This time, 9 full summaries, plus a very little bit on the first four Keen games, mentioning the few differences from the physical releases.
Titles Covered in this Update
Commander Keen Episode I: Marooned on Mars (1990)
Commander Keen Episode II: The Earth Explodes (1990)
Commander Keen Episode III: Keen Must Die (1990)
Commander Keen Episode IV: Secret of the Oracles (1991)
Commander Keen Episode V: The Armageddon Machine (1991)
Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure (1992)
Crystal Caves (1991)
Dangerous Dave Pack: Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion (1991)
Dangerous Dave Pack: Dangerous Dave’s Risky Rescue (1993)
Dangerous Dave Pack: Dave Goes Nutz (1993)
Dark Void Zero (2010)
Capsized (2011, WinXP+) – 1 player, saves, dual analog gamepad supported (xinput only). Capsized is yet another 2d dual-stick or keyboard+mouse platform-action game, and it’s got a physics system too, another popular modern indie game feature. You move with one stick or the keyboard and aim and shoot with the mouse or other stick. The game recommends you play with the keyboard and mouse for the best controls. You can play with a pad, but the lacking precision in aiming really makes the game harder. Indeed, mouse aiming definitely is best for this title, it’s much more precise. Of the mouse-and-keyboard platformers so far this one controls the best, though I still do prefer traditional platformers. In additon to shooting and jumping, you also have a jetpack with limited fuel, for flying some, and a grabber gun which creates a beam that can move objects around. The game heavily utilizes both mechanics, so you spend most of this game on shooting, traversal, and moving objects around.
The story here is that you are a spaceman stranded on a wild, dangerous planet after your spaceship was attacked. You need to escape this place. This is a linear game, though, so it’s focused on setting up interesting challenges for you to figure out your way past. I prefer this kind of design to open-world, myself; it allows each situation to be carefully designed. Capsized’s gameplay is a mixture of shooting things, mostly monsters, giant insects, living plants, and the like, and moving things with your grab-beam and moving them to places where you can use them to progress, defeat enemies, and such. The world looks nice, and I like the lush environments and slightly odd creatures, even if all you are doing is fighting them; the puzzle elements don’t involve interaction with others, but dragging rocks around and the sort. Overall, Capsized is an okay to good platform-action game with puzzle elements. It can be fun, but isn’t amazing. The art is decent to good, though the character art can be a little weird, moving around can be fun, and the action is alright. Capsized is worth a look. Digital download only.
Closure (2011) – 1 player, saves, gamepads supported (dinput supported). Closure is another indie puzzle-platformer with very nice, original greyscale-only artwork. So yes, of the pixel-art v. hand-drawn divide in 2d indie platformers, this is in the latter group. Indeed, the game has quite good art design. The all black, white, and greyscale artwork is unique, as is the concept: the screen is almost all black, except for areas lit up by spotlights or light orbs, and only lit areas exist. So, you can jump right through the space that wall in front of you is in if you just don’t light it up. The game makes clever use of this light-and-darkness mechanic, and the designer came up with some tricky puzzles for sure. As with many indie games this game sticks to its concept and does not have variety, but when you have a good idea and execute it well, that’s just fine. The game controls well, too, as the controls are responsive and work as well as needed for this kind of game. This is not a precision platformer, but you do do a lot of jumping and it controls fine. This isn’t a particular long game I believe, though, and there is only limited replay value if you wish to go back and find the few collectibles, but it’s an interesting and thought-provoking trip the first time through.
The game makes you think for several reasons, too. The first, obviously, are the puzzles. You will turn spotlights, carry around light orbs and place them so you can jump through obstacles, put orbs on auto-moving tracks then follow the moving light in time, push boxes, and more. The screen is often dark, so when a larger area lights up it really stands out. The game starts out easy and levels are initially short, but level length and complexity ramps up as you progress. Capsized has a good difficulty curve to it, and there are three different main areas to play through, so if you get stuck in one you can go play one of the others. That’s a great option to have! Story-wise, this game is dark and weird, as well as vague and confusing. You play as this octopus-ish demon thing, and also these three people in the three main areas, a miner man, a young woman, and a little girl. Their stories are somewhat dark, as expected from the general tone of this game, but all cutscenes are wordless and aren’t fully explained, so the exact meaning of the game is open to interpretation. I don’t mind that, and the gameplay and characters are interesting enough to get me to keep playing to see what I think. Throughout, the shadowy graphics, the discordant sounds of the strange soundtrack, and slow-paced puzzle gameplay make for an unsettling experience. I, at least, find it unsettling more in a good way than bad, though. If you’re up for that, and you should be because this game is pretty good, Closure is well worth a play. This game is a good-looking, unique puzzle-platformer which is well worth experiencing. Digital only release. The game is Mac and Linux compatible on Steam. Also available digital-only on Playstation 3 PSN.
Commander Keen Episode I: Marooned on Mars (1990, DOS)
Commander Keen Episode II: The Earth Explodes (1990, DOS)
Commander Keen Episode III: Keen Must Die (1990, DOS)
Commander Keen Episode IV: Secret of the Oracles (1991, DOS) – I covered these four amazing games from id Software and published by Apogee already in the category earlier for games I own physical copies of, so go read my summaries of these incredible classics there! They’re some of the best platformers on the PC. The games have physical releases from 1990-1991, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms’ website. I have Keens I to V for both Steam and 3D Realms’ site. Both are the same core games of course, though there are a few DOSBox differences between them. Either is fine, though oddly for some insane reason Steam and 3DR both seem to have decided that the game should run in 16:9, so everything is all stretched. You will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio, which everyone who plays any Keen game should do before playing. You also may need to fix the joystick support in DOSBox options, it didn’t work for me by default.
Commander Keen Episode V: The Armageddon Machine (1991, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepads supported. Commander Keen V is the only Keen game that I did not own or play any of in the ’90s. This game is the second half Commander Keen: The Universe is Toast, so it’s a sequel to Secret of the Oracles. Though Keen VI: Aliens ate my Babysitter was the last Keen game released and is the last one in the story, it had to be finished earlier for its retail release, so this was actually the final Keen episode programmed, though story-wise it is fifth. This time Keen has to stop the Armageddon Machine before it destroys the universe! The gameplay here is standard Keen, with game and level design closer to Keen VI than IV, though all three are quite similar. The controls, gameplay, and visual look is the same as Keens IV and VI, though as with all Keen games the setting and enemies are unique to this title. The Armageddon Machine is a giant ship, so as with the first Keen game, the second game in the trilogy is set on a giant spaceship, while the first and third are on planets. There’s some nice symmetry there. The cartoony graphical style makes for a very different game from Keen 2, though, and it all looks fantastic! The graphical design is top-quality stuff as always. Keen games all have a great sense of place and cool, varied enemies to interact with. The memorable art designs in this series are one of many reasons people love it. And the soundtrack is really good too, just as it is in the previous two games. Structurally, the game plays just like Keens IV and VI, as you would expect. The overworld map’s design is somewhat like Aliens Ate My Babysitter, in that it’s mostly linear and you collect items which allow you to progress past points on the map. I think I prefer the more open overworlds of the first four games over the more linear ones of the last two, as if you get stuck in a level it’s fun to have other ones to play instead. As in Keen VI though this game does have many points with multiple stages to try, though, so you aren’t always locked onto one level. The games’ length is average for the series as well.
In gameplay, the controls are near-perfect as always. Learning how Keen jumps, and then the bouncing and slower turning of the pogo stick, are the keys to the game, and using those tools well is incredibly fun. The pogo stick is a particularly great idea, and is essential throughout. The responsive, very well-programmed controls are another strength of this fantastic but too-short-lived series. Your actions are standard for the series. You will be running, shooting, jumping and bounching through challenging platforming levels, collecting lots of stuff for points as you make your way to the exit in each stage. There will be many switches and keys to hit as you explore the stages, so levels are large and complex. Keen V has more incredible level designs to figure out; the levels here are every bit as great as those in IV and VI. As always it’s incredibly hard to choose which game I like most when all of them are this amazing! Level designs in general are great, with designs that are complex but not confusing so you won’t get lost, a lot of setting variety between stages, lots of tricky but fun jumping puzzles, switches to hit, moving platform gaps to get past, and more. And as before, I love how this series always has temptingly difficult-to-get point items sitting around the stages, there for you to get if you want to either have a better score or just feel like you’ve accomplished more of the game. The latter is the bigger draw for me, I think. You die in one hit like always here, and have limited ammo for your gun, so the choice to explore will lead to many deaths, but it’s usually worth it. Even if it leads to occasional frustration though I am often drawn in to exploring in Keen games, as the great level designs reward it, and this game is no exception. You will die a lot, sure, but Keen games are almost never unfair or cheap; when you die, it’s either bcause you messed up, or because you ran ahead without being careful and were hit by something you probably could have seen if you were a bit more cautious. For example, enemies move in predictable patterns, you can look up and down, bottomless pits are telegraphed, not sprung on you, and tougher areas and levels are often obviously marked as such.
So, overall, Commander Keen v: The Armageddon Machine is a really fantastic game, the last of what still is one of the best platformer series ever released for the PC. It’s really too bad that after Wolfenstein 3D ID became id and decided to never make another game like this again, because in the two short years they released platformers, they made some of the best. The Commander Keen series is an absolute must-play series for anyone who likes platformer games at all. This isn’t my favorite Keen game, because of nostalgia and the too-linear world design, but the levels, graphics, music, and gameplay are all as great as anything in this series, and I love that I’m finally able to play this, after wondering for all those years in the ’90s what Keen V was like. It’s fantastic. I have Keens I to V for both Steam and 3D Realms’ site. Both are the same core games of course, though there are a few DOSBox differences between them. Either is fine, though oddly for some insane reason Steam and 3DR both seem to have decided that the game should run in 16:9, so everything is all stretched. You will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio, which everyone who plays any Keen game should do before playing. You also may need to fix the joystick support in DOSBox options, it didn’t work for me by default.
Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure (1992, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepads supported. Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure is another Apogee platformer, and it’s a pretty good one. You’re this cartoon-style alien guy called Cosmo, a green thing with suction cups for hands. This game is Apogee’s attempt at a somewhat more Mario-like platformer, as while most Apogee games have projectile attacks, here you mostly kill enemies by jumping on their heads. Cosmo can also drop bombs which will kill enemies near where they explode, but jumping on enemies is your main attack. This game is a fairly standard, level-based platformer. As in the Duke Nukem games but unlike other Apogee titles, this is a linear game where you go from each level to the next, there isn’t a hub world. The character design and most of the gameplay is fairly family-friendly, but there is some weird stuff particularly in the later episodes. The art design is good and has a lot of variety, though, and the environments look appropriately alien. The game has parallax scrolling too, impressively for an early ’90s PC game, though the 16-color EGA graphics hold it back versus SNES or Genesis games. The very low framerate holds Cosmo back as well. Like Duke Nukem, Cosmo runs at a very low, barely double-digit framerate. The game controls well, so Cosmo is very responsive and moves exactly as you tell him, but it is choppy. You do get used to the sluggish, choppy pace, but for me at least playing these games now it never feels natural, I’m always wishing it would just run full speed. The Commander Keen games run much more smoothly than this, which really shows John Carmack’s programming skill. Aurally, the game has PC Speaker only audio, unfortunately, so there are only Keen 1-3-like sound effects and no music. This is okay, but sound card support would have been nice.
As for the levels, Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure has a nice mix of stages. Over the course of the three episodes the difficulty ramps up on a nice curve, so the first, shareware, episode isn’t too hard, but starting from episode 2 the difficulty goes up. Cosmo has three hit points, but it’s easy to die thanks to the many enemies and bottomless pits. Fortunately you can look up and down, and looking down particularly is extremely useful at times, to save you from some blind jumps. However, it can sometimes be hard to tell what you can jump on and what you can’t as backgrounds get very busy sometimes, though you can tell if you’re looking closely as anything you can jump on won’t move with the parallax background. Dying starts the current level over, but you do have infinite lives and can save at any time, though you will restart from the beginning of the current level. As you might expect, levels are littered with items to collect for points. There are also health-up items and more, but most pickups give you points. Some are on the main path and other on alternate routes, and sometimes collecting stuff is fun, but when the game gets harder I sometimes just want to the end. The challenge of beating the levels is satisfying, though, and with three decent-length episodes to play through there’s a good amount of game here. I like the focused, straightforward level designs, it’s nice to see something different from the other more exploration-focused platformers Apogee published.
Overall I really like Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure. Apogee was the best shareware developer, and this game is a good example of why! Playing it for this summary I’ve had a lot of fun. This is a nice-looking game with good controls, gameplay, level designs, and graphics. The audio is basic and the framerate low, but otherwise Cosmo is a good game definitely worth playing.This game is shareware, so the first episode is available free while you pay for the rest of it. The game has a physical release from 1992, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms’ website. I have the 3DR site version, and it’s mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.
Crystal Caves (1991, DOS) – 1 player, saves, gamepads supported. Crystal Caves is another Apogee title. This is one of the titles developed by Apogee itself, not another developer. You’re a miner guy in a helmet exploring caves full of crystals, as the name suggests. This is a collection-focused platformer with some puzzle elements at times. The game has small sprites and levels that only take up a couple of screens each, a bit like an expanded version of Apogee’s CGA titles I will cover later, Pharaoh’s Tomb, Monuments of Mars, and Arctic Adventure. Unlike those games though, Crystal Caves has EGA graphics and faster, more complex gameplay, as it isn’t designed to run on early ’80s computers like they are. The game looks okay, but its art design is fairly average for Apogee, and the small sprites don’t look like much. Each enemy, obstacle, or background element looks different, but this is game you play for the gameplay, not the visuals. The simple PC Speaker-only audio also is pretty basic, and is sound effects only. The visuals are small as well, as levels are a single screen each and sprites are all quite small.
In terms of gameplay, Crystal Caves moves at a decent though slightly slow pace. Thanks to the small sprites you can see a long way in any direction. You have a hub world with doors that connect to the levels, and each of the three episodes has 16 levels to complete. Gameplay is simple, straightforward, and hard: you move around, running and jumping to avoid enemies and obstacles and get all of the crystals. You have three hit points per life and a gun to take out enemies with, though you do have limited ammo. As in Keen, you need to collect gun powerups to get more ammo, and each gives you only a few shots. You also have infinite lives from the beginning of the current level and can save on the hub world. That’s great, and helps you focus on each level without needing to replay ones you’ve beaten before. Despite that help, this is a challenging game which rewards practice, trial and error, and some platforming skill. Learning each level well enough to survive by avoiding the traps and avoiding or defeating the variety of enemies, while also collecting all the crystals as is required to exit, is a fun challenge. There are many traps and enemies to avoid or kill, too, including falling spikes, air compressors that instantly kill you if you shoot them, spiders which hit you if you walk under them, enemies with eyes on stalks where you must kill the two eyes, which are only vulnerable when open, before you can shoot the main body, and more. This is a fairly conventional game, but figuring out what to do in each stage can be fun, for a while at least. It’s not just shooting either, as figuring out how to get to some of the crystals can require not only precise platforming, but also careful shooting to, for instance, only destroy the blocks you don’t need to get to the top in an area with breakable blocks. They won’t respawn, so mess up and you’ll have to quit back to the map and try again; thankfully you can do this in the pause/save menu.
So, figuring out how to get through a stage can be a fun challenge, but while I like this game, I’ve never loved Crystal Caves as much as some other Apogee titles. The small graphics and familiar design hold it back, and the game does not have Pharaoh’s Tomb’s simple charm either. And also, the game has a spiritual sequel that is the same thing but better: Secret Agent. That game is very similar to this one, but is improved and more fun all around. If you’re going to play one of these two games play Secret Agent, but Crystal Caves is a fine choice as well. This tricky game will keep you playing for a while if you get into it, and it’s satisfying to finally get a level right and get all the stuff. It’s not one of Apogee’s best games, but it is worth a try. The game has a physical release from 1991, and also is available digitally on Steam and on 3D Realms’ website. I have the 3DR site version, and it’s mostly good, though you will need to change the DOSBox settings manually to run in the correct aspect ratio; for some very odd reason they chose to have it default to filling the screen, even though this 4:3 game should only be played at that ratio.
Dangerous Dave Pack: Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion (Dave 2) (1991, DOS) – gamepad supported, high score save (but not progress). Dangerous Dave is a character designed by John Romero, and stars in now seven games mostly for the PC and Apple II. This game is the second game in the series. Most games in this series was originally released on subscription disk services, so they were made on the cheap; subscription disk services like Softdisk, this series’ publisher from the second through seventh games, didn’t pay great, and unlike Apogee kept the rights to games they published. ID signed a contract with Softdisk though, so good or not they had to make games for them for a while. Romero made the original game on his own, then id Software made the second game. After that Softdisk made five more themselves with Romero only in an advisory role. For a long time the series was somewhat forgotten, but several years ago the second through fourth PC games in the series were re-released in a digital-download package on GOG.com, and that is what I am discussing here. For some reason the bundle does not include the original game or either of the Apple II-only titles; no idea why. The last is a 2015 iOS game by John Romero. Dave was Romero’s first character, I believe, so he brought him back, with that game and this pack.
Despite there being seven games in the series, though, this isn’t a series I remember from the early ’90s. So, unlike id’s much more famous Keen games, after getting it a few years ago, I went into this game not knowing anything about it. Apparently the original Dave is a puzzle-platformer, but this game is an action-heavy shooter. It’s fun, but doesn’t match up to the better action-platformers on consoles. Still, the first thing I noticed here is that the early ’90s ID style is very evident. Visually, this is an okay-looking title running in 16-color EGA. Dave’s character art isn’t at Keen’s level, but the actual sprite-art is nice and has some of that ID style, though the whole game has only one environment, a mansion, so there is no graphical variety. The sadly PC Speaker-only sound effects are also reminiscent of ID’s other games of the time, which is nice. The general look and play of the game is strongly reminiscent of a Keen game. The gameplay is entirely different, however. Remember what I said about Softdisk not paying anywhere near Apogee levels of funding? Sadly, it shows. This game may be from John and Adrian Carmack, Tom Hall, and John Romero, just like Keen, but it must have seen much less development time. It has eight levels, no saving, and a simple goal: kill the undead hordes and try to make your way to the end of each stage. You can walk around, jump, and shoot. Showing that this is an action game first, unlike Keen you don’t keep jumping when you hold the jump button down, but instead have to tap it each time you want to jump. In this kind of game that works. You’re armed with only a shotgun, and while you do have infinite ammo, you can only have eight shells in the gun at a time and need to reload, which Dave does automatically when you stop moving. This means you’ll often have to stand around waiting for him to reload, which can get a bit tedious, though it does also add some strategy, as you need to always consider your ammo before fighting foes. You can only shoot when standing on the ground and not while jumping, but instead you can fire at a diagonal up or diagonal down angle by holding Up or Down and then shooting. These are very useful functions you’ll make heavy use of in the game.
As for the levels, the first one is straightforward, but they get more complex as you progress, as levels have doors connecting various areas together to allow for some exploration. This is a tough game, but the threats here only come from enemies, as traps or pitfalls are not in evidence, and enemies stay dead once killed. Some doors hold those passages and other items that give you points, so always open doors here! You will get extra lives for getting certain amounts of points, too. Eeven so, this game is difficult because you die in one hit, the enemies are numerous and often take multiple shots to kill, if you die you restart the level, and if you run out of lives and get Game Over you’ve got to start the game over from the beginning; as with the absence of saving, there are no continues either. So far I have only gotten a few levels into Dangerous Dave and the Haunted Mansion, but it is fun to play so I’m sure I will try again. The game rewards practice and memorization, as you figure out what to do in each new area of the game. Level designs are good, and not cheap or unfair, so when you died it is your fault; ID always were very good at level design, after graphics engines it’s one of their best skills! The controls are good and quite responsive as well, and the scrolling is as smooth as you’ll see on an early ’90s PC game, as expected from ID. Still, overall, Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion is only above average. Most of ID’s games for Softdisk are not the greatest, so this may be one of the better of the bunch, but it’s nowhere near the greatness of Commander Keen, or console plaform-shooters like Contra and the like. Still, it’s a decently-designed and fun little game that is good enough to be worth a try. When you get it digitally it comes bundled with the two games below, too. though this one is by far the best of the three. Originally released by Softdisk on one of their subscription-service disks; also now available digitally on GOG for PC, Mac, and Linux in the Dangerous Dave Pack bundle with the twm games below.
Dangerous Dave Pack: Dangerous Dave’s Risky Rescue (Dave 3) (1993, DOS) – gamepad supported, saves. In 1993, series publisher Softdisk decided to have two new Dangerous Dave games made. ID had nothing to do with either one, beyond John Romero supposedly having some small advisory role, though, and it shows: these games aren’t terrible, but do not come even close to Haunted Mansion in quality. Haunted Mansion comparatively comes off pretty well compared to this. Risky Rescue has slightly better graphics than its predecessor from two years earlier and has much more detailed backgrounds, but it’s still running in EGA only so the improvement is minor. Many shareware games were still EGA-only in ’93, but the switchover was happening, just not here. The nicer and more varied backgrounds are an improvement, at least, though. There is sound card support this time, but only for sound effects; there is no music, again something becoming more common by ’93. I guess Softdisk couldn’t afford to pay a composer. The sound effects are poor as well; this may have Soundblaster or Adlib sound effects, but the gun sound is just pitifully weak-sounding! As for the game, as with its predecessor, this is a sidescrolling action game. It feels like a mediocre knockoff of Haunted Mansion, but does change some things, mostly not for the better. The biggest downgrade is in the level designs, but the controls also suffer a bit. The theme is new, too, Risky Rescue has a violent backwoods Southern style to it, so you’re collecting beer and such as powerups and the game is set in forest and cavern environs, and such. The level of violence has significantly increased over the last game, as was becoming the trend in ’93. Haunted Mansion has some violence, as enemies die in green splotches and there are little death animations every time Dave dies, but this time all of those have been redone with red blood and body parts everywhere.
Gameplay is mostly similar to the previous game, as you again you walk, jump, and fire straight or at up or down angles and die in one hit. A few things are new, though, most notably that this is the only Dangerous Dave game with limited ammo. Yes, this time you need to watch how much you fire, and pick up ammo pickups along the way. You still need to reload, too, and again it’s automatic. The controls are also a bit slipprier than before, and landing on small platforms can be tricky. You’ll need to do that a lot too, as right from the first level Risky Rescue demands you make lots of jumps between very small platforms suspended in the air. It can be frustrating stuff, and the game is tough; Game Overs come easily, though at least they added in a save system. Remember to save when you reach a new level, otherwise you have to start the game over! And indeed, since there is no real main menu, you need to start a new game each time, then hit the Load key (F5) to load your game; it’s a bit clumsy. You also need to re-enable gamepad support every time you play, it’s off by default. Ah well. There are eleven levels here, but level lengths vary so I’m not sure if the game is as long as the last one.
My first impression of this game was poor, as the first level, in a forest, is somewhat frustrating. But once I finally got past it, I did start having some more fun with this game. Still, all of the tiny bits of trees are easy to fall off of, and it can be hard to tell exactly what you can stand on and what you can’t. You also can’t see your shots, so there’s no way to tell where you need to line up to hit an enemy diagonally; it’s easier to judge in Haunted Mansion, but here it feels a bit off. And unlike ID games, this game has blind jumps over death pits, making this game much less fair than its predecessor. Still, there is lots of stuff to collect for points if you want to explore, so that’s good. Sometimes you just need to die to figure out what to do next here, and while that is far from uncommon in platformers, compared to better games it is an issue. Overall, Dangerous Dave’s Risky Rescue is an okay but flawed platform-action game. There is some fun to be had, but the annoying jumps, imperfect controls, and mediocre level designs drag it down, along with the weak presentation. This game is average at best, and probably is a bit below average. Originally released by Softdisk on one of their subscription-service disks; also now available digitally on GOG for PC, Mac, and Linux in the Dangerous Dave Pack bundle with the twm games below.
Dangerous Dave Pack: Dave Goes Nutz (Dave 4) (1993, DOS) – gamepad supported, saves. Dave Goes Nutz was Softdisk’s last DOS Dangerous Dave game, though he would be brought back in 1995 for a final Apple II game, with this titles’ story but the original games’ gameplay. Thankfully the game finally gets a save system added in, which is great, but nothing else was improved; this game is more of the same, with similar EGA graphics, sound effects with no music, and gun controls. The gun-firing sound is at least improved over Risky Rescue, and now you shoot visible bullets so you can tell where to stand to hit people diagonally, infinite ammo returns, and you can aim in a few more angle options than before, but everything else is very similar to the last game, just with a new setting. That may sound improved, but I think I actually like this one the least of the three, though neither of these two 1993 Dave games are great. Level designs might be even more unfair this time than before, and your gun seems to maybe shoot slower so enemies reach you faster, so I feel underpowered here versus the Haunted Mansion. The game also allows you to get a bit too close to the edge of the screen before it starts scrolling, causing issues ID’s game never has. And again the game has EGA-only graphics and no music, unfortunately.
The level designs are the worst thing about this game, though, and might be even worse than the last game due to some iffy design decisions. This game is set in an evil hospital, so you’re fighting nurses with syringes, people shooting deadly green clouds at you, and more. You aren’t contending with tiny platforms right from the start this time, but it’s not better; for some reason, the designers thought that inconsistent level designs were a good idea. So, some identical-looking beds are bouncy platforms you fly into the air on, while others don’t react at all; some floors are solid, while others that look nearly identical can be jumped through; and more. There are also screens along some platforms, making it hard to see enemies there. And isn’t it fun when you jump on a bouncy bed, only to be thrown up more than a screen into the air… where you touch an enemy on the platform there you could never have avoided, and have to restart the whole level from scratch as a result? Yeah, that sure is “fun”! It’s also way too easy to jump too high and die because you touched an enemy on the floor above you.
On the other hand, there are changes which make this game easier than either previous title in some ways. There are powerups that give you a time-limited triple shot, getting extra lives from points seems much easier than in either previous game, they did add in an easy mode, and again you can save, but still, those additions do not make up for all the faults. Dave Goes Nutz is sometimes okay, but overall is a below-average, at-times-annoying platform-action game that I can’t recommend. It is close between this and Risky Rescue for worst game of these three, but this one might edge that one out… but really, if you get the Dangerous Dave pack, mostly play Haunted Mansion, and only try these out because they come with it. Haunted Mansion is a game decent enough to be worth considering for cheap. So if you do end up with these two, try them I guess, but don’t expect much. Originally released by Softdisk on one of their subscription-service disks; also now available digitally on GOG for PC, Mac, and Linux in the Dangerous Dave Pack bundle with the twm games below.
Dark Void Zero (2010, WinXP+) – Gamepads supported (xinput only), saves. Dark Void Zero is a 2d platformer with NES-ish pixel-art graphics published by Capcom and developed by Western studio Other Ocean Interactive. This is an action-platformer with exploration and a jetpack, so shooting and flying around are your main actions. This isn’t an indie game, though; instead, it was released as a sort of spinoff of Dark Void, a not-very-popular first-person shooter/flight game released the same year as this game. This game got better review scores than the main title, and it is fun, but I have some issues with it. The team made up an amusing backstory for this game, claiming that it had originally been designed in the late ’80s for the NES PlayChoice 10 system as a double-screen game somehow using the lower screen as well as the upper one. There’s more to the invented backstory beyond this, but as you may have guessed, in reality the game was designed for the Nintendo DS, or the DSiWare digital-download shop, more specifically. The game plays on the main screen, or your monitor here on the PC, and a very useful map would be on the lower screen. That’d make this game better on DSi than PC, as here you have to hit M (or maybe a gamepad key?) to view the map. And you’ll need to, as this is a Metroidvania-inspired game, as each of the three levels in this game is large and open. You will be going back and forth constantly within each stage, and only the map tells you where to go next. Design elements including walls that a specific weapon can destroy, gates that only open once you collect the correct keycard, and areas which take away your jetpack force you to explore. Weapon and jetpack points will give you a specific weapon or the jetpack again, but you can only have one gun at a time so choose wisely. Each weapon is quite different though, which is nice. If you die you start back from the last checkpoint, which there are only a few of per level.
The basic gameplay here is fun, as you fly around, explore, collect stuff, and shoot. Now, I’m not at all a fan of open-world games, but I have liked some Metroidvanias. This game can be good fun, but has some design issues. Both on the ground and in the air you move fairly quickly, and there is no way to look up or down, so sometimes you’ve got to make blind jumps and just hope you don’t land in one of the many instant-death pits or on top of an enemy. Sometimes you will, though. I love jetpacks in games, and it is fun to fly around, but the level designs here are frustrating, and the game is very difficult unless you play on the way-too-simple Easy difficulty. The jetpack also goes upwards quickly, so moving forwards in the air without going up as well can be hard, and areas are designed to exploit this weakness, which can be frustrating. Your controls are fairly responsive otherwise, though. You can duck as well as move and jump, though while ducking you only shoot downwards, so there’s no way to shoot enemies while crouching unfortunately; this means you’ll need to pop up and shoot them when you can, instead, ducking to avoid their shots during volleys. You do have a health bar, but can’t take more than a half dozen shots before you die. Enemies respawn pretty much as soon as you go off the screen, too, so every trip across each stage is hazardous. The respawning enemies and their waves of bullets get annoying after a while, when you’re just trying to get across the level to a new room. It would also be nice if you could have all the weapons at once, so you didn’t need to go back across the stage sometimes to get a different one. Considering how short the game is all the backtracking makes sense, but it does get old, and frustrating when you keep dying to random stuff. If you do manage to beat a level the game saves that and you can start from the next one… with the number of lives you finished the previous level with, and no more. And given that each level is long and takes time to get through, and if you run out of lives in a level you have to start it over from scratch, this all gets difficult fast. More levels and a more forgiving continue system would have been better than this. That difficulty selection option doesn’t fix this issue either, not with such a limited amount of content to see.
Visually the game looks good, though. Dark Void Zero probably uses too many colors for a real NES game, and character sprites animate too much, but the designers did try to give the game a pseudo-8-bit look, and it succeeds even if it’s clearly not something a real NES could run. Maybe it’s more Game Boy Advance-like, but with downgraded visuals? Still, I do mostly like the look, and as it would be on a real NES there isn’t parallax scrolling, unlike many games like this. The shooting and visual look appear inspired by the Capcom classic Bionic Commando, though the gameplay is quite different of course due to that jetpack. The art design isn’t the best and does have that Western look to it, but it works well enough. Audio is very NES-like, and it sounds good. Overall, Dark Void Zero is an okay game with flawed but decent gameplay. Exploring and flying around are fun, though the jetpack could have been more maneuverable, and the enemy and trap-laden levels lead to many unfair deaths. Having to constantly switch to the map can be annoying too; this would definitely play better on DSi. This can be a fun game, but it also can be very frustrating and difficult, so in the end Dark Void Zero is average. This is a cheap game, though, so it might be worth a look for hard-games and jetpack fans, particularly. Get the DSi version if you can over this one, though. Also available on Nintendo DSiWare digital-download shop, and also on iOS.