Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour Review

Oh, Duke. It’s been so very, very long. I still remember the days of finding you on floppy disk in my friend’s dad’s computer drawer. I installed you and I had so very very much fun. It was completely ridiculous, and such an iconic role was born. I didn’t know much about the 2D platforming/sidescrolling adventures back then: I was too young, and PC gaming was still pretty new to me. I wanted to play the free demo over and over again, and I eagerly jumped on “borrowing” a full version from a classmate when he revealed that his mom had bought it for him. Those were simpler times, and you were truly the king of FPS titles for a brief, shining moment. We all remember Quake, and Heretic, and Blood, and those crazy games that came after, but only Duke Nukem had me shooting strippers with a rocket launcher back when that was somehow not problematic. The Nintendo Switch is late to the party, Duke, but the 20th Anniversary World Tour has finally come and is available for fans to truly see what it’s like to kick ass and chew bubble gum wherever you go.

For those unaware, Duke Nukem is a gritty, hardened hero who makes it his mission to wipe out all of the alien life that has invaded Earth and is seeking to control and enslave all of humanity. The aliens have come early before Duke could return to Earth (because he was out in space, you see) and have mutated the LAPD into literal pig cops that have an eye out for killing Duke. The only solution is to shoot the hell out of anything and everything in your way across five surprisingly massive episodes, which take Duke through Los Angeles, onto the Moon, deep into Area 51 and then around the globe as the aliens decide to wreak havoc in Paris, Egypt and beyond. The story is seriously paper-thin, so don’t go scratching your head too much over it: the purpose is to shoot a whole bunch of aliens in the most dramatic and action movie-style possible.

Duke Nukem 3D was created at a strange point in FPS, where we were just starting to understand that enemies could come from more than just straight in front of you, and so this is one of those games where you could get away with using a mouse AND keyboard to maximize the success rate of it all. You start off with a traditional pistol and your signature boot (because punching enemies is so passe) and quickly pick up shotguns, RPGs and even more, culminating with insane weapons like the Devestator, or the freeze thrower (you read that right). The purpose for each stage was similar to that of other FPS games: find your way through the level, usually collecting keycards to unlock doors, kill all the enemies in your way and don’t die in the process. Duke can pick up both health refills and armor, and will find atomic health that can charge him beyond 100%. There are secrets to be found, both in terms of pick-ups and, more importantly, in terms of visual gags and references.

The style and humor of Duke Nukem 3D is what kept the game as a treasured classic for so very long. While games like the original Doom or even Hexen were pretty serious in their tone and approach, Duke Nukem was all about witty commentary, terrible puns and purposely grating, shocking speech. He talked like he was somewhere between Arnold Schwartzenegger and Andrew Dice Clay. He didn’t drop the F-bomb as much, but he wasn’t afraid for some good “damns, ass and hells” to make the players gasp and giggle in shocked disbelief. It’s been close to twenty years since I put any real effort into the game, and his voice is clear as a bell inside my skull. When you discover a secret area that has a mangled body that resembles a certain other franchise’s hero, you have Duke spout “That’s one Doomed space marine.” I can remember that, but I can’t figure out the difference between sines, cosines and tangents despite taking classes on it. Duke Nukem 3D is memorable in quotes and presentation more than anything else.

The 20th Anniversary World Tour takes all that was great about Duke Nukem 3D and gives it a great polish and injection to make it sing for modern devices. Having been released and re-released time and again, this World Tour version has sharp, clean audio and graphics that come from the original creators and designers, and even new lines from the original voice of Duke himself, Jon St. John. Gearbox really went to the mat with this port, making sure that the original levels that were created (episodes one through three) are well balanced in light and edges, and that the newer content gels well, including the fifth episode that was exclusive to the 20th Anniversary World Tour. There is zero input lag, drop-in communication, or anything remotely disappointing about how the port looks and plays on the Nintendo Switch, so players need not worry. Granted, I think we’re all a little confused that we finally got this port when we’re actually closer to the 25th anniversary at this point, but hey, better late than never, and I’m just happy to have it.

Playing this new edition isn’t just good in terms of beefier standard gaming either. The Nintendo Switch does have gyroscopic controls and motion aiming, which are certainly fun and even work well on the Switch Lite. Having said that, I completely prefer to do things with the joysticks, not because motion aiming doesn’t work, but because I don’t want to accidentally throw my Switch off the balcony when I whip around to deal with an alien shooting me in the back. It’s fun and functional, and certainly worth a try. Plus, this version incorporates all the other goodies of the 20th Anniversary World Tour, like director’s commentary spots (which is FASCINATING, highly recommended to listen) and the ability to scrub back in time when you get shot in the face and are pretty sure you can do it again without failure. This is some Prince of Persia level stuff that I wish I had back in my older play days because Duke isn’t an easy FPS, and a chance to turn back time and not get blown up would have been deeply appreciated.

The best part of it all is that Duke Nukem 3D is still an incredibly competent and strong shooter that remains fun and surprisingly challenging. The way that enemies can seem to come out of nowhere without being random cheap spawns remains and the enemy variety is dynamic enough to make each episode feel different and special. There’s no shortage of reasons to keep exploring within the levels: you have a chance to find items, sight gags or hidden directors commentary no matter what.  Clicking to hear Duke grunt and ask “where is it?” again and again until you stumble upon a gemstone of speech to enjoy is part of the discovery process that’s thrilling. Players who haven’t picked up this game since before Windows XP will be stunned to see how much content was added, and players who kept up with it since the Megaton Edition might be slightly bummed that a lot of the extra content that was fan and in house created is missing. Still, there’s always a chance for an expansion in the future: if Doom has taught us anything, it’s that the released version isn’t necessarily the final version.

Honestly, for the price and for the amount of content you get, this should be a no brainer for classic shooter fans and people who weren’t allowed to play this as kids. Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour is insane amounts of fun, and I can’t wait for it to go live tomorrow so that I can watch the online lobby’s fill up for people looking to frag with the Duke all over again. It’s tremendous fun, it handles great and it has the option to toggle on and off the problematic elements that might have prevented Duke Nukem 3D from ever getting published in today’s day and age. Forget Duke Nukem Forever; this is the Duke that’s the once and future king.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour Review
  • Gameplay - 9/10
    9/10
  • Graphics - 9/10
    9/10
  • Sound - 9/10
    9/10
  • Replay Value - 9/10
    9/10
Overall
9/10

Summary

Holy crap, it’s like I’m 14 all over again & I couldn’t be happier to revisit the invaded world of Los Angeles with one of the most memorable heroes of the 90s.