Duke Nukem II Hints and Tips

Duke Nukem II remains my favorite 2D platformer shoot-em-up from the DOS and early consoles era. Bright, colorful graphics (only 16 colors, but impressively used), full Sound Blaster sound effects, upbeat Adlib music (some tracks are quite memorable), and rather intense action. What more can one ask for?

The full version of the game includes 4 episodes, with 8 levels each; the last level if each episode is a traditional “boss” level. Each level uses one of several themes (with a different set of tiles and objects). The introduced variety of visuals (and, to some extent, enemies and challenges) kept the game fresh throughout the 32 levels.

Official Hints

These hints have been distributed with the game, and I found them informative and helpful during my playthrough. Many of them are also available through the “Instructions” option in the main menu. I haven’t found them posted anywhere online, so here they are (my additions are in blue):

  • In some levels of the game, Duke has a ship that he can use to fly around in and cause even higher levels of destruction! To get into the ship, you need just jump on top of it, and Duke will seat himself. To get out, press the jump key, and the ship will land itself directly below where you jumped out of it.
  • Duke has four weapons available for mass butt kicking! See the help inside the game for a graphical representation of what these weapons look like. Only one non-default weapon can be equipped at a time.
    • Default Gun –> Least Powerful. Unlimited shots
    • Lasers –> Can shoot through anything. 32 shots
    • Flamethrower –> Very destructive. By aiming down and shooting, you can propel yourself upwards. 64 shots
    • Rocket Launcher –> The most powerful weapon! 32 shots
  • There are many items that Duke will run into while playing the game that will help Duke during his game play. See the help inside the game for what these objects look like.
    • Soda Can – Gives one unit of health
    • Atom Powerup – Gives one unit of health
    • Turkey – Gives one unit of health
    • Cooked Turkey – Gives two units of health (to cook a Turkey shoot it fast while it’s running towards you)
    • Six Pack of Soda Cans – Gives six units of health
    • Access Card – Used to open force fields
    • Key – Used to open doors
    • Rapid Fire PowerUp – Temporarily gives player rapid fire
    • Cloaking Device – Temporarily makes player invincible. Required to pass some force fields that cannot be shut down / destroyed otherwise.
    • Blowmatic Fanmaster 4 – When activated, it can propel Duke upwards
    • Restart Beacon – When activated, Duke will restart level here (if he dies)
  • There is an easy way to determine if a red box has a bomb or a coke can(s) in it. If the red box has a coke can in it, you will walk in front of the box. If it has a bomb in it, you will walk behind the box.
  • Duck when you’re being bombarded by eyeball shrapnel.
  • Spiders will jump on you when they see you. If one hits you, you’ll lose one point of health. To shake them off, you need to jiggle from left to right really quickly. Don’t let them stay on you!
  • If you’re at full health, the atom powerup is worth a lot of points. 10,000 of them, to be exact!
  • If you shoot a soda can, and grab it as it flies upwards, you get 2000 BIG points (but no health).
  • Collect the letters N-U-K-E-M in order for a special 100,000 point bonus! If you get all the letters, but not in the right order, you still will get a bonus, but it will only be 10,000 points (numbers are inaccurate due to a bug; see discussion in comments).
  • In some levels, there is a hint globe that you can find. If you find it, take it to the pedestal in that level, and you’ll get a super secret hint for that particular level.
  • The blue guards in the game won’t shoot at you if you’re in the air, so while approaching them, try and jump and remain in the air.
  • The spinning turret guns that shoot at you can only be destroyed with one of the really powerful weapons. They can only be temporarily disabled with your default weapon. Duke’s ship can also destroy these turret guns.
  • The napalm bombs will destroy anything within their range of explosion, including the coke cans. If you have a coke can lying near a bomb, you had better get the coke can, or you’ll lose it!
  • In some levels, there is a force field that you can’t get through without finding the cloaking device. There is a graphical representation of what these objects look like inside the online help within the game.
  • Conserve your weapon energy if you are near the end of a level. You will carry over your weapons into the next level. This is especially useful if going up against a boss creature.
  • Whenever you start a level, you start it with full health, irregardless of how much health you had at the end of the previous level.
Secret Bonuses

There are seven ways to get a secret bonus in a level. All of them are
worth 100,000 points, and you will collect them at the end of a level.

  1. Destroy all the spy cameras in the level.
  2. Get through the level without taking a health hit.
  3. Finding every weapon on a level.
  4. Getting all the merchandise in a level. (Note: Doesn’t work; see below)
  5. Destroy all the spinning guns in a level.
  6. Destroy all the napalm bombs in a level.
  7. Shooting all the crystal balls, and not touching them in a level.
Secret Cheat Keys

There are two secret cheat key combinations in Duke Nukem II. Both of them may be used as many times as you wish.

[E] [A] [T] – Gives you full health, but it also resets your score to zero.
[N] [U] [K] – Gives you a random weapon, and also gives you all the inventory that you need to finish the particular level you are on. (The weapon is not random. As I learned from ADG Episode 72, you get one of the weapons that is present on the level and has not been collected yet. As a corollary – if the level has no weapons or you already collected and used them all, you will get no weapon at all.)

Please note that these only work in the commercial version of Duke Nukem II. These codes do nothing in the shareware version of the game.

Other Tips

  • The non-default weapons are much more powerful, but have limited ammo that should be conserved. Picking up a weapon replaces whatever you have, and any unused ammo will be lost, so it’s usually best to make sure you fully run out before picking up the next gun (sometimes it will require backtracking). With planning it is frequently possible to leave a weapon until you’ve cleared all enemies in a level, so that you start the next one with full (or almost full) ammo.
  • The crystal balls have varying point values, depending on the color inside the ball. Blue: 500 points; Red: 2,000 points; Green: 5,000 points; White: 10,000 points. If you shoot a ball, it is only worth 100 points, regardless of color.
  • Some levels have Quakes in them (not Earthquakes, see, because this is not Earth). Things shake all the time and sometimes platform or goodies drop from above.
  • The following things are shootable and sometimes reveal bonuses / hidden passages: missiles (they will launch up), cracked walls (in Factory levels), the sky (in Quake levels, in specific locations)
  • Looking up not only allows you to see more of your environment, but sometimes causes goodies to drop, that can be missed otherwise (typically, crystal balls).

Getting the Secret Bonuses
  • Secret Bonuses 1, 3 and 5 cannot be obtained if the level does not contain any of the respective items (cameras, weapons, missile turrets)
  • Secret Bonuses 6 and 7 can be obtained if the level does not contain any of the respective items (napalm bombs / crystal balls)
  • Secret Bonus 2 can be obtained in every level; on the Easy skill, at least, it is always possible to finish the level without taking hits (as I have done it), but sometimes it is very difficult and relies on luck. I imagine it should be possible on Medium/Hard skills too, but probably much harder.
How to get Secret Bonus 5 on E2L1?

This level has no weapons, but you do have the ship, whose powerful weapon can destroy the turrets. However, there are two turrets that are so close to the ceiling that the ship weapon cannot reach them (it will always shoot just a bit below). It might seem that there is no way to destroy them, but it actually can be done due to a bug. Place the ship in a safe spot aiming at the turret (but not too close) and jump out of it straight up. Then jump up again and fire your weapon at the peak of the jump. Duke’s normal weapon will hit the turret (normally it would just spin it temporarily). However, since you will land into the ship, the game will think that your shots now have the destructive power of the ship weapon and the turret will be destroyed (as long as you land in the ship before the shot hits the turret).

Why can’t I get Secret Bonus 5 on E4L8 even though I destroyed all turrets?

This has bugged me for years, until I finally saw the map of the level. As you can see, there are two almost identical areas with boss ships. You start in the left one, and the right one is completely inaccessible. That means the missile turrets there cannot be destroyed and you will never get Secret Bonus 5. I don’t know what’s more surprising – that they forgot to remove this area, or that there are no similar bugs in any of the other levels.

Why didn’t I get Secret Bonus 4 despite picking up all merchandise in the level?

This is a bug. Here is my theory: the merchandise is in blue boxes, as are the N-U-K-E-M letters. Probably the bonus test condition counts all blue boxes towards the total, but does not count the N-U-K-E-M letters towards completion. Why do I think so? Because E3L4 is the only level in the game that has blue boxes, but does not have N-U-K-E-M letters, and, surely enough, only on this level, you can get Secret Bonus 4 at the end. (Edit: theory confirmed by analyzing the code, see discussion and links in comments below)

Secret Bonus 7 is SO HARD. Is it even worth it?

Yes, it’s hard, because it’s so easy to accidentally touch one of those balls (ahem, the crystal balls, yes). You basically have to know the level by heart, because these balls (crystal balls, yeah?) like to fall from the sky. Now, there are levels where it’s provably not cost-effective to get this bonus – if (total point value of the balls) minus (number of balls times 100) is higher than 100K. This happens on some levels that have many white/green balls (10K / 5K points each). On other levels it may be cost-effective, but damn frustrating.

Other Sources of Points
  • Collect the N-U-K-E-M letters in order to get 100K (actually, ~140K – see comments below!). They are typically arranged in a way that your progression through the level will naturally reveal them in order, but as some levels are non-linear, it may not always be the case. If you reveal one too early, just don’t touch it (your HUD will show which letters you have picked up already).
  • Shooting a soda can and picking up as it flies up will give you 2000 points instead of the normal 100 (but no health).
  • Shooting a sixpack will destroy it, giving you 10K points instead of the normal 100 (but no health).
  • Picking up an atom powerup when you have full health will give you 10K points, instead of the normal 500.
  • On levels where the blue hint globe is present, picking it up is worth 10K points. Bringing it to the pedestal is worth an additional 50K.
  • Destroying the exit sign will add 10K points to your score. The mid-level direction arrows can also be destroyed, but only for 500 points each.
How To Score Big

Duh! Get all the Secret Bonuses in every level, and do everything listed in the “Other Sources” above. Also collect every item and kill every enemy.

Well, easier sad than done. Actually, some bonuses (1, 3, 5, 6) are rather easy, because it’s just a matter of scouting the level, paying attention, picking up everything that can be picked up and destroying everything that can be destroyed.

Secret Bonus 2 isn’t easy to get. Beating a level without a single health hit often requires careful planning, memorization of the layout, sharp reflexes and a deal of luck. When I played this game, ages ago, on “Easy”, I insisted on getting it on absolutely every level, and I did, even though it sometimes required many attempts. I don’t even feel like trying it on “Medium” or “Hard”.

Secret Bonus 7 is just as difficult as 2, and you also have to do the math to figure out if it’s worth it. If you decide against trying for it, then the priority becomes not shooting the crystal balls (because it destroys most of their value), and this can also be challenging, as they are sometimes surrounded by things you do need to shoot (like enemies or boxes). During my playthrough I only went for Secret Bonus 7 when it was obviously worth it and not exceedingly difficult. I may have missed out on a couple of hundred thousands points per episode, but saved myself a lot of frustration. Who cares. Just think of the extra 700,000 points per episode I could have been getting if Secret Bonus 4 hadn’t been bugged.

Is there a theoretical maximum score per Episode?

No, because certain events can generate endless sources of points – Pod Generators (150 per pod), Missiles / Bombs generated by the bosses (10 per missile/bomb), and even spinning the turrets (1 point per spin). Of course you have to be certified insane to actually try to use these techniques to squeeze points, since the typical score for completing an episode is in the millions.

Savegame / High-Score Table Editing

The file formats are available on the DOS Games Modding Wiki. Editing the save files can be useful for testing (warp to any level, any difficulty, any weapon). Editing the highscore file is permitted to correct an accidental embarrassing typo in your name, or if you are a loser who wants to impress a bunch of even lamer friends.


Most levels require just reaching the exit (you may need to find a key or disable a force field to reach it), but some levels have a certain number of radar dishes scattered around, which must all be destroyed before the level can be completed. Boss levels are different, and end automatically once the boss is defeated.

The names for the music tracks below are from VGMPF, and, allegedly, confirmed by the composer, Bobby Prince. The maps of the levels are from the Video Game Atlas.

Level Theme Music Track Special
Episode 1
E1L1 Prison He’s Back!
E1L2 Mountain Duke Kicks Ass Radar (4x)
E1L3 Ruins Evil Be Gone Quake
E1L4 Tropical Lab You Be Dead!
E1L5 Construction Zone Squeaking By
E1L6 Volcano Fight Like a Man
E1L7 Alien Cavern Dukin’ It Out
E1L8 Alien Cavern Calm Before The Storm / King Duke Boss
Episode 2
E2L1 Construction Zone Hey Mr. Nuke Man Flying Ship
E2L2 Stone Bunker Out of the Depths
E2L3 Stone Bunker On The Prowl
E2L4 Cavern Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry
E2L5 Mountain You Be Dead! Quake
E2L6 Alien Evil Be Gone
E2L7 Prison He’s Back! Radar (9x)
E2L8 Prison Calm Before The Storm / King Duke Boss
Episode 3
E3L1 Volcano Fight Like a Man
E3L2 Mountain You Be Dead! Quake
E3L3 Cavern Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry
E3L4 Alien Evil Be Gone No NUKEM Letters
E3L5 Ruins Winning By Degrees
E3L6 Snow Hey Mr. Nuke Man Radar (9x)
E3L7 Warehouse Dukin’ It Out
E3L8 Warehouse Roof Calm Before The Storm / King Duke Ship + Boss
Episode 4
E4L1 Rocket (Launch) Evil Be Gone
E4L2 Rocket (Inside) Duke Kicks Ass Radar (7x)
E4L3 Prison He’s Back!
E4L4 Tropical Lab You Be Dead!
E4L5 Warehouse Fight Like a Man
E4L6 Warehouse Squeaking By
E4L7 Alien Cavern Dukin’ It Out
E4L8 Alien Cavern Calm Before The Storm / King Duke Boss
Music Trivia

Level End MusicOpenin’ the Gate (plays at the end of each level except level 8)
Episode End MusicI Wish This Game Would Never End (plays at the end of level 8)

  • No music track plays twice per episode.
  • E1 and E4 have the exact same tracks, but in different order.
  • “Evil Be Gone” and “You Be Dead!” are the only tracks to appear in each of the 4 episodes.
  • “Out of the Depths”, “On The Prowl” and “Winning By Degrees” are the only tracks to appear in just a single level.
  • “Dukin’ It Out” plays in 3 of the 4 penultimate levels (E1L7, E3L7, E4L7) and only in those levels.
  • The boss levels are the only ones that have a mid-level music change – “King Duke” starts playing as soon as the boss first spots Duke, and keeps on playing until the boss (or Duke) is defeated.

3 thoughts on “Duke Nukem II Hints and Tips”

  1. Great post, and nice in-depth testing! I didn’t know about the trick for getting bonus 5 on E2L1.

    Checking in the code, we can see that the bug with secret bonus 4 is exactly as you guessed. The game uses two counters: Number of merchandise items in the level, and number of merch picked up. The NUKEM letters increment the first counter when spawned into the level (https://github.com/lethal-guitar/Duke2Reconstructed/blob/49ead33f7de1596a611226d00fd498f00cfb9c1e/SRC/ACTORS.C#L6987), but don’t increment the 2nd one when picking them up (https://github.com/lethal-guitar/Duke2Reconstructed/blob/49ead33f7de1596a611226d00fd498f00cfb9c1e/SRC/GAME3.C#L913).

    There’s another notable bug related to the 5 letters, btw: The hint manual and in-game help say that you get 10k points when collecting them in the wrong order. But actually, you get this bonus for every single letter collected, regardless of the order! When picking up a letter, a 100 floats up, but your score actually goes up by 10100. I’m pretty sure that picking up an individual letter was only supposed to give 100 points, and the 10k bonus only when collecting the 5th letter. But that’s not what happens..

    I find it quite surprising that nobody discovered these bugs during testing. I guess the testers really focused more on the gameplay and less on the scoring system. (And who would fault them for that, it’s a really fun game!)

    1. Thank you for commenting! I must admit I hadn’t noticed the scoring bug myself until you brought it up. Your theory in the comments seems plausible. So, if my math is right, collecting them out of order will net you 50,500 points, and in-order – 140,400 – because GiveScore(100) for ‘M’ is called only in the else clause.

      P.S. Very happy to discover your website. Always awesome to know there are fans out there who not only love the games but are determined to keep them alive and improved. 🙂

      1. My pleasure! I actually didn’t notice it either, until I started looking into the code.. Your math looks correct to me 🙂

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