Seibu Kaihatsu is a developer probably better known for their Raiden shmups, but they had a pretty eclectic catalog of games throughout their history starting in 1983 with a shmup called Stinger (no relation to what would later be known as Konami’s Stinger in the West). but in 1989, they also hopped onto the Operation Wolf/Cabal bandwagon with Dynamite Duke.
Both Taito’s Operation Wolf (which came out in ’87) and TAD’s Cabal (which debuted in ’88) involved players shooting at a moving gallery of enemies on the screen in some kind of military operation. But Cabal differed from Operation Wolf by creating a third-person view allowing players to control the character onscreen as they aimed the reticle. Dynamite Duke is a lot like Cabal in that regard but Seibu Kaihatsu made a few changes.
Story-wise, Duke is out to “destroy the very evil that has made him great” which requires him to tear through an enemy army on his way to a final confrontation with a madman. Simple stuff leading up to a very simple ending.
Gameplay-wise, it’s a lot like Cabal — only with bigger sprites and playfields that scroll from left to right. Players control an aiming reticle which also controls the positioning of Duke onscreen and holding down the button unleashes a short spray of bullets before having to press it again. Duke can also duck, kick enemies that come to close, give them an uppercut, whale on them with his gun, or deliver a few regular punches instead. But there’s a reason he’s called Dynamite Duke. Players can hold down the punch button to energize his arm and then unleash an explosive punch that can wreck everything in sight or deliver a brutal blow to a boss.
Players will also need to keep an eye on his ammo and destroying certain objects onscreen will drop goodies such as extra bullets, health for Duke’s health bar, extra “Ds” for Duke’s dynamite punches (he can only do so many of those), weapons like a rocket launcher with a few shots, and even an temporary “auto” power-up so players can hold down the fire button and spray the area.
There are also boss encounters with tough bastards ranging from another cyber-armed solder like Duke to a gymnastic attacker that leaps around like he’s got springs built into his heels before facing down the ultimate bad guy in the ninth and final mission. Quite a few stages, though, simply throw a ton of soldiers and armor at Duke as a final challenge before they end. Continuing the game brought you to a checkpoint relatively close to where you died. For boss fights with actual bosses (and not a wave of enemies), it started you off from the beginning of those.
As action packed as Duke’s adventure sounds, it falls pretty short of the mark especially when compared to something like Operation Wolf’s voice-sampled explosion of pixelized destruction. Duke’s gun sounds like a muffled pea shooter for most of the game and while it does have large sprites, they’re just not quite as clean or as detailed as they could have been. Explosions are underwhelming and the action gets pretty repetitive without a lot of variety because of the endless legions of soldiers that the game prefers to throw at the player instead of changing things up. The only thing that really stands out is the cool “dynamite punch” and melee mechanic that the game adds to the formula.
Dynamite Duke went on to be ported over to a number of platforms such as the Sega Master System and the Mega Drive/Genesis along with the Sharp X68000. Unfortunately, the home versions did not get the kind of exciting upgrade that ports from the arcade sometimes received. For the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, as one example, it was a straight port although the original nine stages from the arcade were cut down to only six.
Today, Seibu Kaihatsu is still around and despite having gone through a period of restructuring, maintains a presence on the web and is apparently still in business. As for Dynamite Duke, his adventures seem to have ended in the 90s, though the idea of a cyber-armed badass with dynamite in their knuckles wasn’t a bad one. There’s still something to be said for being able to uppercut, kick, and then feed a fist full of detonating knuckles to the bad guys.