Genre: Action Developer: Hertz Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1 Released: 1990
It’s been said that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. That may be true in most cases, but I think that Dynamite Duke is a worthy exception. God only knows how many would-be buyers were put off by its horrendous box art (only marginally better than the Japanese one), and truth be told, they weren’t missing all that much.
While it’s true that Dynamite Duke is a faithful port of the action coin-op, the quality of the conversion isn’t its problem. What brings it down is the fact that there isn’t much meat on this bird to begin with. That’s typical of arcade games, especially nowadays, when an entire dollar is expected to last a few meager minutes. But going back over a decade, when arcade games still ran a quarter a play, it was simply unacceptable. Every time I think of Duke I remember my poor friend Miguel who spent $65 on it at release. He beat it within twenty minutes, and the expression on his face to this day sums up the general feeling I get about this game much better than any review ever could.
Wait, I’m not being entirely fair, I guess. I mean, I like the whole post-apocalyptic scenario and all, and the story of a bionic hero named Duke Rippem (yes, I’m serious) taking on a mad doctor who’s out to conquer the world by unleashing his mutant creations upon it is cliche but fun. I guess in a game that emphasizes blowing things up, a solid plot is considered something of an extra. Truth be told, there’s not much else that you need to know, save that Duke is licensed to kill everything and anything that moves (and some static stuff too).
And that brings us back to my original point of Dynamite Duke being a twenty minute affair. You’re in; you’re out, and the whole thing blows by far too quickly for any appreciation of the game to be had without a dozen playthroughs. This is a game that should have had me at the exploding title screen, but it instead took multiple plays for any enjoyment to stick around. Such a wham-bang style works well in arcades, but not on my Genesis!
‘Tis a pity too, since Seibu Kaihatsu obviously had some great inspiration when it designed Duke. You’ve got your machine guns, magnums, and bazookas; but there’s also Duke’s Dynamite Punch to contend with! It lets you get up close and personal with bosses, and your best Ali impression can put them down without you ever having to fire a shot. Only available if you have at least one “D” icon in your inventory, you have to hold down the fire button to charge it up. Use it during the course of regular stages, and you’ll take out everything onscreen. Unleash it at a boss, and he’ll go flying to the back of the room in which you’re fighting.
Those regular stages are pretty varied, but there are only six of them. Think of a less intense version of Operation Wolf, and you’ll have the general idea of how they play. Unlike Taito’s classic however, which controlled quite decently with a control pad, firing and moving here can be something of a chore with the stock Genesis pad. Of course, Duke was released long before the Menacer of Mega Mouse arrived, so there was really no other option available. Still, you’ll find yourself taking hits you should by all rights be evading because Duke can be so uncooperative in dodging enemy and moving.
Another knock against Duke is the difficulty level. Even on the hardest setting, it’s not a real challenge, although this is definitely the best way to play it. Any other setting waters the experience down far too much and saps away any enjoyment completely. There’s nothing fun about stocking up on “D” icons and just raping a boss by continually bombarding him with them over and over until he’s dead. Granted, the hardest setting isn’t much better, but at least it helps prolong the game somewhat.
It all sounds so good in premise, but somewhere on the journey to the Genesis the implementation opted to stay home. When you think about it, that’s basically the entire problem with Duke. Terms like “watered down” and “saps away” should have no place describing a game of this type. When average visuals and ho-hum audio, along with cumbersome gameplay, are actually overshadowed by derivative design and an arcade mind set, gamers need to bow their heads in a moment of silence. I look to Sega’s other stellar reprogramming works, like the awesome MERCS and Final Fight CD, and I wonder what happened. Where are the bonuses? Surely Sega could have tossed in a few extra levels or something? Xerox-tastic ports may make a console’s library look nice on the shelf, but I’m a meat and potatoes man, and Dynamite Duke is like serving me Tofu instead of a steak dinner.
It’s not all bad though. The chance to take down an opposing army is always something worth checking out, and Duke has copious amounts of tanks, helicopters, and soldiers for you to slaughter. Power ups are plentiful, and you never have to worry about running out of ammunition or health. I would have liked the stages to have been a bit more varied (why didn’t they do more with those forward-scrolling intros to the boss battles?), but they don’t tend to overstay their welcome and have you seemingly spend forever just shooting away.
It all basically boils down to what you’re looking for. If you want a quick shooter that’s fun in short bursts, then Dynamite Duke may be worth a quick trip to eBay. If you want more depth and variety, then stick to other Menacer-equipped games like T2: The Arcade Game and the underrated Body Count. The problem is that there are so few titles on the Genesis like Duke that ultimately, you’re left with little choice but to give it a chance.
SCORE: 5 out of 10