Developer: Nerve Software, Gearbox Software, LLC | Publisher:Gearbox Publishing | Genre: First-person shooter | Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, and Nintendo Switch | Reviewed On: Switch
Hail to the king, baby! Duke Nukem’s back and ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and he’s all outta gum. A part of the classic shooter holy trinity with Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D occupies a very important place in video game history. While generally regarded as a goofy imitation of other single-player shooters from the mid-’90s, Nukem brought its own original brand of personality to the genre and became a lasting name in gaming.
Although it has been almost 25 years after the title’s original release, it’s still no surprise that Duke is finally making his way to the Nintendo Switch with Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour. Over its lifespan, Duke Nukem 3D has been ported to just about every console imaginable, from the Sega Saturn to a Nokia flip phone (look it up!). While the original 20th Anniversary World Tour port released on current-gen consoles over four years ago, the Switch version adds some unique Nintendo features that update the experience. So how well does America’s favorite bad boy translate to a Nintendo console?
To quote the man himself, Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour is absolutely “groovy.” It’s fast-paced, addicting, entertaining, and faithful to the original. Most importantly, Duke Nukem 3D for the Switch is made very accessible to a modern audience and is a great example of how retro ports should release on modern consoles. It feels just like it did 25 years ago but plays like it was made for the present day, and it’s a welcome addition to the Switch’s growing library of video game classics.
Nobody Steals Our Chicks… and Lives!
The Duke Nukem franchise has always been about taking things to the extreme, and Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour for the Switch is no exception. For the uninitiated, Duke Nukem 3D follows everyone’s favorite muscular, flat-topped hero as he blasts his way through hordes of mutants and evil alien invaders to save Earth’s kidnapped babes. Using a variety of weapons and special items, Nukem battles through city streets, strip clubs, alien ships, and satellite bases to save Earth and rescue the stolen chicks (never thought there would be a good excuse to write that) while rambling off Bruce Campbell-esque one-liners. It’s beautiful fun and a reminder of what the narrative landscape was like during the “wild west” of the video game industry.
Suprisingly, Nintendo did not seem compelled to censor some of the more vulgar aspects of Duke Nukem 3D. In classic fashion, Duke still offers 20-dollar bills to women on the streets, drops schoolyard insults to the decapitated bodies of alien bosses, and references outdated goofy 90’s pop culture. There are plenty of lurid over the top situations, exposed pixelated breasts, and oddly specific kills. Of course, it’s all done in a very tongue-in-cheek and over-the-top manner, but it’s these elements that really make the franchise memorable.
Who Wants Some?
Make no bones about it, Duke Nukem 3D’s gameplay and level design has held up over the years, although modern gamers may find it considerably more difficult than new-school shooters. It’s fast, snappy, and unforgiving. Aiming must be precise, enemies rarely miss their shots, and speed is the name of the game. It may take a while getting used to the more classic style of running, hiding, and shooting, but it isn’t too difficult to master after some practice. Fans of Doom will feel right at home here.
Nukem’s level design is also pretty ingenious for its time. Players make progress by finding keycards hidden around, and the game strikes a nice balance between running-and-gunning and platforming. On the other hand, there are a number of hidden switches and some outdated or “unfair” puzzles that might prove frustrating. Again, another sign of the times, but fortunately there are countless online resources devoted to the game if anything becomes too much of a roadblock.
Be Kind, Rewind
Hands down though, the best part of the new remaster is the addition of the rewind feature. Whenever a player dies in Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour, the game displays a rewind time-bar of their entire level playthrough up to that point, and players can choose where in the playthrough they would like to respawn. This could be right before the final deathblow lands, before the encounter, or even way further back if they need to save special items.
To be quite honest, it’s hard to imagine beating the game without this rewind feature. Duke Nukem 3D belongs to a bygone era where players had to struggle through levels, failing over and over until they memorized the map design and achieved the perfect run. Like it or not, gamers today just don’t have that kind of patience, so the rewind feature makes the game more approachable for a more modern and casual audience. It would be great to see this kind of accessibility in other modern re-releases of classic titles, as one can finally enjoy the feeling of an older game without the retro headache.
Nintendo Nukem in 2020
Now, to avoid any confusion, Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour is not a full 3D remake; it’s more of a re-texture than anything else. Objects “rotate” with the camera and most filler items are 2d, so the game looks more like the spruced-up version of a 25-year-old title that it is instead of a full recreation. Even with the minimal updates, Nukem 3D for the Switch still retains the charm of the past while not looking painful to the modern eye. For purists, the title gives players the option to toggle the updated graphics on or off, but let’s just say the “re-skins” do make a huge, noticeable difference.
Also, the addition of Gyro controls to Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour for the Switch makes this the premier edition. Honestly, using Gyro controls makes this release feel the closest to the mouse-and-keyboard aiming experience that’s most authentic for the title. When playing, the game plays best when using a combo of gyro and dual-stick aiming, namely relying on the right joystick for larger movements and using Gyro for small, fast-twitch adjustments.
They Don’t Make ‘Em Better Than Nukem!
It’s hard to believe that even after all these years, the Duke Nukem franchise hasn’t made a successful next-gen return to consoles. Of course, there was the Duke Nukem Forever debacle (let’s not talk about that), but nothing else has really captured the magic of Nukem 3D. To put it simply, all devs really need to do is pull out the elements that already exist within 20th Anniversary World Tour. Similarly to Doom 2016, Duke Nukem‘s future just needs to be a soft reboot of Duke Nukem 3D. Create some engaging shooting mechanics, ramp the obscenity up to 11, and add a modern Megadeth-style soundtrack, and there’s the recipe for success.
For now, Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour for the Nintendo Switch is a great way for players new and returning to enjoy a classic piece of video game history. It’s outlandish, unforgiving, and intense, but its rewind feature makes the title accessible for most modern shooter fans. Nukem 3D looks nice, plays smoothly, and serves as a great timepiece for an incredible era of video game history. While it will probably be best enjoyed by fans of vintage shooters, a franchise newbie looking for a retro challenge or a glimpse into the past might get some quality mileage out of the title. Nowadays, there are a million ways to play Duke Nukem 3d, but 20th Anniversary World Tour for the Switch is undoubtedly one of the best. So, lock-n-load and get those one-liners ready to roll, because Earth’s babes need saving.