Why wouldn't Duke Nukem make an appearance on the Tapwave Zodiac? After all, the illustrious alien exterminator is duty-bound to rescue humanity wherever belligerent aliens may choose to point their invasion fleets--and the vanguard of pig cops and other anthropomorphic nasties seemed to think that the Zodiac's receptivity to PC ports would make it easy pickings for a quick offensive. Unfortunately for them, they'll find Nukem to be just as much of a handful on the Palm OS as he is on all of his other platforms; Machineworks Northwest may have trimmed back a lot of Duke Nukem 3D's scope, but the company made sure that the core strafe-and-shoot gameplay that has propelled Duke into the first-person shooter aristocracy is intact on the Zodiac.
In design terms, Duke Nukem Mobile for the Zodiac is much closer to Duke's recent cell phone adventure of the same name than to any of his PC or console offerings. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just means that Duke Nukem has been boiled down to the bare essentials: two shoulder buttons for strafing, five standard weapons, a trigger key, and a smattering of Duke's trademarked, atonal quips. As one of video gaming's archetypal badasses, Nukem doesn't need much accoutrement, even when butchering entire extraterrestrial civilizations.
Duke Nukem Mobile serves up about 20 very short scenarios, which trace Nukem's ichor-splattered odyssey through city streets, strip clubs, cemeteries, mansions, and finally into a massive, futuristic dirigible, where he gets to take on the alien commander hand-to-tentacle. As in the cell phone game, these microlevels center around running back and forth slaughtering aliens until one of them drops a key card to unlock the next level. The levels themselves are generally very small and usually take only a few minutes to navigate, due to an exceedingly simple design: Most of the levels consist of wide-open avenues and hallways that cross at right angles and drain into arenas, with precious little differentiation in terrain, places to hide, doorways, or other remarkable features. It would have been nice to see some of the more-thought-out levels from the PC games (remember the showdown in the supermarket?) make it into the Zodiac game. Also, since the majority of Nukem's enemies actually teleport into his vicinity, Duke Nukem Mobile plays a lot more like an extended series of deathmatches than a traditional FPS.
Fortunately, even if the levels don't really support subterfuge, Duke's play mechanics are suited to wading through reservoirs of pig cops and other scum in direct fashion. Machineworks nailed the controls for the Zodiac, making it easy to maneuver and strafe Duke--although it pays big-time to turn the analog stick's sensitivity way down and enable proportional aiming, if you want to boomstick targets from afar. The auto-aim is appropriately tuned, although in some cases it seems to be more difficult than it should be to hit stationary targets like autocannons. Strangely, Duke has been assigned a jump button for this chapter, but there isn't an apparent in-game situation in which you need to use this ability; jumping seems to be a wholly vestigial feature left over from the PC titles.
There are plenty of power-ups and ammo seeded throughout the levels to support Duke's insatiable cordite habit. Even on the hardest difficulty levels, fallen foes are likely to provide more ammo than you need to use. The enemy sprites are big, bold, and slavering (especially the three or four boss characters, which intimidate with their sheer size), but their animation is straight out of the mid-'90s, and none of their attacks are difficult to dodge unless they're coming en masse. Duke's alien-dispatching arsenal is on the disappointing side, maxing out at the rocket launcher. The pipe bombs, which were among the most delightful weapons to use on the PC, are a shadow of their former selves. Sadly, you can't control their distance or arc via button press, and they won't bounce and skitter into corners, either. Gone are the days of the shrink ray, bubble cannon, and other needlessly contrived yet hilarious weapons; instead, you'll spend most of your time pumping shotgun shells into crowds of aliens, only resorting to the RPG to deal with the odd boss.
The graphics and sound, on the other hand, are fairly impressive for the Zodiac. Duke Nukem Mobile is on a visual par with the early PC Nukems, with sharp backgrounds and character art and a very fluid frame rate. It may not run as fast as Doom II does on the Zodiac, but it looks a heck of a lot better. The sound effects are very robust, if somewhat monotonous, and Nukem's strangely laconic catchphrases are perfectly reproduced. That said, some energetic in-game music would have improved the play experience markedly. The solitary title theme isn't enough to fill the void between shotgun blasts.
All told, Duke Nukem Mobile is a good game for FPS-loving Zodiac owners. Machineworks essentially combined the graphics and control of the PC games with the scope of the mobile game to birth this version, and the marriage doesn't always feel as smooth as it should. Nevertheless, it delivers the FPS goods in a simple, accessible format that's fun to pick up and play, and it doesn't feel as dated as Doom II. Keep in mind, however, that Doom II is a much longer game--Duke Nukem Mobile takes only an hour or two to beat, even on hard difficulty.