Monday, August 8, 2011

Game Review: Doom (SNES)

  • Publisher: id Software (PC) / Williams Electronics (SNES)
  • Developer: id Software (PC) / Structured Software (SNES)
  • Release: Super NES, 1995
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter
  • Players: 1
  • Rarity/Cost: Moderate (US$5-15)

How can you not love Doom.  Despite the fact that Doom was not the first in its genre, it's added so much to the video game industry as we know it today.  It introduced concepts like arbitrary room shapes, elevation changes, floor and ceiling textures, and the ever-popular "deathmatch" multiplayer.  Though intentional, its existence also helped give birth to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, keeping our beloved industry out of the hands of a government which doesn't know the first thing about games.  Doom is one of those rare games that stands the test of time, despite rapidly approaching the big two-oh anniversary.  After its initial launch as a shareware PC game, it received a slew of ports across many, many other consoles, some of them only a couple of years old.  For this review, I'll be focusing on the port made for the Super NES.

Compared to the first wave of Doom console ports, which included the Atari Jaguar and Sega Genesis 32X, the SNES version looks like it has a lot going for it.  The controller, with its L and R buttons, is ideal for strafing techniques.  A handful of the levels are missing, but unlike in some of the other early ports, the map layouts are (nearly) identical to the PC version's.  The music in this version is the most similar to the PC version's soundtrack, whereas the Jaguar version has no music (!) and the 32X's soundtrack sounds awful.  It comes in a red-coloured cartridge.  And to top it all off, it's powered by the on-cartridge Super FX chip, a.k.a. the thing that made Star Fox run.  But here's the thing: if you'd be so kind to take off your nostalgia filter for a moment, you'll notice that Star Fox did not run smoothly at all.  Astoundingly, Doom has it worse.

You can't see well into the distance.
Straight to the point: the problem with porting Doom to the Super NES is that, even with the Super FX chip making it possible in the first place, it runs choppy and slowly almost to the point of, depending on your patience, being unplayable.  This is bound to be a disappointment for anyone who's played it on a PC, and just about any box available right now will run it silky smooth and lightning fast, so there's really no excuse at this point.  And sacrifices still had to be made: the gameplay window doesn't fill up the whole screen, the floor and ceiling patterns were removed, and all the monsters can't face in any direction other than towards you.  The poor graphics somehow spill out and affect the controls, which feel mushy and imprecise.  This game also has extraordinary difficulty rendering monsters in the difference.  While you can shoot and hurt them from long range, good luck telling if you're actually doing anything.  And perhaps the worst part in the long run is two-fold.  The game lacks a save function, and while you can start a game on any one of the three episodes, the later chapters can only be accessed on higher difficulty levels.  This means that you have to start Episode 3 on the hard level or higher, with only the default pistol (unless you took the time to go through the previous chapter) - getting through the first few rooms using this setup is a daunting - if not impossible - task.  Buyer beware.

So this game is garbage when running on the SNES, but at least it was a great game to begin with.  The famously minimalist story has the player character trying to survive a demonic invasion on a research base on Mars's moon Phobos.  Across the 22 levels (5 were cut from the original release), your only goal is to reach the end-level switch; the many zombied soldiers and demons in your way can be eliminated at your discretion.  With the ESRB ratings replacing Nintendo's self-censorship policies that affected their system's ports of Mortal Kombat and id's own Wolfenstein 3D, much of the famous gore has been left intact (some blood effects were removed for technical reasons).  In some ways, this is more of a survival-horror game, with an emphasis on exploration, as the maps are huge and often require you to find colour-coded keys.  And then there are the Secrets, walls that open up in certain places to reward intrepid players with treasure troves of supplies.

You can only play later episodes on hard difficulties. 
As of when I wrote this review, it's been almost eighteen years since the original release of Doom launched.  Obviously, the first-person shooter genre has made leaps and bounds in not only how the games look, but how they play.  If you can get over the lack of modern FPS conventions, I strongly urge you to check out this piece of history, but not on the SNES.  ...But where to start?  It seems like there were so many re-releases of the game, like The Ultimate Doom and Final Doom, and many other user-created map packs (perhaps the first Web 2.0 activity!), plus the two sequels (to date).  Since the original game was sold as shareware so long ago, save yourself the trouble of ordering the rest of the game and start with The Ultimate Doom.  It contains all three episodes of the original game, plus a fourth chapter, and is available on the Steam download store for US$10.  Truly it is the path of least resistance.

Control: 1 BFG out of 5
Design: 4 BFGs out of 5
Graphics: 1 BFG out of 5
Audio: 2 BFGs out of 5
The Call: 40% (F)

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