a child appear before you… that you can desecrate with your shotgun. I mean, damn.
And In 2016’s Doom, you can find Commander Keen’s yellow football helmet on a skull on Mars. Are you telling me, in the Reboot timeline, that the Doomslayer may have already been to Mars as a kid? Is this the skull of his sibling? His dad? Did this horrific loss cause him to become a cold-hearted killing machine? Part of the gag of Doom 2016 is that the Doomslayer has no personality except for murdering things, but luckily this depressing backstory full of pathos could be provided by this cute little Nickelodeon-ass mobile game.
Also, depending on if Doom 2 and/or Doom Eternal fit into this canon, Hell opens up on Earth and demons kill billions of people? Just to be clear, in the Reboot timeline, it is possible that America was ruled by Nazis, invaded by aliens, and opened up to a Hellmouth, all in the span of about 100 years. That is a staggeringly brutal history. What a total bone-chilling nightmare of an existence the Blazkowicz family endures. What absolutely cursed lives.
Welp, Commander Keen soft launches for iOS and Android this summer.