Evercade Game Spotlight: Duke Nukem 3D – Total Meltdown

Written by Pete Davison

Tags Duke Nukem, EVERCADE

One of our biggest announcements of 2023 was that Evercade will be playing host to the triumphant return of one of gaming’s most beloved action heroes: Duke Nukem. And this is no ordinary rerelease: rather than simply emulating the original MS-DOS PC versions of Duke Nukem and its sequel, we’ve built a full remastered package specifically for the Evercade platform, including numerous enhancements — plus the option to enjoy the games as they appeared back in the day.

Alongside this, we’re also continuing our efforts to contribute to worldwide video game preservation efforts by providing the first ever commercial rereleases of four 32-bit Duke Nukem titles since they first hit the market in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Across two butt-kicking Evercade cartridges, there’s more than enough Duke Nukem to keep you busy for a good long while, and we’re super-excited to finally make these games available to you.

Since the two Duke Nukem Collection cartridges are now available for preorder from your favourite Evercade retailers, and these are some of the biggest, most well-known games we’ve ever licensed, we thought we’d take the time to dive deep into each individual title rather than providing a simple overview of each cart. So we’re kicking off today with a look at Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown.

Plus don’t forget to watch out for our video showcase diving deeper into the Duke Nukem 1+2 Remastered project, coming very soon.

While Duke Nukem 1+2 Remastered will likely be the main attraction for those picking up Duke Nukem Collection 1 on Evercade, it’s worth taking a closer look at the third inclusion on the cart — because although Duke Nukem 3D is a wildly popular game that can easily be picked up for most modern platforms today, its Total Meltdown incarnation is less commonly seen.

One thing we’ve always loved doing with Evercade is preserving lesser-known games that you can’t officially acquire via any other means than braving the second-hand market. Given the Video Game History Foundation’s recent shocking discovery that 87% of classic video games from years gone by are no longer easily accessible via official, legitimate means, our work in this field is of increasing importance. And preserving Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown independently of its more well-known incarnations is an important part of that!

Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown, originally known simply as Duke Nukem: Total Meltdown in North America and just Duke Nukem in Europe, came out in 1997, a year after the original MS-DOS PC version of Duke Nukem 3D hit the market to rave reviews. Before we get into the specifics of this 32-bit home console port of this all-time classic, it’s worth considering exactly what Duke Nukem 3D itself brought to the table, and why it’s considered to be such an important game.

The first-person shooter had been around for a few years by the time Duke Nukem 3D came along. Early titles such as the Catacomb series and Wolfenstein 3D had introduced players to first-person, smooth-scrolling, texture-mapped action gaming, then the legendary Doom had moved things on from its predecessors’ simple mazes to more realistic environments with variable height floors and ceilings and maps drawn using polygonal shapes rather than just blocks.

Duke Nukem 3D took the first-person shooter even closer to the realm of “true 3D”. Up until this point, despite looking 3D, most first-person games still made use of a map that was built in 2D, but which included “heightmap” information to determine how tall walls, floors and ceilings should be. The games’ engines then interpreted this 2D data into a 3D viewpoint from which the player explored — but there were limitations. It was impossible for rooms and passageways to overlap, for example, because there was no means of the 2D map representing that accurately. Duke Nukem 3D’s new engine, meanwhile, made this possible to a limited extent, making for levels with a more convincing sense of occupying a 3D space.

While features such as the ability to look up and down, fly and walk on platforms suspended directly above other walkways might sound somewhat pedestrian to a modern audience, they were a huge step forward for immersive games set in a 3D space in 1996. And Duke Nukem 3D was one of the most high-profile games to incorporate these innovations.

Duke Nukem 3D also drew praise for its highly interactive environments, featuring elements of risqué humour and pop-culture satire that reward those curious enough to explore the many levels in detail. There are even gameplay benefits to be had from interacting with the scenery: switching on lights makes it easier to see, and using the toilet is a good way to get a few health points back, to name just two examples.

The way in which Duke Nukem 3D sets so many of its levels in relatable, real world-inspired modern-day locales such as cinemas, bookstores, hotels, subways and nightclubs was a deliberate choice to set the game apart from other popular first-person shooters of the period. Previously, the genre had typically either gone full fantasy or sci-fi, or focused on historical conflicts such as World War II.

Duke Nukem 3D also gave our hero a voice for the very first time thanks to the gravelly tones of actor Jon St. John, and Duke’s extensive repertoire of movie-parodying (and sometimes just plain absurd) one-liners quickly became one of the game’s most beloved features. This aspect was often imitated by many other titles but, to many Duke fans, has never been bettered.

So what exactly is Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown, and how does it differ from regular ol’ Duke Nukem 3D? Well, rather than being a simple port of the PC game to 32-bit console hardware like some other versions of the game that were available at the time, Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown actually features a number of notable differences from its source material, making it an interesting historical curiosity well worth preserving independently of the better-known (and already widely available) versions of Duke Nukem 3D that are out there.

For example, it features a remixed soundtrack that enhances the MIDI music of the original game with some more elaborate instrumentation and richer arrangements. Rather than being synthesised on the fly, it’s now digital music, making for higher sound quality — plus it provides some enjoyable new twists on classic Duke tracks with a delightfully late ’90s feel to them.

On top of that, there’s an entire new episode of the game that can’t be found in any other officially released version of Duke Nukem 3D. While later PC releases added fourth and even fifth episodes to the game, those are different from the fourth episode of Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown, which is known as “Plug ‘n’ Pray”.

Following on from the conclusion of the original Duke Nukem 3D’s third episode, Shrapnel City, the alien forces have launched one last-ditch attempt to take down Duke by building a giant robot to kill him. There are six levels (plus one secret level) between Duke and final victory, once and for all. Be warned, though: Plug ‘n’ Pray is hard, with huge levels, challenging encounters and tricky environmental puzzles.

Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown’s fourth episode features levels loosely based on a variety of popular properties from the late ’90s, including Tomb Raider, Wipeout, Resident Evil, Pulp Fiction and more. For example, the first level, Nightmare Zone, sees Duke entering a familiar-looking cave complex that conceals a buried ancient city filled with tricks and traps — but the aliens have got there first.

If you survive the many challenges of this notoriously tricky (and secret-packed) level, you’ll move on to Trackside Tragedy, which unfolds on and around a futuristic racecourse; Gates Motel, which is, as you might expect, full of rather evil residents; and Duke Royale, in which the cheese is provided by our hero’s one-liners.

These levels are long and well designed, featuring interesting environments and plenty of fiendish puzzles to solve — as well as the usual enemies to blast your way through with a variety of heavy weaponry. And as you progress, you’ll encounter a selection of brand-new foes, too; most of these only appear in a single level in the Plug ‘n’ Pray episode, so keep an eye out for them. Don’t spend too much time gawping, though, since they’re just as merciless as their more common counterparts!

To make sure you have an optimal Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown experience on Evercade, we have, as always, done much more than just take the original game files and slap them on a cartridge.

Perhaps most notably, we’ve optimised the rendering and load times for the game, so the Evercade version of Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown runs considerably better than it ever did on its original host platform. Not only that, but we’ve patched the game to default to a more intuitive control scheme than the original release so that it plays nicely on all compatible devices, including Evercade EXP and VS, the original Evercade handheld and the HyperMegaTech! Super Pocket systems.

This was a considerable undertaking for us, particularly as we were also working on the massive project that is Duke Nukem 1+2 Remastered at the time. We had to reverse engineer the entire game in order to apply our tweaks and updates, since like most classic games from back in the day, the original source code wasn’t readily available. We fixed some bugs that were in the original retail release of the game. And we even had to rework the emulation, since Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown is a title that has historically had some difficulty with some emulators!

All in all, even if you’re an experienced Duke Nukem 3D veteran, Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown is well worth spending some time with, as there’s plenty of new and different material scattered throughout the game — so keep your eyes (and ears!) peeled for new things to discover. And if you’re new to Duke3D? This is a great, accessible way to get started with exploring this influential classic of the first-person shooter genre.

We’re really looking forward to letting you get your hands on the two Duke Nukem Collection cartridges for Evercade. They’re bringing back some classic games that haven’t been seen in an official capacity for many years in some cases — and as always, collecting them for Evercade presents an affordable, officially licensed means of adding them to your modern collection without having to brave the second hand market.

Preorders for both Duke Nukem Collection cartridges are available now; check out the cartridge page to find out more.


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