The lord of one liners has lingered around in the early years of gaming. Duke Nukem was the gold standard for irreverent and violent video games for a long time. His original outings are now considered classics, but what has become of the aging hero? His foray into the newer generation of consoles yielded of a less than bombastic critical response. So, is there space for the aging Duke in a world post Shadow of the Colossus and Bioshock? Maybe. Let's have a look at Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project.
This iteration of Duke Nukem was already released for Xbox back in 2002 and features Duke re-imagined as a side scrolling shooter very similar to Contra. The story is as simple as could be while still being able to hang a bit of shooting and platforming from it. Essentially, Manhattan has been invaded by the evil Mech Morphix and his band of mutants. Each level you play has 10 pieces of nuclear material for Duke to collect while blasting away cockroach and uzi-armed alligators.
Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project looks surprisingly well crafted for a little iOS game. The graphics are suitably pretty even if they don't offer the most variety from level to level. The enemies all look unique and have their own signature weapons that they use to try and take down the king of old school shooters.
The controls are pretty simple. You have a digital pad on the left that controls which way Duke walks and shoots. Over on the right are a set of virtual buttons that allow you to fire your weapon, swap out artillery, jump, and fling a pipe bomb at some irate mutant. The controls are as responsive as you could ask for from virtual controls and don't really hinder your progress.
The level layouts are surprisingly multi-layered and vertiginous. You can occasionally pass through a building into a secret area where you'll find a key, or a maiden for Duke to save. Outside, Duke is forced to make his way along the sides of huge skyscrapers. This is where the developers took some chances and invested in elevators and steam jets to add some vertical travel to Duke's adventure. It is a welcome sight since they could have easily made a simple horizontal shooter.
Duke's arsenal is as large as you remember and features an array of weapons, each well suited for mutilating mutants. The pistol is quite useful when taking out dastardly villains and the pipe bombs are uniquely helpful when trying to rid your next platform of vermin. The weapons have a satisfying edge to them and you'll never be confused as to whether you're using the pistol or the shotgun. They each have their advantages and are suited to a variety of situations.
So the controls are tight, even if occasionally frustrating since they're not the most accurate for platforming. The graphics are also suitably pretty as well. But, Duke isn't coming away unscathed. Too many times throughout the levels I felt like there was something missing. There were too many open spaces with no enemies. In a game like this, you want to keep the action up and exciting. Having 30 seconds of unintuitive platforming with nary and enemy in sight is a poor way to keep the player's adrenaline flowing.
The most prominent problem with Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project is that it doesn't feel like a proper Duke Nukem game. The controls and visual aesthetic remind you of something like Contra rather than the Duke Nukem games of yesteryear. It feels like another game has been slicked over with a veneer of the mildly irreverent and sent out to pasture in the iOS store. Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project is not a bad game, it will more than pass the time with a little giggle and challenge here and there, but it feels like it could have been something much more unique than it is.
This is a perfectly functional port of an old Duke Nukem game, but part of me was a little disappointed that we weren't getting anything new. Serious Sam and Painkiller have adopted the old shooter formula and made it their own. It is time for Duke to shake off the archaic dust. So Duke has made the leap to the iOS, but sadly, it comes off a bit more like Duke Nukem Forever rather than Duke Nukem 3D. This game is a cheap imitation of the King of All Shooters. While it feels and plays nicely, it somehow doesn't live up to the legacy that should be Duke Nukem.