Retro Wednesday: Duke Nukem

Retro Wednesday is a weekly column exploring forgotten classics, obscure curiosities, and things that should've stayed buried in the deserts of New Mexico.

Long before he was kicking ass and (not) chewing bubblegum, Duke Nukem was hopping like Mario and wearing pink vests in 1991's Duke Nukum. And no, that's not a typo.

Afraid of being sued by the maker's of Captain Planet, which featured a villain called Duke Nukem, the people at Apogee decided to go with the name Duke Nukum just to be safe. They would reverse that later, when they discovered that the name 'Duke Nukem' wasn't actually registered by anyone. Thankfully, a corrected version is available to today's lucky consumers.

Here's a kicker: the original Duke Nukem (we're just gonna go ahead and spell it right, for clarity's sake) was - get this - actually kind of child friendly. No strippers, usable toilets and ghastly vulgarity here. No siree, just good clean fun and lots of backgrounds ripped straight out of the DOS version of Mega Man (and a few other games) in this title.

As you can see from the screenshots over at DOS Classics, the designers were pretty shameless about 'borrowing' background elements from other games.

Gameplay wise, the original Duke is a fairly conventional platformer, laying out the level in the form of 8x8 blocks. That means that the screen transitions to a new area every time you leave a 'block,' rather than using a smooth scrolling system like the Mario series. You've got a gun, you can shoot stuff, and you have to collect keys to open doors and... Well, you get the picture.

Duke Nukem also features Duke's nemesis, Dr. Proton, the cyborg/mad scientist who would return in the Duke Nukem Forever DLC, 'The Doctor Who Cloned Me.' All in all, though, there's really not much here to remind you that you're playing a Duke Nukem game. The raunchy humor that defines later games is nowhere to be found here (the actual character of Duke Nukem that we know and love wouldn't start to emerge until Duke Nukem 2, coming of age in Duke Nukem 3D).

Yet judging it by gameplay alone, it's not a bad platformer, at least by DOS standards, and it's an interesting relic of the past if you're a fan of the series' later installments who wants to delve into Duke's origins. It's also pretty obvious that the designers of Manhattan Project, Duke's third platforming outing (complete with filthy humor) were taking cues from the first two installments.

If you want to give it a try, it's still available from 3D Realms for $5.99, or you can try out the first episode for free (in the form of long antiquated shareware) right here, although you may need DOSBox to run it. If you've got an iPad, you can also get Duke Nukem as part of Aemula Oldies. It's certainly worth a shot.

Images via 3D Realms

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