Retro Wednesday: Duke Nukem

Retro Wednesday is a weekly column exploring forgotten classics, obscure curiosities, and things that shouldve 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 1991s Duke Nukum. And no, thats not a typo.

Afraid of being sued by the makers 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" wasnt actually registered by anyone. Thankfully, a corrected version is available to todays lucky consumers.

Heres a kicker: the original Duke Nukem (were just gonna go ahead and spell it right, for claritys 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. Youve 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 Dukes 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, theres really not much here to remind you that youre 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 wouldnt start to emerge until Duke Nukem 2, coming of age in Duke Nukem 3D).

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

If you want to give it a try, its 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 youve got an iPad, you can also get Duke Nukem as part of Aemula Oldies. Its certainly worth a shot.

Images via 3D Realms

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