Commander Keen is a franchise that to this day I still remember playing as a kid and really enjoying. Commander Keen was created by Apogee who is probably most known for the Duke Nukem and Wolfenstein franchises. I bring this up because today I am looking at another series that was originally created in 1992 Secret Agent by Apogee. I had never played the game and honestly had never heard of it before seeing the HD version of the game that was released on Steam last week. While I had never played the game before, I was intrigued at is was evident early in the game that Secret Agent was based off of the same engine as Commander Keen as it even shared some of the same assets. With how much I liked Commander Keen as a kid, I was intrigued to see how a similar style game would hold up today. It may show its age in some areas, but Secret Agent HD holds up surprisingly well for a game that is approaching its 30th anniversary.
In Super Agent HD you play as Agent 006 1/2 who is one of the top agents for the bureau. The Diabolical Villain Society (D.V.S.) has stolen the blueprints for a laser weapon that puts the entire world in danger. Your mission is to infiltrate their strongholds to take back the blueprints before they can create the weapon for themselves.
Secret Agent HD reminds me a lot of the type of 2D platformers that you would find back in the early 1990s. In particular it shares a lot in common with Commander Keen. Each game in the collection consists of sixteen missions. The first fifteen missions can be played in any order which will unlock the sixteenth level once they have all been completed. The basic objective of each mission is to destroy the radar dish, acquire dynamite, and blow up the exit door in order to escape. To make things more complicated each mission takes place in a maze-like location where you have to locate keys and floppy disks in order to open up paths to proceed further in the level.
This is all built around a traditional platformer. You have a basic jump and the ability to push around specified objects to make platforms. You will jump from platform to platform avoiding obstacles. The levels are also littered with a number of enemies. You have a weapon that shoots in a straight path from your current location. To shoot you need to pick up ammo scattered throughout the level which is limited. Depending on the difficulty level you choose, you can take a number of hits before you die and have to restart from the beginning of your current mission/level. Some obstacles will kill you instantly though.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect of Secret Agent HD. I had no prior experience with the game and for a game that is close to 30 years old at this point, I was a little curious about whether the game would actually be able to hold up. After playing the game I have to say that I was honestly quite surprised by how well the game has held up as it actually surpassed my expectations. The game shows its age at times as it is a pretty simple platformer. You basically just jump, collect things, and shoot your gun. The platforming genre has advanced in many ways since Secret Agent was first released. Despite this, the game is still quite enjoyable. The level design is generally pretty good where the platforming and shooting mechanics are still quite enjoyable so many years later. I don’t know exactly what it is, but the game’s simplicity has lead to a game that is surprisingly addicting at times. The levels are short as most only take 5-10 minutes, but you likely will want to play quite a few levels before you decide to quit for the day. In a way Secret Agent HD shows that you don’t need the latest technology to still be an enjoyable game. If you don’t really care for old platformers it may not be for you, but if you have any appreciation for older platformers I see you having a fun nostalgic trip back to an earlier age of platformers.
While the game holds up better than I was originally expecting, it still has some issues. The biggest is due to the level design leading to some issues for the game. Most of the levels are designed well where there aren’t any real issues. A few of the levels have the possibility for players to soft lock/get trapped in the level. This usually happens because you fell down a gap before you were supposed to or you push one of the blocks to an area where you can’t get it to where it needs to go. Usually there is no way to predict these situations either. When you get stuck you either have to kill yourself by purposefully running into obstacles or selecting restart from the menu. You can’t really blame this on the studio responsible for the HD remaster as they stuck close to the original level designs on purpose outside of a couple slight tweaks. Restarting from the beginning of a level isn’t too big of a deal either because the levels are so short. This is mostly just an occasional frustration rather than a deal breaker.
While on the topic of the level design I wanted to quickly discuss what you get in Secret Agent HD. It actually includes four separate games. These four games mostly feel like a set of chapters of the same game. Those familiar with the franchise may be surprised to hear that there are four chapters to the game as the game used to only have three chapters. That is because the developer of the HD version of the game actually created the fourth chapter from scratch. The level design in this fourth chapter is similar to the first three chapters except that a few new enemy types and power ups have been added to the game. While they might not have originally been part of the franchise, I honestly think the fourth chapter might be the best one. In a way the game took a look at how level design has improved over the last 30 years and applied it to the game’s typical level format. These levels are more creative in their design and are just more interesting to explore.
As for Secret Agent HD’s difficulty I was actually kind of curious as most older video games tended to be more difficult than modern games as they needed to be to overcome having less content. I was kind of surprised that Secret Agent HD was quite a bit easier than I was expecting. The HD remaster has three difficulty settings which mostly revolve around how many hits you can take before you die. I ended up playing the game on normal difficulty, but I don’t think the hard difficulty would have been much more difficult as I finished most of the levels without losing any health. Outside of a few rare levels I really didn’t have any trouble beating the first two chapters. The third and fourth chapter are more difficult than the first two. The fourth chapter actually has some genuinely difficult levels that took a number of attempts to complete. I don’t see the game’s easier level design being a positive or negative. The easier difficulty makes the game more accessible, but the game isn’t going to really challenge anyone who plays a lot of 2d platformers.
Because of the game being on the easy side, I wouldn’t say that the base game is super long despite having four different games in it. None of the levels in the game are super long. You will actually spend quite a bit of the time backtracking over sections of the level after you have acquired a new key or the floppy disk. I would guess that most levels could be beat within 5-10 minutes. Each individual game will likely take around an hour and a half to two hours to beat. While I wouldn’t say that the main game is super short, it isn’t the longest experience either. The biggest problem with the length is just that I was wishing there were more levels to complete.
Normally the length would be a bigger issue, but the game actually includes a level editor where you can share your creations with other players. I honestly was surprised that a game like Secret Agent got a level editor, but I am happy about it. With these type of things you can’t tell this early whether the game will develop a strong enough community where there will be a lot of community levels to try out, but you have to appreciate the possibilities. If the game has some dedicated level creators you could get a bunch more content which will add substantially to the base game. I haven’t spent a lot of time with this aspect of the game, but I am intrigued by its possibilities.
I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Secret Agent HD as it is a remaster of a game that is approaching 30 years old at this point. While the game is a pretty simple platformer based on today’s standards, it actually holds up quite a bit better than I was expecting. The levels basically boil down to collecting keys and floppy disks in order to open the path to other parts of the level, but for some reason this is still quite enjoyable even 30 years later. The gameplay is just really satisfying which leads to it being kind of addicting at times. I wouldn’t consider the game to be particularly difficult which may disappoint some players. The game does a good job making an accessible game that fans of retro platformers should really enjoy though. Secret Agent HD includes the three original games plus a new fourth game, but each of these only take around 1.5-2 hours. The included level editor brings a lot of potential to the game though.
My recommendation for Secret Agent HD comes down to your thoughts on the series and retro platformers in general. If you never really cared for the series or retro platformers, I don’t see Secret Agent HD appealing to you. Fans of Secret Agent or older platformers should enjoy the game as it holds up a lot better than I was expecting. If the remaster interests you at all, I would recommend checking it out.
Buy Secret Agent HD online: Steam
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Emberheart Games, and Apogee Entertainment for the review copy of Secret Agent HD used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.