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May 2021

Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Gearbox Software
Developer: Sonka
Release Date: June 23, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour'

by Cody Medellin on July 21, 2020 @ 12:20 a.m. PDT

Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour contains the 1996 classic Duke Nukem 3D in its full glory, along with extra, never-before-seen content.

Duke Nukem is no stranger to the portable gaming space. There have been a few spin-offs in the form of Duke Nukem Advance for the Game Boy Advance and Duke Nukem: Critical Mass for the Nintendo DS. As for ports of Duke Nukem 3D, there's the Megaton Edition on the PS Vita, and the original is also available on iOS and Android. With the popularity of the Switch comes a port of Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary Edition World Tour, a title that telegraphs exactly what you're getting — considering the actual anniversary was four years ago.

For those who are unfamiliar with the original, Duke Nukem 3D is a first-person shooter from the early days of the genre. You play the titular character, who is out to save the world and wants to get some payback on the aliens that blew up his spacecraft. You have limited ammo, but you can carry a bevy of weapons, from a pistol to a chaingun to pipe bombs, and there's no such thing as reloading. The game also throws in the ability to carry and activate items, like a hologram to dupe enemies or using steroids to temporarily bulk up your melee power. Just about all of the levels have you going around in a maze, where colored key cards are needed to open some doors and your ultimate goal is to find the switch to end the level. The only exception to this rule is boss fights.

Duke is part of the appeal of the game. Most first-person shooters at the time had you controlling silent protagonists, so it was appealing that your character talked. The fact that Duke would spout corny one-liners and be the source of some crass humor (without necessarily dropping curse words) made his schtick work. It was cool and edgy at the time, with pop culture references like the O.J. Simpson white Bronco chase, seeing the corpse of the Doom marine, and pixelated strippers shaking their breasts when you offered them cash. Most of that stuff didn't age too well in the intervening decades, but it still made for a game that commanded attention.

As demonstrated by the original three episodes and the bonus one from the Plutonium Pak expansion, Duke Nukem 3D was more than a vocal parody of action heroes. The level designs are quite clever, with loads of secrets in every stage. For every off-kilter reference or moment of titillation, you'll find ingenious traps waiting to be sprung by wayward bullets or contextual set pieces. Combat always feels fair, even if there are moments when you're caught off-guard by sudden enemy appearances. You'll never be starved of ammo or find a situation to be impassable. It's tough but not cheap, and fans of old-school game design will eat this up.

For those who found the game to be too tough, the Switch iteration comes with a few helpful features. The first is the ability to select any starting level, so you can see everything that's being offered without grinding through the troublesome spot. The other is the ability to rewind to any point once you die. It is a helpful feature for those who are suddenly caught off guard by a rocket or missed an enemy that needed to be killed for a perfect run; some may see it as a crutch, since there are no limitations on how many times you can use the feature or how far back you can rewind.

The selling point of this release for Duke Nukem fans is the fifth episode. Titled "Alien World Order," the episode sends Duke all over the world to take down the lingering alien threat. From Amsterdam to Egypt to London, you'll go to new locales before returning to Los Angeles for a final showdown with the alien forces. Aside from the new locales, the real treat for fans is that the levels were designed by the designers of the original game, with composer Lee Jackson returning to do the score, while Jon St. John recorded new lines for the titular hero.

The good news is that the new levels feel like they belonged in the first release as opposed to feeling out of place. All of the expected tricks are there, like secret rooms and monster closets. Every gunfight feels perilous, since you either face powerful foes or are overwhelmed by the numbers game. The humor in some of the references is juvenile, but this game wasn't exactly a source of high-brow comedy. The stages feel quite substantial, so you'll be spending some time with the episode's levels. As a bonus, you even get a new weapon: a flamethrower.

The new episode falters in its bestiary. You only ever get to fight one new foe in the form of the Firefly that shoots at you with a flamethrower and shrinks when not attacking you, so it's tougher to hit. They're both tricky and fun to play against, but generally, you'll have encountered your enemies before — including the bosses. It's disappointing since the final boss is a recoloring of an old one, except with some flames thrown in.

The same complaints that were made of the original 20th Anniversary edition ring true here. If you're a multiplayer fan, prepare for some disappointment because the community is relatively tiny. The performance is great and doesn't suffer from any lag, but if you're lucky enough to find a match, prepare for it to be a 1v1 affair since no one seems to stick around long enough to get a full eight-player match going. Also, if you've played the Megaton Edition on previous platforms before it was pulled, you'll notice that three expansions from prior iterations aren't available in the Switch version. Unlike the recent patches made to Doom and Doom II, the inability to get a curated set of user-made maps means that Switch owners will never get to check out Duke it Out in D.C., Nuclear Winter, and Life's a Beach.

Compared to the original iterations of the 20th Anniversary version, the Switch version has a few additions. There's HD rumble support, which means that every little thing produces various degrees of buzz on your controller. Motion controls are also here, but their usefulness varies. If you're using the Joy-Cons, having the left Joy-Con shake for your kick is useful, since you don't have to switch out your guns to get in an extra hit on an enemy. The right Joy-Con is used for aiming, but unless you play with the sensitivity settings, you're better off using the right analog stick for aiming instead. If you're using the Pro Controller, the motion aiming helps to fine-tune your shots, so Switch players can get a taste of what evangelists of the Steam Controller have been harping about.

When you consider the source material, it shouldn't be a surprise that the presentation is a one-to-one copy of the other platforms. The graphics aren't completely remade, as everything still has a heavy sprite look, but the basic lighting effects due to the move to a real 3D engine help the game match one's rose-colored memories of the original. The frame rate is rock solid in both docked and portable modes, and you have a toggle to go between the new engine and the original engine on the fly if you want to compare the two. On the sound front, the effects are fine, and the music seems muted, but that only stands out because Duke's re-recorded voice is so clear in contrast.

If you're a fan of first-person shooters on the Switch and have an affinity for the classics, you should have Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour. The classic gameplay remains as engaging as it was all those years ago, and while the new episode doesn't make up for the fact that its predecessor had more content, the ability to take the game on the go on a modern platform makes up for that. Unless you're a Duke Nukem die-hard who has a Vita lying around and purchased the Megaton Edition years ago, 20th Anniversary World Tour is a good purchase on the Switch.

Score: 8.0/10

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