Duke Nukem was quite the action platform star. Before he made the jump to the fledgling (at the time) first person shooter genre, Duke had his own series of side-scrolling platform games that were well regarded in their own right. It was only the sheer awesomeness of Duke Nukem 3D that was capable of outshining those (otherwise very good) earlier titles.
It's that same game, now twelve years old, that has just been released on Xbox Live Arcade. It's not a straight port, with some minor usability tweaks and of course the inclusion of achievements and a very robust online mode - including co-op and deathmatch play.
The general gist of the game is pretty straight forward - aliens have attacked earth and local hero Duke must wade in there and sort things out before humanity is obliterated. In doing so, you'll fire off some truly memorable dialogue (if you've seen any of the Evil Dead series, you'll know what to expect) and dispatch some truly amusing bad guys. There's also strippers to tip (they'll shake their moneymakers at you), toilets to drink from and killer weaponry (the shrink ray is a highlight).
The mechanics of the game have aged more than just the graphics will hint at - finding keycards to progress was cutting edge at the time but even with retro-goggles on, it can be a little tiresome these days, doubly so when the game relies so heavily on the mechanic. Further, the locations of these cards can be pretty obtuse - fortunately the levels are tiny compared to modern games so it doesn't take too long to rip around and check every surface to see if it's secretly a cupboard or similar.
The graphics haven't been spruced up in any meaningful way, which is good for the purists, however the "2.5D" Build engine, while cutting edge in its day, is quite sick-inducing now - particularly on a 46" HDTV, when it was originally played in this household on a 14" CRT. The odd way in which things warp and twist when you look around really does limit the length of time one can play the game without losing their lunch.
The controls translate very well to the gamepad - once you get your head around the fact that you don't actually need to aim at enemies vertically (you can if you want, virtual mouselook is enabled by default), it's actually pretty easy to dispatch even a large number of foes. Things can get pretty tough in close quarters (enemies pack a significant punch!) but for the most part, the game difficulty and controls fit well with modern gaming tastes.
It's hard to say if the game would appeal to people who never played the original or weren't into gaming back when 3D was new (only Quake at the time was a real 3D engine and any form of 3D, even the "almost" 3D used in Duke Nukem, was extremely novel and very cutting edge) - fortunately there's a demo so those people can find out for themselves without putting any money down.
If, however, you remember Duke fondly and are still following Duke Nukem Forever's development under the mistaken impression it's ever going to get released, you'd be hard pressed to come up with a good enough reason to let this one go past - it's an excellent version of the game, translates very well to the console and there's no need to muck around on your PC trying to get it to go properly. If you get all 200 achievement points you'll unlock two screenshots of the (allegedly still in development) sequel to this game, Duke Nukem Forever, which was first announced in 1997 (!).
Just don't play it for extended periods on a big telly - I'm not predisposed to game-induced motion sickness (I've never gotten it before) and Duke makes me want to hurl if I play it too long.