Saturday, June 10, 2023

Keen Meets the Meats (2015)

Name:Commander Keen in Keen Meets the Meats
Developer:Keen Meets the Meats Team
Genre:Side-Scrolling Shooter
Time:3 hours
Won:Yes (71W/60L)

Before I begin, I'll mention that I'm treating this as a game rather than a mod, owing to it being released as a standalone mod, and everything is more or less original or at least modified from any Keen assets that the resemblance is middling.

So, for a brief period of time, Id Software once had the idea of making a sequel to Keen Dreams. As Id didn't really continue working with Softdisk for very long and soon after that abandoned the series, these ideas were long forgotten. This idea was so long ago that only the original release ever had a mention of the sequel. The shareware release floating around all over the internet doesn't make any mention to my knowledge.

Enter the Keen community. Much like the Doom, Wolfenstein and Duke communities, they too, have made their own levels and mods of the original games. There are many fan games, fan sequels and just general levelsets released for the primary 6 games. But what about Keen Dreams? Well, that one was more tricky. While mods existed before, the community had to band together to purchase the source code and release it under the GPL. Now people could really mod Keen Dreams, and soon enough people began work on making Meet the Meats a reality.

The team seems to be a group of veteran Keen modders, along with DoomJedi. This seems to be the dream team as far as Keen Dreams modding goes, but I'm afraid I only recognize DoomJedi. Who has had some pretty major controversies over the year about supposed anti-Semitism, despite living in Israel for most of his life. Considering he's just an artist, I'm probably picking out the least important member of the team.

This is, if you don't know, a joke about how real fast food chains try to play up the quality of their beef; though none go as far as to show the cow

The story is Keen's little sister has just had her birthday party at Rick E. Rodent's, and Keen was there. Being miserable, as one tends to be when one is at a place full of animatronic rodents and screaming children. Keen apparently ate too much fast food and now has a stomachache. As he tries to quell the gastric distress he falls into a deep sleep and awakes in a strange cell.

This is McZargalds, a fast food place on an alien world lead by some kind of evil butcher. The burgers they serve are earthlingburgers, children. Keen knows this takeway...Takeaway? Keen isn't British. After this, Keen is going down to the bloody pub, mate. How will Keen get out of this mess without his trusty neural stunner, pogo stick and helmet? And how will he defeat this mad butcher now that he isn't using newspapers and Foobs to make his patties?

Before Keen can attempt his escape, a sentient meatball breaks open the door, hygiene here is so lax the food has gained sentience. Before he can be turned into burgermeat, he grabs some "Ultra Spicy Arcturian Megameatballs" and throws one at the bigger meatball, turning it into a pile of ash.

For those of you who aren't American, Rick E. Rodent's is a take off Chuck E. Cheese, a sort of cross between a sitdown restuarant and an arcade. I've been there once and I don't have the strongest memories of the place. Apparently it's supposed to be a truly awful experience, but it's just one of those things to me, that I guess is true. McZargalds is an obvious take-off on McDonalds, which has translated across the planet much better.

Gaze into the eyes of the demon burger...

Meet the Meats is much the same in gameplay structure as Keen Dreams was, since it's basically an overgrown mod of that game. Keen is still missing his pogo stick and the weapon, the meatballs, still stun enemies. Technically. On easy, the developers were kind enough to increase the time enemies are stunned to a number high enough that it is unlikely you will still be in the level by the time it would get back up. Hard lives up to the name, trust me.

Keen is a typical side-scroller of the time, Keen can walk around and jump. He can also look up, but seemingly can't look down. He can throw his meatballs in a slight arc either left or right, up or down. He can do all those things on poles or jumping. Jumping on enemies does not hurt them and in fact kills Keen. Keen's design is unique for this game, not the helmet design he has in most or the bedwear he has in Dreams, instead, just casual clothes. I like how they're colored, the light on the pants is well-done.

Nevertheless, the concept of the game is pretty neat. I'm a sucker for this sort of game. The sort of game where if you described it in a certain way it would come off as a creepypasta, but is plausible enough to actually exist and not be a cheap, jumpscare filled horror game. It's not quite the same as some games, since it wasn't actually made by a team of professionals looking to get paid, rather quite skilled amateurs.'s just plausible enough to have existed. After all, what better way for Adrian Carmack to express his hatred of the series better than to have Keen throwing ground up chunks of dead kid at other ground up chunks of dead kid?

The hygiene is awful even on the streets.

The overworld here is that of a nasty, industrial planet. I don't mind the way this looks in theory, but the dithering going on here is just way too damn aggressive. It looks like scanned art, but isn't, so it just looks ugly. Even though it's supposed to look ugly already, it looks badly done because of that dithering.

Enemies are broadly the same as the ones in Keen Dreams, seemingly a problem with editing the game. There are a few seemingly new enemies, at least according to the Keen Wiki, but these seem to be different variations on already existing enemies. There might be other slight differences I know about, but I'm still going to go over these as if they were "new". I'm going to go over them in the order they appear on the Keen Wiki.

  • Beefburgarian, the tater trooper replacement. One of three burger enemies. These guys appear a handful of times and are basically a joke in this mod, probably why they don't appear often. They're only lethal if they attack, but they never even got off an attack against me.
  • T-Bone, another of the more mundane enemies. These guys introduced me to the game's neat new trick, enemies that stick to the ceiling until you walk under them, then drop down and start moving regularly. Outside of that, they're not much more threatening than the Beefburger. Right down to having to attack before being able to hurt you.
  • Manic Weenie, the low end of the jumping enemies. They're slow enough and can only see you if you're close enough that presuming you have ammo, they're easy enough to deal with. If you don't, well, that same slowness can make them tricky to deal with.
  • Skreedish Meatball, how the hell do these meatballs have teeth? They're fast, they're annoying, and they're hard to hit. The game just loves these, but not as much as it loves...
  • Quarter-Ton Zargburger with Cheese, the worst of the bouncing enemies. I swear the dev team calculated these guys so they were the hardest to hit, and then put them all in places that would be a pain to hit even if they weren't jumping. It's so bad that the sneaky ones on the ceiling are the easiest to fight. 
  • Frankenfurter, HOT DOG DEATH! These guys shoot hot dogs practically half-way across the map, and when the game remembers it has them, they are a huge pain to take out.
  • Fowl Meat, a chicken or maybe a turkey. I thought all the food here was sentient ground up kid? Are they making weird shaped meatloaves out of people? If it's other food, why am I not taking out a sentient milkshake or soda? These are the questions I ask because as actual enemies, I don't remember them. 
  • Splatty, they wait on the ceiling for the player to walk under them...and then fall down...and stay there. You don't even get hurt by them after they fall. Because of their color scheme, it's tricky spotting them in advance, but otherwise they feel somewhat mundane.
  • Mach Pizza, running ground enemies. I think I saw two of them. Not very intimidating.
  • Sausinch, I thought these were worms until I checked the wiki. I like that implication more, a fast food joint so crummy that they're got worms harrassing people. Another jumping enemy, because of their placement in one level I didn't get a good grasp on really dealing with them, just more dealing with having to get a trick shot over a barrier.
  • Walking Liverbug. What the hell even is this? Unless there's a secret facility with giant kids from which the butcher is taking these livers, I don't get it. I don't get it in general, either. Apparently this is a replacement for the apple enemy from Dreams, which climbed up and down poles, and I NEVER saw these enemies do anything anywhere near poles.
    Upon dying Keen turns into a burger...for some reason.
  • Lambchopper, ranged enemy. Walks around, kind of annoying, but only appears once or twice, so there's not much I remember about them.
  • Shishkaboob, fast enemy. Unlike the asparagusto from Dreams, the game doesn't really exploit these guys, instead they just sort of hang around.
  • Black Pudding, the pea shooter replacement. You know, the enemy from Dreams that spawns other enemies but only appears once? Unlike in Dreams, you aren't going to miss this guy, and he's every bit as eager to spawn enemies as he seems. It's a very memorable encounter, and basically requires advance knowledge so you can get a shot off before he does, but I remember this guy.
Those signs are helpful, especially here, walking on a hot grill or that boiling oil kills you.

The first level is surprisingly difficult. You start with no meatballs and if you don't exploit the game's logic and let a sausage walk past a locked door slightly off-screen, you'll end up killed. That's the easy part, because while this level is non-linear, you still have to explore the entirety of it. You need four keycards to get out of here, and each area isn't easy to get through. Of particular note, I found the area just east of where you start to be the cleverest. One of the t-bone enemies is sitting on a pipe on the ceiling, so I thought, oh, this must be the grape enemy replacement. No, they just put a regular ground enemy on the ceiling somehow, which is pretty cool, even if I find dealing with him on the way out annoying.

On the path between the meaty side and the boney side.

The second level I entered was The Meat Grinder, a very grotesque looking place. This isn't really holding any punches. Both visually and gameplay wise. I'm basically down to a single life here, and the game is not letting up. That trick with the t-bone? It's possible with all the ground enemies, apparently, because these shishkebobs can do it to. There's barely any meatballs in the first half of this level and worse yet, the jumping up the pole trick isn't working. This is a problem, let's talk about the difficulty. I didn't bring up the difficulty selection in Keen Dreams because it didn't really matter much, unless you went out of your way to start a new game every time you started up the game, you were defaulted to easy. This defaults to hard. All that changed originally was how long enemies remain stunned, 15 on easy and 5 on hard. Meets the Meats adds enemies on harder difficulties.

Maybe the issue here isn't that the mod is intentionally trying to screw over the player, but rather unintentionally has broken. Unintentionally clipping the ground on some ledges and some poles. Bombs, or rather the eggs, are not noted to the player as he enters a level with them, which is intentional but feels janky along with everything else. And considering we're talking about a game which requires a certain number to beat the boss, feels cheap besides.

Oh, yeah, the game crashes a lot and has two modes. A normal, "hi-res" mode, which is what I've been playing so far, and a low-res mode which changes how the game looks as well as removing some enemies. Unfortunately, using the low-res mode just completely crashes the game as far as I can tell, even if you start a new game, and for some levels the hi-res mode just won't start. I had to get what the KeenWiki describes as an alternate download for the game to get it working. 

Seriously, this is some real bull. This does seem to fix the movement issues though.
Still, the game isn't wholly ungenerous. After the first level meatballs and points items are quite generously placed. And despite the game throwing quite a few new hazards into the game, they're not that difficult to dodge. It also seems that on easy the length enemies remain stunned is jacked up to a rather generous amount.

Jumping towards an egg I can't reach from down below.

The Freezer Building level was pretty interesting for an ice level, one always appreciates an ice level that doesn't actually revolve around an ice gimmick. All these levels are stunning, but this one takes the cake for the neat little view of the outside world. It has a bunch of the new enemies in nice little isolated pockets, so you can get used to their gimmicks. It'd be perfect, if I didn't have to jump down off a pole to an egg you can't see until you've already passed it.

I don't understand the shaded floppy poster here.

Mz Chamburger seems like a weird level and weird level name. At first I assumed it was some weird magazine office, of a certain nature, but then it seemed to be a clubhouse akin to some old McDonald's advertising? To say I don't quite get what's going on here is an understatement, but there are a lot of burgers here. Both in the environment and as enemies. The cheeseburgers are just incredibly annoying to deal with, gotta get lucky with those shots. You can't just throw meatballs over them, often they're placed in such a way that you can't hit them in the little hidey-holes they spawn in.

Really, the cutting boards don't have any blood on them?

Secondary Kitchen was where I first encountered the grape enemy replacement. They don't quite work like how they did in Dreams, instead they just flop down and stay there. Also, the burger patties are stealthier than the grapes, so they can get you, despite now working alone rather than in groups. I really like all these posters that plaster the background.  They got the right mix of creepy and believability, the sort of thing that wouldn't be out of place with one of these restaurants thirty years ago. As opposed to now when they're all trying to be hip and cool.

What are they actually exporting? Don't tell me they dedicate this one planet to all their meat needs?
Export Warehouse is interesting. Not quite a level that throws you straight into an encounter with an enemy, instead you're on a conveyor belt that does take you to the first enemy. Also, holy crap, graffiti on the side of an object. Lotta turkey enemies here, and they're coming off as...well, turkeys. This one's really nice. I particularly like how you can expect the bouncing enemy meatballs to come out of anywhere, but not so much the series of conveyor platform jumping. The speed of these things is much too fast for it to work well.
Warning, crushers are hazardous to your health.

Meat Processing Plant doesn't have many enemies and instead focuses on environmental hazards. The crusher hazards, added for this mod, fill the level, often just giving the player enough time to get by. While they do get annoying at times, and sometimes it didn't feel like things were working, this is a marvelous level. The kind of level where you should explore everywhere just so you can get stuff from all those nooks and crannies.

I have never seen the table of a restaurant look that bad, but perhaps that is ignorance on my part.

Once you get to the McZargalds restaurant level, it's more amusing than a difficult challenge, though those falling patties are quite annoying. A bit too dirty to be a fast food chain even in the worst parts of the country, usually the disgusting stuff is safely away from where the patrons can see. Not really sure the giant basement full of meat lying around is accurate, but the disgusting bathroom is spot on. Very simple level outside of that fun stuff.

Waste Management is more interesting for the way it looks than the level itself, each new level looks pretty neat. A lot of the tricks here have been done before, you've got stuff like patties placed just out of view, so you get suckered by them. Or jumping over crushing walls to advance or get treasure. This level does it very interestingly, giving the player the option to grab some optional treasure by jumping over some poles above one of the walls. Because of the way sliding down works, you have to be a lot more careful with where you're positioned on this level. I do loathe the ending to this level, where there's a hotdog enemy behind a door. Because of the way their AI works, you have to get lucky in approaching it when it isn't near enough, and then hope you don't get hit as you retreat. I even nearly got hit off-screen because of the way that blasted thing works.

These are the apel replacements and they can't even climb poles, why are they here then? Because they're not very difficult to deal with.

Soup River Store, ah, how I forgot about Keen Dreams love of these kinds of levels. I guess this is a tribute to that since this whole outdoor mountain climb level hasn't been used elsewhere in the game. It's not really like that, just visually similar. Instead it's more of a terrifying series of jumps over soup. Guess that boiling liquid is soup, I assumed it was frying oil. The giant kidney enemies are practically a joke compared to having any jump you make ruin your progress.

The background could have stood to use that trick that makes it appear

The Mad Butcher's Lair, the final boss. This is actually available to you from the start, and unlike in Keen Dreams you aren't prevented from going straight to him. (In Dreams King Tuber was in a level hidden behind the big castle level) In contrast to other levels this is kind of boring, easier than Dreams's final level, not even a key hunt. While the final boss is slightly harder to deal with since I guess either the layout of the boss room works against the player or the boss is faster, I defeated him just as handily as I did King Tuber. Perhaps more so, the game was incredibly generous with the egg bombs, which meant by the time I was halfway through the game, I had already gotten enough to kill him, after I finished the rest of the levels I somehow had 31 eggs.

After this, Keen sets the butcher's abducto-ray for his bedroom, but before he leaves, "his officially endorsed hostile takeover by Bipotle begins." At first I thought this was some unmentioned alien species, or perhaps one from a game I hadn't yet played, but then, is that a Chipotle reference? I'm not sure if the writer intended this as a compliment to Chipotle or an insult. Because in my experience and from what I've heard, Chipotle has the laxest freaking hygiene policy of all the major fast food chains. Compared to evil space McD's, space Chipotle should have a sea of dead bodies, each spewing a gusher of brown liquid, and a color palette of mostly reds and browns. I apologize for that mental image.

Waking up back at home, Keen discovers that everyone in his family had horrible gastric distress after eating at Rick E. Rodent's, and as the only member of the family who isn't spewing from both ends, he has his choice of breakfast. I question the game's insistence that everyone merely overate, but maybe that's just me being the kind of person who doesn't really overeat enough to the point that it would cause me gastric distress.

Overall I found the game to be really clever, the game's so packed with secrets that I didn't find anywhere close to all of them. Pretty sure I missed a secret level or two as well.

On easy, the meatballs shift from being an entirely useless weapon to just a mildly annoying one to use. In contrast to the harder difficulties, where it merely gives you a second of breathing room. 1/10

Despite a few consistent themes, somehow the enemies here felt cleverer than Keen Dreams. Maybe it was just better use of them, maybe they're generally better designed, but these guys felt more impactful than their vegetable themed counterparts. 5/10


A very well crafted series of open-ended levels full of cool secrets. Barring some merely average levels and a few clipping issues, damn near perfect. 9/10

Player Agency:
More or less the same as Keen Dreams. 6/10

Basic door stuff. 1/10

I'm a sucker for this sort of game, something that feels like a lost game that's made in a way that feels plausible. Even with that removed, the game does a good job of depicting a disgusting, industrial planet devoted to a single fast food franchise with almost a religious worship of it. 8/10

Very well-crafted EGA, for the most part. I don't like the heavily dithered parts, but otherwise this is pretty effective. Something they did just made any repetitive backgrounds not feel that way. 7/10

Slightly more involved than Dreams, and yet, despite it's increased presence, feels worse off than less story-focused games. I shouldn't wonder what's going on in a game when the story only appears in two places! 0/10

More or less just sound effects from Keen Dreams along with a few from Wolfenstein 3D. Soft Adlib/Soundblaster, not especially notable, but better than silence or PC Speaker. 2/10

That's 39.

Usually when I talk of a game being too ambitous for what's possible, I talk of games on systems like the ZX Spectrum or the Apple II, where every byte counts. Not of games that use technology from the '90s. Keen Meets the Meats, despite coming out years later, is firmly in that category of '90s tech. While I don't hold for it the same appreciation I do for some of the finer '80s tech, I still find that despite the numerous issues, this is impressive. Better yet, unlike a lot of those games, the merits this title has as an actual game are very much worth it.

You know, I sure could go for a burger right now...

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