The Curious Case Of Duke Nukem 3D’s Heavily Censored N64 Port

Nintendo will release pretty much anything on Switch these days. Whether you're beating someone to death with a baseball bat in GTA: The Trilogy or exploding Nazi testicles in slow-motion in Sniper Elite 4, the company has no moral objections to violence, bad language, or other 'adults only' content. It was a very different story back in the '90s, though. In an attempt to maintain a family friendly image, Nintendo used to force developers to censor the hell out of their games—a notable example being the N64 version of classic FPS Duke Nukem 3D, which was very different from the PC original.

Developed by Eurocom, with assistance from original creator 3D Realms, Duke Nukem 64 launched for Nintendo's 64-bit console in November, 1997. This was a game no one ever expected to ever see on a Nintendo console, but after playing it, it was clear how the developers managed it. Duke Nukem 3D is a game filled with copious amounts of swearing, gore, nudity, and other stuff that was considered super edgy in the '90s. This was as much of a selling point as the superb FPS combat, the huge, intricate levels, and impressively detailed and interactive (for the time) environments.

But this is all missing from the Nintendo 64 version, which is glaringly obvious from the very first mission. On PC this mission was called Red Light District; on the N64 it was renamed to Gun Crazy. Where there used to be a pornography store selling adult magazines, there's now a gun shop. The strip club, formerly the centrepiece of the level (and a favourite of countless filthy-minded '90s teens), is now a fast food restaurant. Even the numerous bottles of booze scattered around the level have been replaced with cans of soda. Not a single thing escaped Nintendo's censorship.

This continues all the way through the game. In Death Row, a mission set in a maximum security prison, the chapel has been completely removed because Nintendo didn't allow religious references. In the Duke Burger, a secret level, the dog carcasses hanging in the freezer (a gag suggesting the restaurant's meat was less than premium) have been replaced with pigs. In Raw Meat, the geisha no longer flash their breasts when Duke interacts with them. I could go on, but these examples are just the tip of a very large iceberg. Check out the Duke Nukem wiki for an extensive list of every change.

The N64 port even added a whole new gameplay feature. In the PC version Duke would encounter women trapped in slimy alien cocoons, who would beg him to kill them. Understandably, Nintendo was not down with this concept. But rather than remove them, they were turned into mission objectives. Interact with one and they magically disappear from the level, adding to a 'babes saved' counter at the end of the mission. Hardly an elegant solution, but it's one of the changes in this version I don't totally hate. It's nicer than blowing these women up with a pipe bomb anyway.

Duke Nukem 3D is unashamedly, gleefully crude. But whether you find it funny or not, the toilet humour, sexual content, and foul-mouthed one-liners are intrinsic to the experience. That's why the Nintendo 64 version is so disappointing. It's sanitised to the point of absurdity, and the result is a game that feels like a hollow imitation of its PC counterpart. I feel bad for N64 players who were stuck with this while their PlayStation-owning friends enjoyed the fully featured Duke experience. I feel bad, because that was me. In '97 I was the only kid with the watered-down N64 version.

It wasn't all bad, though. Whenever I was mocked for owning the baby version of the game, I'd hit back with a list of the things it did better than the PlayStation port—and, to my delight, even the hallowed PC version. Many of the levels are greatly expanded, with new rooms, puzzles, and secret areas. The final boss, the towering Cycloid Emperor, is now a fully 3D model instead of a flat sprite. The three-dimensional explosions are vastly superior too, and parts of some levels boast extra geometry and texture detail. Weirdly, in some ways, the N64 port is the best version of Duke Nukem 3D.

But Nintendo still did players dirty with its draconian censorship policy. I'm glad the company has moved on in recent years, because its platforms are all the richer for it. Duke Nukem 64 is a real curio. A butchered port of a beloved FPS, stripped of everything that is even slightly provocative, but also massively improved in some areas. Duke Nukem 3D has appeared on many different platforms in many different forms—including Gearbox's recent World Tour anniversary edition—but this is the strangest of them all. Duke doesn't even say 'eat shit and die' anymore. I mean, c'mon Nintendo.

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