Duke Nukem 64 is the Nintendo 64 port of the PC game Duke Nukem 3D, a classic first-person shooter. If you don’t know already, Duke Nukem 3D is one of the big name pioneers of the first-person shooter genre, alongside titles like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. The story of the game takes place immediately after the events of Duke Nukem II, although you don’t need to know anything about the two previous platformer adventures to keep up. On his way back to Earth, aliens shoot down Duke’s spaceship. Not only that, but they’ve invaded the planet! The worst part is that they’re trying to use Earth women as hosts for their offspring, and Duke certainly isn’t going to let some freakin’ aliens mess with his babes. It’s your job to fight through the city streets, the space station, and back on the planet once more in order to stop their hideous plot.
The gameplay is what you would expect from any typical classic-style first-person shooter. You collect an arsenal of fun guns to use as you please in order to mow down lots of interesting enemies. You pick up health, ammo, and secondary items along the way as well, such as a jetpack and boots. You’ll also generally be finding colored keycards within the levels that allow you to open the corresponding locked doors or switches. You can also expect some light puzzles and platforming action as well. Most of the levels will require exploration and backtracking in order to complete them rather than being linear experiences. Secrets are everywhere, so looking for those is a good incentive to explore as they will often reward you with helpful supplies or interesting references. You can expect a few secret levels and some cool boss fights in there too.
Speaking of those references, these are part of what makes this game so cool. There are lots of pop culture references in the game. Many of the quotes Duke has are one-liners from popular movies, making him the ultimate embodiment of 80’s and 90’s action movie heroes. There are also lots of interesting details in the minor parts of the level designs, like posters and magazines. All of these things come together to give this game character and charm. It’s a big action movie turned into a video game, without having to worry about being faithful to a movie license. Not such a bad idea.
Now I think we need to talk more specifically about the N64 port. Duke Nukem 64 is notorious for being censored by Nintendo. This resulted in a few changes. Most of the hard language was changed, but this opened up the door to re-record all of the voice work and add in some new lines as well. The bigger change, however, was the reduction of sexual content. There are no strippers shaking it for you in this version. In fact, the whole strip club area was completely redesigned to be some sort of Duke Burger shipping area. There were also some other slight redesigns in levels, which add a little bit of spice to those used to things being a certain way. Also, a way to encourage exploration even more AND to help make Duke feel more heroic, this version adds in the feature of saving babes that have been enslaved by the aliens. It’s a touch better than having them just say “kill me” and deciding whether to just leave them to rot or putting them out of their misery.
The whole game is played as one big campaign rather than being split into three episodes. This means you get to keep all your stuff after the end of episode boss battles. There are a lot of weapon changes. The devastator does not make an appearance in this game, but the newly added grenade launcher helps make up for the lost ground. Also, twin SMGs replace the chaingun, though have a similar effect. Aside from aesthetic changes to the other weapons, there are also additional secondary ammo types in this game, such as explosive shotgun shells and heat seeking rockets. The increased amount of explosives at your disposal, along with the fact that now any weapon (including your mighty foot) can damage and destroy enemy corpses, make it MUCH easier to manage the Damn I’m Good difficulty since enemies will respawn when killed unless their bodies are destroyed. However, death can be quite annoying in this version because you can only save after completing a level. That means if you die, you have to start the whole level over again. This is fine for getting shot too much or accidentally walking off of a cliff, but it feels unfair when you are faced with obstacles that will instantly kill you if you make a mistake. The game already has parts of levels being redesigned so it doesn’t make sense to leave in these instant death traps when you can’t save your progress mid-game anymore.
The controls can be a bit stiff at times, though admittedly there are a few control style options and they use the given controller fairly well. There is splitscreen co-op for two players which allows you to respawn immediately upon death rather than forcing you to restart everything at once… a nice punishment that doesn’t waste too much time or progress in the process. There’s also a Dukematch option for up to four players to shoot it out with each other. This mode also has an option to turn on Duke bots, which are computer-controlled enemies for when you have less players but still want all the intense action. This feature is smart because it makes the Dukematch mode much more of an option, even when you’re alone. There are even a few levels only available in Dukematch.
Overall, Duke Nukem 64 was, in my opinion, the best home console port of Duke Nukem 3D of its time. There are some features that still hold up today that make it worth your while, such as the lagless multiplayer, local co-op, updated sounds and visuals, bots in Dukematch, alternate ammo types, and saving the babes. Other versions since then have other features that might outweigh these, but that’s for you to decide. Duke Nukem 64, even in its censored state, is still one of the most classic first-person shooters to date, and a must-have for those fans of classic first-person shooters that have N64s.