Duke Nukem 3D is a weird video game

I purchased Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour on Switch last weekend on a whim. Partly because it had a 50% launch discount, and partly because nostalgia. Unlike most games I buy, I wasn’t even sure I was going to play it. I mostly just wanted to know that I could play it.

Truly, I live a life of six-dollar luxuries.

But then I did start playing the game, and so many things started jumping out at me as weird. Immediately I was taken aback to learn that the first episode only has five levels. Like, what? I guess it came as a surprise because no version of the game I’ve played before let you choose any stage you want right from the word go (which is a really cool feature, actually).

The first two stages didn’t hold anything particularly new or exciting for me. Those are the ones I’ve played the most and am mostly familiar with. I used to play Duke 3D all the time when I’d go over to my uncle’s house, and apparently saving was not a thing I would do, because I barely remember anything past level two. Or maybe someone deleted my saves? I don’t know. I don’t remember ever playing it at home, either, so I have this feeling that my mom wouldn’t allow it in the house. Did my dad have a secret copy? Couldn’t tell you. But probably yes.

Anyway, the thing I’m trying to get to here is that the second level ends with Duke being captured by aliens, and the third level begins with him being zapped in an electric chair. This is troublesome since if you end level two with less than about 30 health, you’ll die immediately upon entering level three with absolutely no recourse. So then you have to start the stage with no weapons or items, which is a real problem because the first two monsters are pig-cops, and their shotguns can kill you real fast while you try to kick them to death. While I appreciate the setpiece, it really works against the gameplay. I was stuck retrying that first room for like 20 minutes before I was able to play it well enough to survive to the point where I could locate a few health pickups.

So, I lied before. There actually is something that blew my mind in the first level. Throughout the game, you can find women trapped in alien goo, who whisper “Kill me…” if you interact with them. I found one of said ladies in level one, and tried and tried to save her from her sticky prison, but to no avail. As it turns out, you can’t save them. You either leave them to their fate, or honour their wishes and murder them. I think that this confused me because I played the Nintendo 64 version a lot in my youth, and apparently that is the only version where you can free the trapped babes. Weird!

The one other thing that has thrown me for a loop is that Duke 3D is hard. I chose to play on the “Let’s Rock” difficulty level, which is the default and presumably the counterpart to “normal” in other games. And in the first three levels, I died a lot. I know I’m not very good at these old-school shooters, but wow do enemy shots ever hurt a lot! A mid-range shotgun blast from a pig-cop can knock off over 20 of Duke’s health points. The scrub aliens don’t hit quite as hard, but they usually come in groups and have a higher rate of fire, so they can pile it on pretty quick. Also they often have jetpacks, and those guys… man, those guys.

On the other hand, the Switch port has motion control aiming, which is nice. Really good for fine-tuning your aim when the control sticks just aren’t giving you the fine control you need. Also I was playing it during my lunch hour at work and man was that weird. It almost felt like I was doing something wrong, what with all the strippers in level two. I can only imagine what might have happened if someone took a peek at my screen at the wrong moment. Perhaps I ought to stick with A Hat in Time during lunch break.

Aside from my few little quibbles, it has been fun to dip back into Duke 3D for a bit. I’m sure that I’ll have to knock down the difficulty level to easy before I’ll have any hope of finishing it, but… I don’t know that I’ll even play it that much. Even with the intent of playing it through to the end, I have a feeling that this is going to be a “finish the first episode then completely forget about it” kind of game. A fun, nostalgic distraction, but nothing more.


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