Evercade Game Spotlight: Duke Nukem Advance (Duke Nukem Collection 2)

Written by Pete Davison

Tags Duke Nukem, EVERCADE

Our biggest announcement of 2023 was that the Evercade platform would be playing host to the long-awaited return of one of gaming’s favourite all-action heroes: the legendary Duke Nukem. And besides a complete remaster of his first ever adventures and a rarely seen take on his most famous first-person shooter, we’re also bringing back some of his lesser known adventures.

These are all interesting games in their own right, but today we want to focus on probably the most obscure of the lot: Duke Nukem Advance, which was a 2002 release developed by Torus Games. While Duke himself was still a reasonably big name at the time, there are a few games from his back catalogue that don’t get talked about all that often when looking back at the Duke series as a whole, and Duke Nukem Advance is one of them.

Why was it overlooked and underappreciated? The simple answer is because it originally released on a handheld platform in the early 2000s. While several handheld gaming platforms — including the one that played host to Duke Nukem Advance — sold incredibly well worldwide, there was, for many years, the assumption that they were somehow “lesser” systems due to the fact that they weren’t as technologically capable as home computers and TV-connected consoles.

It might sound strange these days, when it’s entirely possible that the phone you have by your side 24/7 is more powerful than a top-tier gaming PC from 20 years ago — or indeed your Evercade EXP has the same capabilities as the Evercade VS — but back in 2002 we hadn’t quite nailed the whole “miniaturisation” thing. As such, handheld gaming devices inevitably had to make certain compromises. That, by extension, led many people to believe that handheld versions of popular franchises would be “inferior” by definition — and indeed in some cases, these handheld versions of games would end up overlooked completely by press and public alike.

Now, I don’t think anyone is going to argue that Duke Nukem Advance is operating on the same level, technologically speaking, as something like Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown. But it is impressive precisely because it successfully managed to create an authentic-feeling first-person perspective Duke Nukem experience on a device with a screen resolution of 240×160, a 16.78MHz processor and less than half a megabyte of RAM. It’s a damned solid game in its own right — and, rather than being an attempt to port an existing experience to a system that wasn’t really up to the job, it’s instead an all-original title that was specifically built for its host platform, making it well worth checking out independently of the other Duke Nukem games.

While one might not think of the Duke Nukem series as being particularly strong on narrative throughout, there have at least been some attempts to provide internal consistency throughout here and there, and Duke Nukem Advance is a good example of this. Specifically, Duke Nukem Advance sees our hero working for General Graves of the Earth Defense Force, whom we’re led to believe he previously served under prior to going independent for the events of Duke Nukem 1+2 Remastered and Duke Nukem 3D: Total Meltdown.

Unlike many other Duke games, Duke Nukem Advance actually features short dialogue exchanges between our hero and the General as you progress through the game, helping the story to unfold through more than just the levels you explore. Objectives are more varied than just “get to the exit”, too; often, Duke will be tasked with locating an item like a computer terminal within a stage, or destroying a particular object. It’s perhaps a response to other first-person shooters that were around at the turn of the century, which were starting to move towards a more objective-based structure than their ’90s counterparts.

Duke Nukem Advance takes Duke on a globetrotting adventure, beginning with an investigation of the notorious “Area 51” base in Nevada, United States. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, popular media had something of a fascination with conspiracy theories regarding the possible existence of extraterrestrial life, and many of these centred around the mythology of Area 51.

With the Duke Nukem series having firmly established itself as a parody of popular culture by this point, it was natural for the series to step into this territory — plus it gave the creators the excuse to bring in some new enemies inspired by the famous “Greys” alongside as some iconic enemies from Duke Nukem 3D.

The game doesn’t stay in Area 51 for long, however; Duke’s quest takes him to several different locations around the world, including Egypt and Australia, with a pleasingly different “feel” to each different area. The Area 51 stages are like futuristic science labs, the Egypt stages see you contending with the tricks and traps of ancient tombs, the Australia stages feature more real world-inspired environments, and the game concludes by going full-on sci-fi with a trip to an alien ship to deal with things once and for all.

And, of course, there are babes. Duke Nukem Advance isn’t quite as self-consciously “adult” as Duke Nukem 3D was — don’t expect to be wandering into strip clubs and adult bookstores in this one — but a major late-game plot point, as always for post-Duke Nukem 3D entries in the series, revolves around the aliens kidnapping attractive women for their own nefarious and probably unsanitary ends.

The somewhat toned-down nature of Duke Nukem Advance compared to its spiritual predecessor was likely at least partly due to its original host platform. While the manufacturer of said platform had somewhat relaxed its rather heavy-handed “family-friendly” policies in North America since the 8- and 16-bit home console era, it was still rare to see “mature”-rated titles on their systems, particularly in the handheld space. The relatively affordable nature of gaming handhelds and their games also made them quite likely to end up in the hands of kids in the pre-smartphone era, so this may have also informed the decision to present a slightly milder take on Duke that was suitable for a broader audience.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a milder Duke is any less of a badass, though; Duke Nukem Advance features some seriously satisfying shooter action, with a selection of great weapons that our hero can bring to bear against the alien hordes. Some of these are brought over from Duke Nukem 3D, while there are a couple of originals, too: the four-barrelled shotgun will doubtless be a particular highlight for many folks, but be sure to watch your ammo!

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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