Entertaining game, but nothing revolutionary
Duke's back in his 2D side-scrolling era, and he's packing more humor, more action and much better graphics.
The game is just like the original: a side-scrolling action game with an emphasis on blowing shit up and using weird items and stuff instead of just progressing to the right side of the screen while jumping over some mushrooms. As I mentioned, this game builds the Duke personality up and starts adding that beef-cake charisma that would become so prominent on Duke3D. The plot is typically a by-the-rules platformer, where some bad aliens kidnap our man Duke (as he is presenting his book "Why I'm so great" or something like that!) in the hopes that his dissapearance will facilitate the takeover of earth. Obviously, you break out (using a nuke hidden in your teeth!!!) and now it's time to show those aliens the pointy end of your boots.
To facilitate the task at hand you have quite an arsenal of Nuke-sanctioned weapons, most of which have some hidden feature (ie. the flame throwing-thingie allows you to jump higher), and more weird items like grappling hooks and even vehicle sequences (which are limited but still a fun diversion). The levels themselves are not the most imaginative ever, but they are complex enough to satisfy most gamers, and provide plenty of hidden challenges and goodies for those high-score maniacs that like to clear out every single level of their games.
Finally, the game has way better graphics, with much bigger sprites, cleaner animation, and much more detailed backgrounds and characters. They still have that colorful appeal so common to many Apogee games and everything does look super-cutesy, but they are a major improvement over the original. Soundwise the game also added some new tricks (Duke talks to you in the opening!!), etc.. etc.. in all, the game feels much more polished and proffesional than it's predecessor.
It is nothing we haven't seen before, the gameplay is standard platformer action, and gets old real fast, and the Duke-lore isn't enough to lift the game to new heights like on Duke's 3rd game. I also have the feeling that while the technical improvements were many, this game could have been much more impressive and not just another cute Apogee platformer... ah what the heck.
Duke2's worst flaw is that it's nothing spectacularly innovative of entertaining, it's just an averagely entertaining game.
The Bottom Line
Duke 2 is better than 1, but I don't think anyone could care less really. Another run-of-the-mill platformer that just happens to have a little style (and I do mean "a little", unlike on Duke3D) and lots of guns and items. You won't die if you try it, but you aren't really missing anything if you pass it up.