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CONSOLE: Game Boy Advance DEVELOPER: Torus Games PUBLISHER: Take-Two Interactive
RELEASE DATE (NA): August 12, 2002 GENRE: First-Person Shooter
// review by FlagrantWeeaboo

Hail to the slow-motion king, baby!

Released on the Game Boy Advance in 2002, Duke Nukem Advance is a first-person shooter. It is inspired by, and borrows heavily from, Duke Nukem 3D, the game that cemented Duke Nukem as a memorable video game hero, in no small part due to the huge surge in popularity that first-person shooters experienced at that time. As with most attempts to create a first-person shooter on the Game Boy Advance, this game comes up rather lacking thanks almost undoubtedly to the weak processing power of the handheld and the small number of buttons to work with.

The Game Boy Advance is no powerhouse. While 2D titles can react quickly and maintain a consistent high frame rate, any game utilizing proper polygonal 3D draws heavily on the system's resources and ultimately end up running slowly and uncomfortably. During thin hallways with no sprites present, Duke Nukem Advance skips along quite happily, singing "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah", without a care in the world. In a room with many walls, computer screens and obstacles, loaded with the carcasses of your defeated enemies, the game slows down to a dramatic crawl. In an almost theatrical manner, pressing in the Up button barely even results in Duke tip-toeing forward at all.

This is because the Southpaw Engine that runs the game enables level-of-detail textures, transparent textures, reflective water, moving geometry, full ceiling and floor texturing, lighting effects, and fully 3D game environments to run on a Game Boy Advance. An impressive feat, most definitely. Practical? No.

The controls, being limited, suffer greatly. There are four selectable control schemes, but none of them can hold a candle to Duke Nukem 3D — being a PC game there is a shortcut key for everything. By holding Select, and pressing the Left or Right trigger, it is possible to cycle through the inventory. This does not pause the game; the finicky selection process leaves the player wide open to attacks from enemies. There is barely a quiet moment to switch weapons during the timed levels. It is possible to be stuck using an unsuitable weapon for an entire stage, as the on-screen counter forces the player to immediately search for an exit with the limited time available. It is a pity that such issues plague the game, because it still manages to impress me with its maze-like level design and PG-13 dialogue. To make the game suitable for a Teen rating, the references to sexual encounters are replaced with such forced innuendo that is inherently funnier.

A saving grace is the auto-aim, which makes up for the poor control. So long as an enemy is more-or-less in the centre of the screen, all shots fired will hit. It helps considerably and can also be used to cheekily snipe enemies from a distance.

When Duke said, "Blow it out yer ass," the artists took it literally.

Despite being heavily influenced by Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem Advance is an entirely different game. It contains some familiar elements, enemies and weapons, but it also contains many new additions. It also has a separate plot, different levels and a comic-book styled ending sequence. The story focuses on an alien invasion of Area 51 and the uncovering of an alien weapon that could be used to destroy mankind. Duke is sent to investigate Area 51 for evidence of the alien threat, before making his way to Egypt where the aliens have been storing clones. After destroying the clone army, Duke travels to Sydney, Australia, where an agent was captured by aliens. After rescuing the captive agent, Duke heads to the secret alien base where the aliens are operating from. After that, the world is saved, and Duke hitches up with a blonde in a bikini. It is far from being an interesting well woven narrative, and the environments don't even come close to having the same "tangibility" of those found in Duke Nukem 3D, but they still fit the game well and don't seem convoluted in any way. The new gold-skinned automatic pistol is an excellent addition to the game, and something that even made its way into Duke Nukem Forever.

The game, therefore, only has four distinct "worlds". But they could all be one big one, to tell the truth. The textures look washed out and weird and, being rendered on the miniscule Game Boy Advance screen, they just end up a pixelated mess. Trying to emulate the Duke Nukem 3D visuals has not only failed, but also resulted in something quite hideous. At times, it wasn't clear where to go, on account of the entire game looking the same.

Even with all of these blatant issues, Duke Nukem Advance is probably the most playable first-person shooter on the GameBoy Advance. The only other that matches up closely is the port of Doom, which has the courtesy of background music, where Duke Nukem Advance doesn't even give us that. We do have sound, though. We are treated to voice clips and sound effects as grainy as the visuals, and annoying looped siren sounds in the first few levels for good measure.

But hey, I'm still impressed. It'd be better if these levels were just a downloadable pack for Duke Nukem 3D, but I'll take a poorly executed but still by all accounts noteworthy handheld reinterpretation over nothing.

I wouldn't say ignore it, but I'd pretty much play anything at least once.

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