The GBA is not known for its first-person shooters. The system has close to a dozen FPS titles, and nearly all of them suffer greatly from choppy frame rates and horrid play control. But the master programmers at Torus Games have created a great FPS – Duke Nukem Advance – that still reigns supreme today, even though it was released in August of 2002.
So, why is it that FPS titles are usually bad on the GBA? Firstly, the GBA wasn’t created for 3D games. While creating 3D objects and environments is possible on the system, the GBA was primarily developed with 2D processing power as its forte. Bearing this in mind, GBA polygons and 3D textures can often become muddy and quite jagged. Secondly, character aiming can be tricky without the advantage of a mouse or an analog stick; the absence of which subsequently results in play control that is either too choppy or too loose. However, because Torus Games took extra time to fully develop this game, all the worrying kinks of an FPS on the GBA have been ironed out. Plus, Torus has some handheld experience with the lovable Mr. Nukem as they created the GameBoy Color version of Duke Nukem back in 1999.
Because Duke Nukem Advance is designed to be action packed, the story – though original – takes somewhat of a back seat to the gameplay. Strangely, Duke has been sent by the government directly into the heart of an alien uprising. He must single handedly stop the invading aliens. However, it is unclear why Duke, a man who takes orders from no one, is under the control of the government. Luckily for our continuity glands, the story is not really that important anyway.
The gameplay objective is action heavy and rather simple: shoot without being shot. This particular handheld Duke adventure plays similarly to the Duke Nukem titles so prevalent on the PC. Each level involves finding key cards, opening doors, jumping over hazards, and blasting aliens. The game does have specific missions, but the meat of the gameplay involves nuking aliens into steaming piles of goop. And, the best way to accomplish this goal is through the wide assortment of weaponry at Duke’s disposal. Many of the series’ trademark weapons return in Duke Nukem Advance, such as Duke’s trusty boot, pistol, and shotgun. But everyone familiar with the franchise knows that the shrink ray, rocket launcher, and pipe bombs are (still) the most effective choices when it comes to destroying aliens.
Selecting weapons, as well as the play control, separate this FPS from the rest of the bunch currently available on the GBA. The play control is extremely responsive and plays exactly like it should. Turning, jumping, strafing, and shooting are fluid as can be thanks to the buttery smooth frame rate. Selecting weapons is easy, even in the middle of a frenetic firefight. The Select button, with a combination of the two shoulder buttons, scrolls through the Duke’s weapons inventory. And, unlike any other handheld FPS before it, Duke can actually aim up and down. The control scheme allows the player to do a great deal with very little – and things never become cluttered. Only when Duke Nukem Advance is physically placed in your hands can the beauty of its play control and frame rate be truly appreciated.
The 19 missions will require a considerable chunk of your time to complete, especially on the harder difficulty settings. And, if the single-player mode isn’t enough to satisfy your killer cravings, then 2-4 players can also compete in Death-match mode (Multipak link only). Once your friends see just how good the single-player mode is, they’ll more than likely buy the game for the multiplayer mode option?and the fun can continue.
Not only is Duke Nukem Advance the best first-person shooter currently available on the GBA, it is also one of the better games on the system. Unfortunately, because the game is made for the GBA – with a distinctly younger target audience in mind – a few of the game’s most infamous content elements have been removed accordingly. For example, Duke no longer swears liberally, or relieves himself when in a bathroom. Plus, the absence of strippers helps give the game a Teen rating (instead of Mature). And, due to the cartridge restrictions, Duke’s classic one-liners have been shortened to only a couple of words. While many objects in the environment are still destructible, there is not as much direct interaction as in the PC versions. Duke cannot leave sprayed bullet holes in walls or blow chunks of masonry away with the missile launcher; however, all of this is more than excused considering that the game is realized beautifully through the GBA, a system not really suited for playing FPS games.
Essentially, the GBA is not the place to look for if you want a quality FPS, but Duke Nukem Advance has been crafted with due care, which generates an extremely pleasurable gaming experience. There is absolutely no way that the GBA can compete in the FPS market when compared to its console and PC brethren, but Torus Games has given gamers something that was thought impossible. To this day, no handheld FPS has come close to the quality established through Duke Nukem Advance. If you own a GBA, like first-person shooters, or enjoy action games in general, then introduce yourself and your GBA system to Mr. Nukem. He will show both of you a great time.