Duke Nukem has been kicking alien ass since the early nineties, but he really made his name in the critically-acclaimed shooter Duke Nukem 3D. 3D Realms had a masterpiece on their hands, as it was running on a more powerful game engine that offered so much more than what other shooters could offer at the time. A fully-voiced protagonist spouting cheesy one-liners while ogling strippers and splattering aliens into chunks was unheard of at the time, and it still resonates with gamers even today. Looks like the 20th Anniversary re-release of the game has made its way to the Switch four years on, and I’m happy to say that it’s still glorious.
After defeating the Rigelatins in Duke Nukem II, the titular protagonist makes his way back to his home planet. After receiving enemy fire on his ride, he receives a distress signal from L.A. comes in. A new race of aliens have been causing havoc, mutating the police, and are kidnapping the women as well. Our hero sets off to clear Tinseltown of extraterrestrial scum, though his ongoing battles will take him around the globe and even in deep space.
The level design, for starters, still holds up strong after all these years. There are over 40 fantastic levels set in urban locations like a subway, a burger restaurant, and even an adult film studio. There are a few sci-fi themed missions alongside, and you can expect yourself to be fighting in spaceships and on the surface of the moon. Key hunting, secret areas and deadly traps are all to be expected in these creatively-designed missions, not to mention some simple puzzles and somewhat-tricky platforming sections. It can be a little easy to get lost during your first playthrough, as they are nonlinear in design and will require a fair bit of backtracking on occasions, but this is still some top notch stuff on offer.
There’s a wide array of guns on offer here. Some of the conventional ones, like the pistol, shotgun, chaingun and RPG are all very reliable and enjoyable to use. Then there are some of the more creative tools, like a shrink ray, Freezethrower, and pipe bombs, which add a lot more variety and wackiness to the game’s satisfying combat and tricky gunfights. Other handy items, like a portable medkit, Holo-Duke distraction tool, and jetpack can be carried in your inventory, and are exceptionally useful to the cause.
Compared to the likes of DOOM, the enemy roster is a lot more complex and intelligent. Assault Troopers fly jetpacks and can teleport around, but are typical fodder enemies that are more dangerous in packs. Pig Cops occasionally duck to avoid projectiles, and can also ride armoured vehicles. Then there are some of the bigger badasses like the Assault Commanders, that fire rockets out of their backsides, or the Protector Drones and their shrink rays. You’ll be up for a challenge against these bad dudes, but the difficulty on the whole is fair and generally accommodating for any seasoned FPS fanatic.
The game looked pretty damn good for the time, and it still does even today. The 20th Anniversary’s updated engine makes levels look even more colourful with its updated textures and lighting effects, which is some serious eye-candy. While there are no other fanciful HD visual effects being pulled off here (the inventory items are in desperate need of that treatment, as they look awfully scrambled), the base game still looks very detailed, with the added bonus of running flawlessly on the Switch.
There are a few other unique highlights to this version of Duke Nukem 3D, one of which is the rewind feature. After you die, you can rewind to any previous point in the level in order to fix that mistake, saving you the hassle of loading back incessantly after each death. You can play any level at your own expense from the level selection screen, and can even check out some developer commentary in-game as well. Duke’s cheesy one liners have been recorded by his original voice actor, Jon St. John, and while the performance is still pretty good here, the pain and death noises just sound irritating.
The biggest selling point is the exclusive new episode ‘Alien World Order’, which features missions set around the globe, from Russia and the UK to Amsterdam and Egypt. They’re larger, more detailed, and considerably tricker to play in comparison to the other ones. It’s home to the Incinerator, which spits out spicy projectiles that leave pools of lava that melt most enemies with minimal fuss. The new Firefly enemy can ignite you, explode on death, and even shrink itself to dodge incoming attacks, making it a formidable foe. I wish the same could be said about the final boss; the Cycloid Incinerator can’t hit you unless you get up-close, making him a pathetic excuse of a final boss.
Multiplayer mode runs smoothly on this port. The levels have been suitably designed for online spars, with additional weapon pick-ups and shortcuts to help players get around some of the bigger maps in Dukematch. You can also fight up to eight ‘Duke-bot’ AI opponents, though these guys are pretty dumb, to say the least. Not only will they use the pistol nearly-all the time, but they often struggle with pathfinding and hitting switches. Cooperative mode is still an option; running ‘n’ gunning through each level with a buddy or two is cracking fun.
The soundtrack is simply stunning. The title theme, ‘Grabbag’, is easily one of the most engaging and catchy songs to date, but the fun doesn’t stop there. While the movie-like, orchestral-sounding tunes are definite mood setters, there’s plenty to enjoy from some of the higher-tempo and atmospheric songs. Just take the song from the first level, ‘Stalker’, for example. It’s an ambient track that picks up a catchy rhythm and has all sorts of infectious hooks that never gets old. The new episode also features a selection of fresh tracks from series composer Lee Jackson as well, with plenty of funky and rockin’ tracks to enjoy.
Still, even with all the swanky new content, the exclusion of the third-party expansion packs – those being Duke Caribbean: Life’s a Beach, Duke it Out in D.C, and Duke Nuclear Winter – is disappointing. There was a lot of great content in these (well, the Xmas one was a bit naff), so it would’ve been nice to play them again. Regardless, the Switch port is actually cheaper than the other platforms. Hours upon hours of content and replayability for less than a tenner? Bargain, ‘nuff said.
Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour is a bang-on port of a masterpiece of a FPS. The core game is a thrilling experience with solid combat, memorable level design and hilarious charm. Even if it’s missing the expansion packs, the metric tonnes of bonus content and handy features packaged alongside this version makes it a lot more convenient and enjoyable to play, meaning you’re bound to get plenty of bang for your buck. Even after over two decades, the motto rings true: always bet on Duke!
Review code supplied by Gearbox Software.