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The CBBC game show set in space and inspired by Knightmare has returned for its second series.

The people of Kaladia are under threat from an overpowerful artificial intelligence called Sciron and an anti-emotion virus. A young programmer called Skye is leading the fight for freedom as other Kaladians try to survive on Sciron's base, the Ykarus Biotech station.

If that doesn't sound much like Knightmare, try CBBC's description:

'Teams of Commanders guide their Freedom Fighter avatars to dodge danger, crack cryptic codes and take on terrifying tasks to complete their mission.

Directly influenced by first-person videogames and YouTube play-through videos, Last Commanders is a genre-busting gaming experience. The players are in teams playing from their own homes but without controllers. They pick their character as they would in a videogame, but instead of being a collection of pixels, their character is a real person responding to their commands. The Commanders see what their avatar character sees and can talk and listen to the Freedom Fighter character they’re playing with. Working together, they try to avoid Game Over and complete their mission.'

The influence of Knightmare on Last Commanders is clear through comments from the people who made it.

Cara Ellison, who wrote an excellent piece about Knightmare for Unwinnable and helped get Knightmare into Red Bull TV's Screenland series, had this to say in her January 2018 newsletter:

'Objective Media contacted me to ask me if I could develop a TV show with them based on an idea they'd had - a cross between The Crystal Maze and Knightmare, with a videogame twist - it was all first person camera.

I said YES. And: OH MY GOD, I HAVE DREAMED OF THE MOMENT I MAY REBOOT KNIGHTMARE. I HAVE EVEN WRITTEN AND TALKED ABOUT IT EXCESSIVELY ON THE INTERNET.'

Interviewed for a Den of Geek article on Last Commanders, its producer Ryan Meloy said:

"I loved Knightmare, obviously, so making a show like this is something I've dreamed of since I was about ten! Knightmare was such a departure from other kids’ shows at the time. It felt like a video game brought to life and shared a lot of similarities, puzzle-wise, with the old text adventure games on the Spectrum ZX."

Each mission, set on a different part of the Ykarus station, advances the plot and takes Skye (Zoe Barker) a step closer to defeating Sciron, whose victims include her best friend and parents.

Knightmare had its own sci-fi sister show, The Satellite Game, now largely forgotten (though YouTube has some episodes). When Last Commanders started in 2018, we predicted it making a much bigger impression. Sure enough, it was nominated for a Broadcast Award and a BAFTA. It also got reactions on Twitter like these:

'One under-the-weather 8 year old and I are watching Last Commanders on CBBC and not only is she enjoying it but I am getting some delightful flashbacks to the early 90s watching Knightmare at tea-time with my brother and ma. This is really cute' @7ovdiamonds

'If you're like "why isn't there more Knightmare", totally recommend it. If you just like bloody great kids TV and wonder what System Shock would be like as a kids TV show - have at it.' @retromakes

Here's the Series 1 trailer from last year:

One big contrast to Knightmare is that each Last Commanders episode has three or four teams taking on the same mission, meticulously edited together. It makes us wonder whether some of Knightmare's less variable quests, such as Series 4, would work in this way.

The commanders, teams of two to four, are sent customised laptops by the production team and they use Skype to choose, talk with and advise their 'avatars' (who helpfully read and speak English). Although this means the kids are quite far removed from the danger - which mostly consists of "Cybers" patrolling the corridors and lurking outside each puzzle room as Sciron threatens a door override - they clearly feel the tension, with many a scream let out. Maybe it's because they're younger than Knightmare contestants, or because they're not constrained by a TV studio environment. Equally, they're thrilled when they complete a puzzle or mission, which is fun to watch.

If the freedom fighter gets caught, we get the Game Over screen: much like Knightmare, younger viewers are assured that the harm isn't real. In every episode so far, at least one character has completed the mission. There's obviously a balance to be struck between challenging gameplay and story development.

Series 2 began on Wednesday 1st May. So far it's featured more interactions between the avatar and 'NPCs' (i.e. conversations with other people on the station) than Series 1, making it even more akin to Knightmare. There's even a moment where the players get caught spying. The impending threats, from Cybers round the corner to sleeper mist filling the room, serve their purposes as tremendously as Knightmare's "hurry ups" did.

The schedules suggest there are are three chances to catch each Last Commanders episode on the CBBC channel: Wednesday at 5:30pm & 7:30pm, Saturday at 7:30pm. You can also watch episodes via the Last Commanders webpage. There you'll also find a set of playable prequel missions which pleasingly evoke the Knightmare Teletext games. There's even a nod (maybe) in one of them to Knightmare's 'fire extinguisher in the eyeshield sequence' moment:

 

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