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The game that runs on everything, runs deep with Nintendo.
Released in 1993, the original Doom is one of the most ported games in existence. With this in mind, a traditional review of Doom and its sequel, the aptly titled Doom 2, would seem superfluous. At this point, 25 years after its initial release, we’ve gotten pretty good at porting Doom. Outside of a few minor technical issues, such as the music that plays a little too slow and some areas that appear slightly too bright, this is Doom. It maps wonderfully to modern controls, and the gameplay feels remarkably tight to this day. When docked, it runs at 1080p, and in handheld mode it switches to 720p, the highest available resolutions in both form factors. These are solid and enjoyable ports of two of the most influential games ever made.
It is no secret that Doom runs on just about everything. Since its original release on PC it has received almost 30 official ports. Despite this, the Switch release is the first time the original Doom has appeared on a Nintendo home console since 1995. The last time Doom appeared on a Nintendo handheld was in 2001 on the Game Boy Advance. Doom 2 would release on the same platform one year later in 2002. The sayings, “Can it run Doom?” or “Doom runs on everything” have become a popular idiom among gamers, but these phrases have not been more aggressively tested than in these three Doom ports. The Switch versions stand as a fascinating look at how both home consoles and handhelds have evolved.
The Super Nintendo is the oldest console Doom was ever ported to. In fact, it was the only fourth-generation game console to receive a port of Doom, and for good reason. Upon its release on PC, Doom represented state-of-the-art 3D graphics. The idea of porting Doom to a generation of 16-bit systems, none of which were designed for 3D graphics, was absurd. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Argonaut software, Doom on SNES likely would have never happened. Originally designed for Star Fox, the Super FX chip allowed the system to output what were, for the time, extremely impressive 3D graphics that outperformed what had been done on fourth-generation consoles up to that point. Doom took advantage of this technology, built around the second generation of Super FX chips and developed by Sculptured Software. Programer Randy Linden designed a new engine for the SNES version called the Reality Engine to replace the appropriately-named Doom engine, which powered other versions of the game.
Shortly before Doom was ported to the SNES, it was ported to its successors such as the Atari Jaguar, and the Sega 32x. Both of these were technically superior to the SNES, but in order to optimize Doom for these systems, changes were made to level geometry. A rounded staircase or decorational pillars would be removed to cut down on polygons in the scene. The SNES version didn’t implement these optimizations. As a result, despite its limitations, the SNES version is oddly geometrically superior to its contemporaries. The music is also praised as some of the best of the early ports. Interestingly, this is one area where it could be argued that the SNES version actually outperforms the Switch version, which features music playing at the wrong speed. All that being said, the SNES version is by no means a great version of Doom. The frame rate is low and inconsistent. The controls feel spongy. You can’t turn and strafe at the same time. It runs in a window making the resolution lower than the system’s native 256×224. There are no textures on the floor or ceiling. Enemies are only drawn from one angle so they are always facing you, making it impossible to sneak up on them. For nearly 25 years, Doom on Super Nintendo would remain the only official Nintendo home console port of Doom. Even the Nintendo 64, which was vastly more capable of running Doom, would instead get an original and exclusive Doom game called Doom 64. It is important to note that Doom 64 is an entirely separate entry in the Doom franchise, and while it is fantastic, it isn’t the original Doom.
But the Switch doesn’t just represent the return of Doom to Nintendo home consoles, but also to Nintendo handhelds. While nowhere near as derided as the SNES version, the Game Boy Advance ports of Doom and Doom 2 face with similar struggles, but both represent the same technical ingenuity that brought Doom to SNES. Doom for Game Boy Advance was developed by David A. Palmer Productions and it was built off of the Atari Jaguar version of Doom. As such it employs the geometry optimization that was absent in the SNES version. This allows the game to run somewhat better despite including the ceiling and floor textures that were missing on SNES. The resolution ultimately appears very similar to the SNES version, making distant enemies appear as pixilated blobs. A variety of other changes are also present, most of which were carried over from the Atari Jaguar version. This includes the changes to music. This means that despite its age, the SNES version of Doom remains the best representation of Doom’s soundtrack on any Nintendo system.
Doom 2 on Game Boy Advance was the first time Doom’s sequel was playable on a Nintendo system. It was developed by Torus Games and uses the Southpaw Engine, a first-person shooter engine developed specifically for the Game Boy Advance. Unlike the first Doom on Game Boy Advance, Doom 2 is actually remarkably close to the PC original. Granted there are plenty of small changes that one would expect from moving it from one engine to another, but the core experience is maintained. The biggest issue I have with the Game Boy Advance port of Doom 2 is the color pallet. In an effort to make the game easier to see on a non-backlit Game Boy Advance, the entire color pallet has been drastically changed. What results are a lot of neon and pastel colors that look more like a glitch than an intentional design choice. It reminds me of booting up older PC games in the wrong color mode. On top of this Doom 2 has no choice but to suffer from the same limited resolution as the first game on both SNES and Game Boy Advance.
Now granted most of the things I have said about these games have been negative, but here is what we have to remember. Doom on SNES along with both Doom and Doom 2 on Game Boy Advance were efforts to port Doom to systems that were never built to run a game of that type. Both these systems were immediately followed by other systems (the Nintendo 64 and the Nintendo DS) that would have been much more capable of running Doom but never received an official port. It is only now, 25 years after its original release, that there is finally a feature complete and (mostly)accurate version of Doom available on a Nintendo platform via an official port. But they still can’t get the music just right. That being said, if you’ve been waiting since the SNES to finally return to Doom on the big screen, it’s finally here, even if it doesn’t have that awesome red cartridge.