Duke, the kick-butt action hero we all know today, makes his first debut in this title: Duke Nukem (sometimes referred to as Nukum in the game itself.) Sadly, with quite a few less one-liners.
In Duke's first outing, he partakes in some action platforming similar to that of the original Commander Keen, focusing heavily on jumping and shooting through sets of levels divided into episodes. However, unlike Commander Keen, Duke's blaster has an infinite amount of ammunition and can be upgraded, as well as having no lives system, but rather a health system. I personally like this setup better because it allows for more exploration of the levels, faster gameplay, and is overall more enjoyable, I never have to worry about that ONE hit I might take from a flying enemy and have to restart the whole level with one less life. Duke was known for his run-and-gun action rather than precision platforming, and this reflects that very well.
But it's not all mindless shooting, sometimes just firing at anything can lead to a penalty in regards to some item pickups. For example, a soda can will refill one health bar and earns 200 points if not shot, but if you do fire, the soda can launches itself upward into the ceiling and explodes. However, if you can manage to pick up the can before it hits something, it will reward you with a heftier 1000 points and no health boost. Little things like these really spice up the gameplay and help prevent it from going stale.
You can also earn character upgrades as you progress through an episode, such as high-jump boots or a grappling hook, as well as upgrade your pistol as to how many shots you can fire at a given time. All of these additions really help the game stand out from just being a more colorful Commander Keen clone.
On controls, they feel much less floaty than Keen did, and felt more responsive and tactile, fit for a more fast-paced game and are another improvement from Keen. Also, the game runs flawlessly in DOSBox.
In regards to the division of episodes, they are all very similar and feature barely any differences, only level designs and some new textures. There is hardly any difficulty increase and the third episode felt shorter than the other two. This is kind of a disappointment looking back on it, but really, I didn't care when playing, the game kept me engaged the whole way through and I never felt that I desired much more. My taste for the game only began to go stale midway through the third episode after playing one very unforgiving and unpleasant level. Otherwise, this never really bothered me.
For a DOS game released mid-1991 using only 16-color EGA graphics, with a three-person graphics team, Duke Nukem looks stellar. Every sprite is detailed and colorful, every animation is fluid (as it can be, really), and hell, what other DOS platformer of the time can you think of succeeded in, or even attempted, water reflection? Duke Nukem does, and to my knowledge there are probably not many. When I first saw my sprite and the background reflecting on the water below me, I was pleasantly surprised. This definitely contrasts with Keen's comparatively bland presentation.
Well, like many DOS games of the time, this game has no real soundtrack, only PC Speaker sound effects. To some, the PC Speaker was a real nightmare to the ears, and during gameplay, hearing those lasers hum for longer than five seconds made me want to throw my headphones out the window. But really, you get used to it, or just turn off the sound.
The story and dialogue here is as basic as something I would write for English in the 4th grade, nothing Shakespeare-level here.
All in all, this is a great DOS platformer, easily the spiritual successor to the original Commander Keen trilogy. I highly recommend anyone to pick it up and it's sequels in the Platformer Pack for $9.99 and have a blast.