Whether you loved it or hated it, there’s no denying that for much of the ‘90s, the Duke Nukem franchise reigned supreme. They didn’t call Duke the King for nothing! Beginning in 1991 with the classic side-scroller Duke Nukem, all the way to 2011 and Duke Nukem Forever, the series of games, for its time, revolutionized gameplay for first and third-person shooters. The foundation of Duke Nukem 3D has even been used to build some of the most popular titles of today.
Whether he was fragging alien invaders, quoting one-liners from popular ‘80s movies, or spending time with beautiful babes, he occupied a special place in the hearts of gamers that enjoyed his unique mix of delivering high octane entertainment while satirizing the action genre. Here’s a ranking of his best and worst adventures including alien invasions, time travel, and saving the planet.
The notorious sequel to Duke Nukem 3D that was fifteen years in development, Duke Nukem Forever was was released for Windows, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3 in 2011, despite being developed in 1997. Duke Nukem Forever sees Duke coming out of retirement 12 years after he saved Earth from alien invaders to do it all over again, this time in a first-person shooter mode.
The game was criticized for its glitchy, buggy gameplay, its graphics, and its corny dialogue. Duke Nukem just wasn’t the hero modern gamers wanted to play anymore, and a lot of his behavior seemed out of touch. That, and the game seemed to satirize itself, with Duke having two pop stars as girlfriends, living in the “Duke Cave”, and fighting aliens in the “Duke Dome’.
The sequel to Duke Nukem: Time to Kill, Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes is a third-person shooter game developed by n-Space for Playstation. It begins with Duke relaxing in a strip club when a woman appears from a wormhole in front of him. Though she’s killed by Pig Cops before Duke can save her, he jumps through the wormhole.
He finds himself in a distant future where all men are dead, and only beautiful women are left, enslaved by Silverback (a pig cop ape hybrid) for impregnation. A handful of women have created the Unified Babe Resistance, which Duke fights alongside. When he’s done saving the planet, all that’s left to do is single-handedly repopulate it.
Once planned to be one of a trilogy of games for the PSP, Duke Nukem: Critical Mass was instead developed by Frontline Studios and developed for the Nintendo DS. When a special team from The Earth Defense Forces goes missing somewhere in the future, Duke Nukem is entrusted with the safety of Earth’s future by General Graves.
Though it’s fun to jump between a third-person shooter and first-person shooter mode, as well as easily change between weapons and items, the game feels old hat. That may be because the story was done better in previous Duke Nukem games, causing this one to lose its edge.
The one that started it all - the debut of the King! The original Duke Nukem was a 2D sidescroller game, published by Apogee Software, and had the sort of very basic gameplay you’d come to expect. Though it came out in 1991, it was set in 1997, where Dr. Proton wants to take over the world with his Techbots.
As Duke Nukem, a bit of an Arnold-from-Commando-meets-Snake-Plissken, you face Dr. Proton in a ruined Los Angeles, then on Dr. Proton’s moonbase, and finally in the future, trying to stop more of his schemes. You collect points, shoot bad guys, and exit levels. Very basic but very fun.
The second Duke Nukem game is much like the first, except this time Duke is trying to evade alien invaders. Set one year after the first game (1998), aliens calling themselves the Rigelatins come to enslave Earth, and to do so they capture Duke to study his brain and use it against humankind. Not willing to be part of their dastardly plan, Duke breaks free and wreaks havoc on the alien scum.
As Duke progresses through each level, he can collect items that will help him, including different sorts of weapons. He blasts aliens, radar dishes, and anything in his path until he gets to the big boss at the end and saves the planet.
The second foray for the Duke Nukem franchise into the portable video game arena (the first being Duke Nukem for Gameboy Color), Duke Nukem Advance brought the best elements of its first entry for Gameboy and combined it with all the best graphics and sounds from Duke Nukem 3D.
Once again General Graves has called on Duke Nukem to save Earth. He’s sent to investigate Area 51, where reports of an alien threat have surface. This encounter takes him to Ancient Egypt, where he discovers hundreds of alien hybrids in stasis and later, a doomsday weapon to wipe out Earth. If you were a fan of Doom for Gameboy Advance, this provides comparable butt kicking.
Made for Microsoft Windows in 2002, Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project was not a direct sequel to any of the Duke Nukem games but a new adventure entirely, and was a return to form for the recent Duke Nukem games. It featured Duke taking on the mad scientist Mech Morphix who planned to use a radioactive slime to take over Manhattan Island. The slime caused any creature it came in contact with to mutate and be controlled by Morphix.
The 3D engine the game was built on allows Duke to move along an axis in a fully three-dimensional environment, as well as zoom in and out of focus on enemies and items. The improved game dynamics, combined with recognizable elements (Pig Cops, robots, etc) made this a popular addition.
Unlike Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem II, Duke Nukem: Zero Hour isn’t a sidescroller. It’s a third-person shooter developed for Nintendo 64 by Eurocom. It focuses around Duke Nukem as he travels through time and space, from the far future to the Old West. His mission comes from resistance fighters in the future: stop aliens from making Earth easier to take over by altering its history hundreds of years prior to their invasion.
The game puts Duke Nukem in some curious situations, like at the scenes of Jack the Ripper’s murders, but the developers have fun with it, such as having Duke play poker in an Old West saloon, and use period weapons.
Another third-person shooter entry in the Duke Nukem franchise, Duke Nukem: Time to Kill was developed by n-Space for Playstation. Once again Duke Nukem has to save the world from alien invaders messing up the timeline. The Draks’ evil plans have once again meant Duke must use a Time-Space Warp to travel to Medieval Europe, Ancient Rome, and the Old West.
Duke battles mutated pigs, a dragon called “Wing’d Death”, and some particularly evil baddies such as The Reaper, all while quoting his trademark one-liners from popular movies. The controls were compared to Tomb Raider at the time, giving this game the nickname “Duke Raider”.
At the time of its release, Duke Nukem 3D was one of the most popular first-person shooter games in the world, in the vein of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Duke may have been looking forward to a vacation after saving Earth in Duke Nukem II, but no sooner has he landed his space cruiser than alien hostiles start their assault. Having taken over the LAPD and started their invasion of Los Angeles, only Duke can stop them now.
Praised for its interactive gameplay, broad environment, risque humor, and of course, Duke’s signature pop culture references, Duke Nukem 3D was the pinnacle of the Duke Nukem franchise, never to be repeated.