Pocket Power: Duke Nukem Advance

Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.

The thing I loved most about the Game Boy Advance — more than the RPGs, Castlevanias, and countless SNES ports — was its library of first person shooters. No Nintendo handheld offers a more diverse and high-quality range of first person shooters than the Game Boy Advance. It surprises me that the DS and 3DS — both miles ahead of GBA when it comes to pushing polygons — couldn’t muster up an interesting library of tailor-made shooters outside of Metroid Prime Hunters, Moon, and some half baked demakes of Call of Duty. The Game Boy Advance was really the perfect home for the classic PC shooters of yesteryear — playing games like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D on the go was like a gift from the gaming gods. I’m probably making more big a deal of this than most, but I honestly used my GBA to play these frantic shooters more than anything else. I recall a rumor of the original Quake getting a GBA release – which never happened, and part of me still wishes that they would announce it for the 3DS eShop at some point. A guy can dream, right?

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My favorite out of them all is Duke Nukem Advance, an original entry in the Duke canon that adapts the design of the classic Duke Nukem 3D. Duke Nukem Advance is essentially Duke Nukem 3D optimized for the GBA with a ton of cool, original content. The controls work like a charm, the framerate and scrolling is smooth, and the shooting action is addictive. The game has all the awesome guns and gadgets that you’d expect of the series, with my personal favorite being the shrink ray which allows you to turn foes into squashable bugs.  The game’s level design is as impressive as its PC forebear, featuring a variety of locations and mission objectives. True to form, Duke Nukem Advance is packed with excellent sound work. The main theme music is still running through my head, and Duke’s cheesy sound bites still kick ass and — well, you know the rest.

Boss battles, cool weapons, and tight corridor shooter design the likes of which we never see any more… Duke Nukem Advance is the total package. While it may not be as technically impressive today as it was back in the day, it’s well-optimized, and the gameplay is as fun as it’s ever been. If you’ve never played an FPS on your GBA you’ll be shocked at how well it runs. On top of a solid campaign, the game features stellar multiplayer using the game-link cable. I have many fond memories of schoolyard fragfests, and the multiplayer still holds up all these years later.

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Developers really ought to release more first person shooters for Nintendo’s newer handhelds. Metroid Prime Hunters was good, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t enough. For now, if you need to scratch that itch, you should dust off your GBA (or take advantage of the DS’s backwards compatibility) to experience a superb portable rendition of Duke Nukem. While you’re at it, you should also dig up Doom, Ice Nine, Dark Arena, and Wolfenstein 3D.