The first Duke Nukem game is a simple side-scrolling platform shooter, developed and published for PC MS-DOS by Apogee Software in 1991.
It features three episodes (Shrapnel City, Mission Moonbase, and Trapped in the Future), each with ten levels.
The aim of the game is to survive an onslaught of enemies; to collect as many points-based items as possible, and to find the key to the exit on each level. Some levels have multiple exits, which act as shortcuts to later levels, and these require different coloured keys. There are elevators that are used to either reach high-up places, or escape from pits that are otherwise inescapable. Some levels also contain time machines that act like teleporters. You stand inside them and press up to use them. These will take you to different times and sub-levels, and hopefully towards the exit.
Visually, the game is pretty basic, with 16-colour EGA graphics and simple animated characters and sprites. It does, however, occasionally throw something interesting at you, like large, jumping robots, or helicopters. Most enemies are basic robot sprites, and there are also homing drones that will fly toward you when shot (these actually reappear in Duke Nukem 3D and are a pain in the butt in both games). The use of colour in the game is decent overall, though.
Gameplay-wise: Duke Nukem feels pretty good, in spite of its basic looks. The jump and shoot mechanics are okay, and although the scrolling isn’t what you’d call “super smooth”, it’s not jerky either. Some of the traps in the game are pretty dirty (like the dynamite that explodes towards you), but you soon learn to avoid them.
Duke Nukem sold quite well at the time of release. Producer Scott Miller estimates that the game eventually sold between 60,000 and 70,000 copies, which is surprising considering that the game lags far behind what was happening on consoles in 1991 (Super Mario World, for example, came out the previous year, in 1990). There were not that many platform shooters available for the PC at the time, though, so it was probably seen as being quite innovative.
Some versions of this game are shown as “Duke Nukum“, due to a confusing rights issue with the name. This was later resolved when 3D Realms managed to register it as a trademark.
A sequel to this game, called Duke Nukem II, followed in 1992. A much more famous second sequel – Duke Nukem 3D – appeared in 1996. A remake of Duke Nukem 1 & 2 appeared on the Game Boy Color in 1999. And, of course, the infamous Duke Nukem Forever was released 2011 after over a decade in “development hell”.