Retro Rated: Duke Nukem 64

Few could have predicted a game to rival the likes of id Software’s revolutionary first-person shooter DOOM. In 1996, 3D Realms released the rude ‘n’ crude alien frag-a-thon Duke Nukem 3D to critical acclaim. The game was packed with cheesy one-liners, exciting battles with extra-terrestrial scum, and enough ‘adult content’ to upset thousands of parents and incredibly-boring politicians alike. Truly, this was a shooter like no other.

Duke Nukem 3D was eventually ported to numerous home consoles shortly after its release. Arguably, the most unique port of the game was the Nintendo 64 iteration, unimaginatively entitled Duke Nukem 64, developed by 3D Realms and Eurocom. Cutbacks-aside, this was still one kickass shooter filled to the brim with metric tonnes of badassery, and plenty of new additions to boot.

Aliens have overrun Los Angeles, and our hero Duke Nukem has arrived on the scene. Your job is to find the exit in each level while massacring as many aliens as possible. While the original game was organised via chapters, Duke Nukem 64 is made up of a long chain of levels. Sadly, you cannot save mid-game, which may be a nuisance to less-experienced players. On the plus-side, you can save your game after beating a level, and even replay previously-completed missions.

A majority of the levels from the original game are to be found here. Things like moving trains and spinning platforms were removed, while some maps ended up being redesigned or expanded in size. The level design is still top-notch and the environment has a fair bit of interactivity, with plenty of toilets to use, light switches to flick, and cameras to peer through. Boss levels are broken up into two separate levels, meaning the actual encounter with the nasty bosses are standalone-missions. Good, thing, too – no need to replay 20 mins of a level just to retry the battle again.

Duke Nukem 64 runs at a smooth, consistent frame-rate, something that the PlayStation and Sega Saturn ports struggled to pull off.  The aliens look meaner and more detailed thanks to some clever tricks pulled off by the Nintendo 64, and there are even some 3D explosions to marvel at. The final boss, too, has been given the 3D-treatment as well,like a cybernetic, one-eyed version of Godzilla.

Duke’s arsenal has a new look, too. Alongside weapons like the shrink ray and Duke’s trusty pipe bombs were some new inclusions, like a grenade launcher, a plasma cannon, and a heat-seeker. Some guns have alternate ammo, like magnum bullets and explosive shotgun shells. While weapons like the Freeze-thrower and the mini-rocket-launching Devastator were excluded from the line-up, the updated arsenal makes frying mutant Pig Cops and splattering airborne Assault Troopers feel like a new experience. Multiplayer is available in the form of a surprisingly-stable split-screen mode. Got no mates? No problem – computer-controlled bots can be fought in “Dukematch”. They come with a difficult adjuster, too (just try not to crank it up too high or they will batter your backside). Two-player co-op mode is a lot of fun, so long as you’re not fussed about sharing a smaller screen to play on. It still runs pretty damn smoothly, much like the rest of the game.. Every map from single player mode can be played in multiplayer, and there a few levels exclusive to Dukematch as well.

While the blood, guts and gore remain untouched, the risqué content that Duke Nukem 3D was infamously known for was removed from the port, as requested by Nintendo at the time. Scantily-clad babes were replaced with cocooned ladies who can be rescued (just don’t expect any rewards for doing the right thing here). Even some of Duke’s re-recorded one-liners omitted the bad language. Hey, at least there were some new quips thrown into the mix, like “’you’re the disease and I’m the cure!” The lack of a soundtrack, aside from the awesome menu theme, is the biggest disappointment, though.

All in all, Duke Nukem 64 was a pretty unique port for its time. Despite some notable cutbacks – in this case, the music, the rude stuff, and the complicated bits of level geometry – it’s packing enough new content to make it a worthwhile play for nostalgic console gamers and PC pundits alike.

Verdict:

Goldeneye 64 may had been the best 3D-shooter on the Nintendo 64, yet, as this port proves, if you’re looking for an awesome alien frag-a-thon – whether fighting solo or sparring with mates – you should always bet on Duke.

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