Doom. What a title. So simple, yet so descriptive of this game’s contents. The Terror. The gut-wrenching action. The claustrophobic nightmare of being stuck in an enclosed space, encountering all manner of Hellish beasts with the single-minded goal of tearing you apart in the bloodiest manner possible.
Developer: id Software / Sculptured Software
Released on: SNES
Original Release Date: 1996
It’s been on so many computers and consoles since it’s release, and this Super Nintendo port was my first taste of this monumental game. But does this Super FX-enhanced port capture the essence of Doom’s greatness? Let’s find out.
DOOM is a no-nonsense title, that’s for sure. But if you’ve played other other versions of the game on more capable systems, this port’s framerate is pretty sluggish and the controls are considerably less responsive as a result. This affects Doom’s usually frantic pace and takes it down by several notches. It’s not enough to make the game unplayable – Rather, it makes playing this version of Doom more of a tactical experience. You’ve got a little more time to react to the action, and that does make a real difference to how the game is played.
So, we’ve established that this is a pretty damn ambitious port, and even with the power of the Super FX 2 chip, the SNES clearly struggles, but it compares relatively favourably to the SEGA 32x version, even boasting a larger screen size than the SEGA port and has most maps as well. This version is missing just five maps from the PC version, but that still leaves 22 out of 27 maps to play through – Quite an impressive achievement when you think about it, especially when you realise that the 32X version is missing ten levels, including the entire third chapter.
But in 1995, this was an incredibly impressive release, and that’s largely due to it being a competent version of DOOM on a system where it shouldn’t have been possible. From the moment you start with that weedy pistol, you feel right at home and while the SNES controller cannot possibly compete with a keyboard or even a keyboard and mouse combo, it works pretty damn well. The face buttons deal with firing, running, interacting with doors and switches, plus a single button weapon toggle which can be a little fiddly in a firefight, although it is possible to switch weapons when the game is paused using the Start button. Select opens up the Automap, which is incredibly useful but doesn’t pause the game and leaves you open to attack, while the L & R buttons strafe left and right.
While the game’s manual does offer up a strict warning about DOOM not being designed for use with the Supes NES Mouse of Super Scope controllers, that’s actually completely false as the game’s programmer, Randy Linden recently revealed that he added support for these alternative control methods. Unfortunately, using alternative control methods is not a great move. The SNES Mouse requires you to move by pushing the mouse continually in the direction you need to move, and that’s a bit difficult as you have to keep picking up the mouse and moving it to avoid running out of surface space – Plus, with only two buttons, it makes doing any action other than firing or interacting with objects a pretty painful experience. You can’t use both the mouse and SNES controller either, which would have made the SNES Mouse experience a little more useful.
As for the Super Scope support…Well, I tried using the Super Scope, and nothing happened. I tried plugging the receiver into both ports on the console, and I just couldn’t see anything that allowed me to even fire using the Super Scope. Maybe Randy Linden hid this support so deeply that no-one’s found it yet, or this support was removed before release or never even there. It’s probably worth mentioning that this game did have online deathmatch support for two players, using the now-defunct X-Band online service – One of the few games to officially support the device that enabled North American games to take their Super Nintendo online. Sadly, there’s no way to play online now, but I bet it would have been pretty cool at the time.
In any case, sticking with the SNES controller is definitely the way to go.
While few essential features have been removed, there is one glaring omission that really does ruin the whole experience, and that’s the total lack of any way to save your progress. You can select what difficulty and chapter you begin by starting a New Game, but as for saving mid-game, there is neither a battery backup or password option. You’ll need to start from the beginning of a chapter, every time. Thankfully, dying only takes you back to the very start of the level you’re on, but it’s quite frustrating having to know that you can’t just take a break after you’ve finished a level.
A nd still, despite all of these concessions, it’s still a mighty fine interpretation of DOOM. The levels are still brilliantly claustrophobic, the visuals are chunky but very recognisable, and even with the slower pace it still plays well – I’d even go so far as to see the change in pace adds a bit more suspense. The level design is still top notch after all this time, and most importantly, the music is absolutely great. There are many ports of DOOM that have unsuccessfully reproduced the PC original’s MIDI soundtrack, but the SNES instrumentation is top notch, and to be honest I think it sounds better than the PC version, but your opinion might be different.
No-one is going to come to this game in the 21st century and expect this to be the definitive version, but I’m not going to deny that as a SNES release, it’s still an incredible achievement. If you have a SNES, it’s still a great version of Doom and certainly worth taking a look to see how on Earth they managed to port it.