Duke Nukem II – PC
The Apogee Shareware Series, Part III
Platform: PC (DOS), Windows (via Steam)
Developer: Apogee Software, Interceptor Entertainment (Steam)
Publisher: Apogee Software, Interceptor Entertainment (Steam)
Release Date: December 3, 1993 (DOS); July 2, 2013 (Steam)
Nerd Rating: 7.5 out of 10
When you’re looking for the archetypal action hero in video games, you won’t have to search for long before you bump into Duke Nukem, the cigar-chomping, babe-rescuing action hero who kicks ass and chews bubble gum (and he’s all out of gum). A true Hollywood star, Duke’s life as a character has seen extraordinary highs and lows, and love him or hate him, his legacy is definitely a box-office hit. But before he became one of the most quotable figures in all of gaming with the game-changing Duke Nukem 3D, he was in Duke Nukem II, running and gunning through side-scrolling hostile alien worlds, shooting everything that moved. And I was right there with him, making his gun out of paper towel rolls, running around the backyard pretending to shoot up aliens, and replaying the sweet level music in my head at school when I should have been listening to the teachers! Put on your apocalyptic shades and practice your best one-liners as we find out just what about this game made it catchy enough to help put Duke on the map!
Duke Nukem II came out later in the same year as Bio Menace did, following a similar formula but using an in-house graphical engine (it was also released on the same day as Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold, interestingly enough). In the years following his defeat of Dr. Proton in the events of the original Duke Nukem, Duke is on the set of a TV show in Neo New York, promoting his autobiography “Why I’m So Great”, when he’s suddenly abducted by an evil race of aliens called the Rigelatins. Their evil plan is to implant his brain into their war computer so it can conquer Earth for them, but Duke escapes from his captivity, grabs a gun, and starts showing the invaders what it means to mess with a man’s merchandise. Worked on by many Apogee designers, including Scott Miller and George Broussard, and featuring some of Bobby Prince’s musical handiwork, it was split into four nameless chapters of increasing difficulty that chronicled Duke’s path of destruction through the Rigelatin war machine.
While the game shares a lot of general elements with Bio Menace, Duke Nukem II is far more dynamic, taking advantage of faster processor speeds and better graphics capability to throw in some neat tricks. Duke is extremely responsive, going where you tell him to as soon as you hit the key, shooting as many times as you press the button, and even letting you control his jumps from start to finish. Enemies move and attack faster, meaning you have to be more aggressive with your exploration in case you blunder into one that just wandered onto the screen and lose precious health. Some of them have interesting and erratic attack patterns too, making them far less predictable than enemies from other games. The levels are linear, but open, giving you a path to the end but not forcing you to stay inside the lines, rewarding you with power-ups and extra point orbs if you take the time to check around and be particular about things. And while you shoot up aliens and hunt down power-ups, you can enjoy the scenery of the levels, with many of them featuring Parallax scrolling to give the neat illusion that the level’s deeper than it looks on the surface. The pacing and feel of the game is very well-done, making an otherwise flat side-scroller pop off the screen and get right in your face with a badass, action-packed journey from start to finish.
Apogee games don’t shy away from legitimate difficulty, and Duke Nukem II is no exception. While the health bar stays the same regardless of setting, the difficulty setting you play on does determine how many power-ups and enemies you’ll run across in each level, with extra power-ups on Easy and extra enemies on Hard. Thankfully for fans of the old-school, Duke Nukem II doesn’t run on lives, and Duke can die as many times as he needs to in order to beat the level. He can also hit the mid-level checkpoint, which saves everything you do from that point on so that if you get close to the end of the level and die, you can just continue from the checkpoint and everything you did up until you died is still done, you don’t have to restart from the beginning or redo all of that progress. And you can even save during the level without losing any points (deducting points for saves was something earlier games did). Together, these factors mean that the game doesn’t feel nearly as malicious as a game with extra lives might, it just doesn’t make getting to the end quite so easy. Persistence will win the day, whether you play it over the course of a month or a single evening, so you can play it without the pressure of the game trying to beat you before you beat it.
For Duke Nukem II to be a kickass side-scroller, it needs to have cool weapons, and Duke doesn’t disappoint. Green power-up boxes usually hold new ammo for your weapon, letting you replace your default shot with one of three sweet weapon types. Blue lasers pass through the background and shoot through anything, letting you shoot bad guys through the ceiling or ones lined up in rows. Rockets are the strongest of the weapons, taking down even the biggest and baddest enemies in just a couple of shots (not counting the end-of-chapter bosses, of course). And then there’s the flamethrower, which takes the term a lot more literally than the weapon we think of when we hear that: Duke throws huge balls of flame wherever he points the gun, and since the gun can propel him into the air as well as shoot through walls, it has a surprising amount of utility value. More than once, having it has saved me from falling into a dangerous area or let me reach a precipice easier, firing straight down and letting the momentum from the weapon carry me up onto a ledge. It also has more ammo than most of the other weapons, so that you can play with it like this and still get your money’s worth out of picking it up. Between these three and the default shot, you’ve definitely got a lot of firepower to make the Rigelatins shake in their little space-boots.
Rather than make you hunt down lives, Duke Nukem II encourages you to chase down points. There’s a whole smorgasbord of ways to score points in this game, from special point pick-ups that fall from the sky to seven secret bonus conditions that you can satisfy in every mission. One of the biggest ways to do this is to seek out power-up boxes containing the letters “NUKEM”, one by one, and pick them up in the right order, which nets a big point value. And sometimes you can find interesting experimental ways to earn extra points, like shooting a health-restoring Cola can so that it rockets into the sky, and then jumping up and grabbing it for an extra two thousand. A lot of power-ups are items from Duke Nukem’s own merchandise collection, with copies of the game, gaming PC kits, action cameras, and foldout cellphones (the early ones that were just phones, kids) that you can pick up to add to your score. Atomic Health power-ups also count for a lot of points if your health is full.
The sounds are distinctive and fun, not those cheap stock sounds like you would get playing on a low-cost Casio keyboard, but the kind you know are made specifically for this game. Apogee has always been good about not cutting corners when it comes to the audio, and Bobby Prince is at it again here in Duke Nukem II, making the soundtrack sound amazing with his MIDI adaptations of metal tracks of the decade. He’s Back is a MIDI version of Megadeth’s “Angry Again”, and is the first level music, so it sets things off at a good tone. Kick Butt is an amazing adrenalin-pumper, and I wish I recognized the base song it came from so that I could hunt it down and hear it too. And the interestingly-named Squeak is another Megadeth MIDI, this one of “Skin of My Teeth”, and they’re both favorites of mine. The Prince has always been good at taking existing songs and making them fit to the video game beat, and I enjoy his work every time I run across it.
For my overall analysis, Duke Nukem II is quite fun, and brings a lot to the table, just as Apogee always does with their games. It can frustrate at times, but it won’t cheese you off enough to make playing as Duke and shooting up aliens and robots stop sounding fun. It’s good old arcade-style action with infinite lives and no need for quarters, and definitely worth a try if you’re looking for something of that caliber to eat up an evening. My advice to first-timers: Play it on Easy first, at least until you know what kind of ringer you’re going to be thrown into. I would normally suggest getting the Abandonware version of this game, but I’ve had a bit of difficulty in getting that to work right. Thankfully, Interceptor Entertainment did a port of this game for Steam as part of the Duke Nukem Platformer Pack, so I can recommend that for the low price of $2.99, or $9.99 if you want to pick up the other platformer games with Duke in them as well. I’m sure that if you liked Duke Nukem Forever, you’re gonna love this, and you won’t have to wait forever to get it, either!
(Author’s Note: The pictures shown in this review are all from the Steam re-release, as is the shiny new game cover above the review itself, but the only real changes between the old and new versions are that you can play it on Windows and they gave Duke his trademark sunglasses. Oh, and they covered up a couple of hotkeys in the game interface with Duke’s face, which is slightly annoying if you want to look up the controls mid-game, but roaming across the keyboard with your fingers will find that option eventually.)
Check out these other Apogee Software titles reviewed by Action Zero.
- Bio Menace
- Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold
- Duke Nukem II
- Halloween Harry, aka Alien Carnage
- Hocus Pocus
- Math Rescue
- Mystic Towers
- Raptor: Call of the Shadows
- Wolfenstein 3D
- Word Rescue
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