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Bethesda Presents DOOM Week

In Defence of the SEGA 32X Version of ‘DOOM’

Made possible by Bethesda: It wasn't the best, but it was ours, and only someone who never played it would call it crap.

by Mike Diver and Jonathan Beach
13 May 2016, 7:30am

'DOOM' on the 32X. Love that brickwork.

This article is part of DOOM Week on VICE Gaming, exploring the legendary 1993 title and its 2016 counterpart, released on May the 13th, and the wider world of shooters. This content is made possible by Bethesda.

I've seen your golden memories, preserved for as good as forever on the World Wide Web. Your nostalgic conversations about LAN parties, your recollection of jaws on the floor as that music fired up and the guns started blazing. I hear you: 1993's DOOM on the platform it was made for, MS-DOS, was unlike anything that came before it, and quite possibly anything since. Unprecedented. Compulsive. Perfect.

But not all of us had PCs in 1993. Or 1995. Or 2003. Some of us don't, even today. (Hi. I'm referring to myself in this instance, in case that wasn't obvious. I sold my last PC a few years ago and haven't got anywhere close to getting a new one. Feel free to send your buying guides to the usual address, where I'll ignore them until I can raise the astronomical funds necessary. Which will never happen.) But we did have games consoles – crappy, 16bit games consoles like SEGA Mega Drives and Super Nintendos that cowered at the mention of DOOM, that retreated right to the back of the space under the telly and held on to the hope that this first-person shooter thing would just be a fad, a passing fancy of the gaming community. Colourful, cartoon platformers forever, right?

Yeah. Not quite. DOOM might not have been the first mainstream FPS game, but it was the baddest and biggest and most bombastic, and it inevitably inspired a legion of clones. If you had an Amiga in the house you might have played Gloom, a shameless rip-off that didn't even try to hide its influences with its title. (Still good, though.) The N64 would have GoldenEye 007, of course, but that was some years away while DOOM was boring a permanent hole into the brains of pals with PCs.

Which left console gamers of the mid-1990s with two choices. The SNES received a decent, albeit censored, port of id Software's DOOM forerunner, Wolfenstein 3D, in 1994, but its own version of DOOM, which followed a year later, was a disaster. Enemies could only ever face the player and were tragically pixelated; the controls were sluggish in comparison to the mouse-powered PC movement (although if you were one of the eight people in Britain with SNES Mouse, you could use that); and there was no texture mapping on the level floors or ceilings. It was ugly, slow and incredibly frustrating to play. But the same really couldn't be said of the alternative.

Got the best part of two hours to kill? Watch this longplay video of 'DOOM' on the 32X.

Okay, so it's not like the Super Nintendo's biggest rival, SEGA's Mega Drive, could natively handle DOOM. The SNES had the Super FX (2) chip on its side, which powered its port of the game. But if you were an absolute idiot and bought a 32X add-on for SEGA's multi-million-selling system – and fewer than a million people did, versus the Mega Drive's global sales of just over 39 million – you could have a copy of DOOM to call your own. I did just that, and with it came the mushroom-shaped monstrosity's unique port of id's seminal shooter.

The game wasn't complete, missing an entire episode from the PC original. It had no multiplayer functionality. The soundtrack was cheap and tinny sounding against the crunching guitars PC gamers enjoyed, cranked up and bothering the neighbours. Enemies, including the final-boss Spiderdemon, didn't make the cut. The 32X DOOM, even with the increased processing power the now-mutated Mega Drive could pump out through its god-awful ugly appendage, was horrifically compromised. You couldn't even acquire the legendary BFG, the Big Fucking/Fragging Gun, without a cheat code.

Article continues after the video below

But you know what: it didn't matter at all to those of us who had it, with no other option. Because while the SNES version of DOOM was a bad game however way you sliced it, the 32X one still purred in its own way. It was fast as hell for one thing, and while the action came framed by some terrible brickwork, shrinking the playable space in order to maintain the game's speed, enemies looked every bit as invitingly pulpy as they had when rendered using DOS.

I sank hours into it. There was no save option, so you started and finished in the same setting, although there was the option of a level select to bypass the early, almost-tutorial-style stages. The pad became an extension of my hands; the chainsaw an extension of his. The music might have been that bit fuzzier, scratchier, but it remained propulsive, thrusting the player, the Doomguy, forwards. I loved it, and if my 32X wasn't a spluttering, barely-working-at-all wreck these days, tossed into the loft until such a time that I finally send it away to that great landfill site in the sky, I'd be choosing to play it ahead of Halo 5, any of your Call of Duties, and maybe even the brand-new DOOM. Who can say, as I've not had at it yet.

The title screen from the 32X version of 'DOOM'

I'm not alone in feeling this way, either. VICE Gaming contributor Jonathan Beach has a similar story to tell. So I shall let him tell it, here:

"DOOM absolutely shattered my soggy Christmas morning when the 32X version exploded onto my screen in 1995. I was numbed. Petrified. Dumbstruck. Couldn't believe my eyes. In that exact moment, after five long, two-dimensional child-years, everything I thought I knew about video games was disintegrating in front of my slack-jawed, gormless face.

"This was it. The moment I'd been reading about and waiting for. All I could think in my tiny ten-year-old mind was: 'Fucking hell, I'm actually walking into the screen.' Even my parents huddled behind me, watching aghast as my once-innocuous hobby took on a newly terrifying, ultra-violent and incomprehensible form; pistol cracks, monster roars and anguished grunts drowning out the sound of our disbelieving gasps.

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"Yes, the 32X was largely a complete disaster. Yes, it was probably a bit of a misguided rip-off. Yes it had a crushingly mediocre library of software. But when I think back to those initial moments of shock and wonder, edging my way through DOOM's claustrophobic, blood-soaked corridors, playing 'endurance sessions' in the pitch black with my little brother, fleeing in terror from Barons of Hell, Cacodemons, and the ever-intimidating presence of Pinky, I can't think of a better way to have experienced a first-person shooter for the first time."

Snap. DOOM on the 32X was my formative FPS experience, too. And for what it was, it felt just right. It didn't need to be anything more. Today, we're so quick to look for fault in video games, to argue about elements that might not even be there, chasing socio-political discussions down blind alleys in pursuit of having anything at all to say, for better or worse. DOOM was streamlined, stripped raw, right down to the very base appeal of the FPS genre: point that gun, kill that thing, move on. It didn't need anything else, and whether you were clicking a mouse or mashing a pad, the how mattered less than the now. Because let me tell you: when you were inside DOOM for the 32X, at a time when the PlayStation was something only the rich kids had and Xboxes were the stuff of pure fantasy, there was nowhere else you'd have rather been.

@mikediver / @jonothonbeech

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