Although he’s gone missing on home consoles in recent years, Duke Nukem has still managed to consistently deliver on portable platforms.
He starred in an excellent shooter for the GBA, a solid platformer for the GBC, and even an over-ambitious FPS for Tiger's game.com.
Sadly, this good run is ended with Critical Mass. To put it bluntly, it’s a mystery how developer Apogee thought it was fit for release.
Your graphics, your gameplay – what’s the difference?
The majority of the game is centered on side-on 2.5D platforming, and as soon as you start the opening level, you can see that it's riddled with problems.
It’s strikingly ugly, for a start, with several backgrounds looking unfinished and blurry. Blocky enemies that lack the personality the series is famed for, and stiff animation that makes Duke look more of an OAP than an alien-killing machine add to the ignominy.
The game underneath is no better. Although the controls are simple enough, with A to jump and double jump, B to shoot, and X to chuck and detonate pipebombs, you’ll soon find level after level merging into one another.
Every side-on stage has you walking to the right (sometimes left, excitingly) and shooting, with the occasional ladder or jump thrown in for measure. Even when the game’s plot introduces a globetrotting element, nothing really changes.
What a mess
It doesn’t help that the gunplay lacks the impact of a Laser Quest match.
You have a host of new weapons, most of which bear no resemblance to Duke’s usual arsenal and, which are nearly all characterised by their unsatisying weediness.
This problem is compounded by the fact that you can’t even see your enemies' bullets, with shootouts descending into sloppy and feckless fights.
Because every foe’s death animation seems to take forever, and swapping weapons is clumsily handled by the touchscreen, all the usual enjoyably brainless bombast you get from Duke games has been drained away.
It doesn’t help that the main man’s usually dependable repertoire of ‘witty’ one-liners is neutered due to the game’s 12 rating, either.
Duke it out
Apogee hasn’t developed a game since 1997, and sadly it shows. Instead of just trying to continue the simplistic charm of the company’s shareware Duke titles, it ill-advisedly attempts to throw as many gimmicks and mini-games at you as possible, hoping at least one will work.
The oddest addition is the cover system, which at random and disparate points makes you shoot a sole enemy down a corridor or from around a corner. These episodes add nothing to the game and come off as a mere afterthought.
The top-down vertically scrolling jetpack sections are arguably even worse, and simply involve flying up the screen, taking down gun emplacements and airborne pig cops.
Unlike in the side-on sections, you can actually see the bullets. Sadly, most are impossible to avoid, and collecting the plentiful health pick-ups is the only way to survive.
The only real side attractions that work are the sniper sections, which are simplistic and very short target shoots. In most games they'd be a low point – here, they’re a highlight.
Now you see me, now you’re dead
Most ambitious - although that in itself is saying little - are the boss fights, which adopt a third-person perspective. Boasting tank controls similar to those in Resident Evil 4, with the face buttons to aim and the shoulder buttons to shoot, these sections are clunky and incredibly easy to beat. In fact, most of the game struggles from an absence of challenge. It all smacks of a title rushed out of the door, with no consideration as to whether the finished product holds together. Even if you’re a Duke Nukem apologist, you'd be wise to avoid Critical Mass.