Playing Doom on the Nintendo Switch is kind of a surreal experience. This is the full Doom experience here, and while some concessions have been made in the visuals, it still walks the proverbial demon-slaying walk. It’s easy to see the parallels to 1995, when the original Doom was ported to the SNES, with its own hits to visual quality, frame rate and resolution. And while today it is not the most ideal way to play Doom, it was an impossible port that brought the game to a wider audience.
Of course, things aren’t as dramatic for this port of last year’s Doom reboot. That said, there’s still an undeniable magic in playing a game like this on a portable system. This is a polished modern AAA experience, in the palm of your hands. This is really what the Nintendo Switch was made for, and it’s an important port that shows what this system is capable of.
Let’s cut to the chase. Yes, Doom performs worse on the Switch than on its PC, PS4 and XBox One counterparts. That’s obvious, seeing as how the Switch is not as powerful. It has half the frame rate of its other versions, taking things down from 60 fps to 30 fps. That is, however, a very stable 30 fps, so it actually performs pleasantly well. It can drop to the mid 20s range during a few intense encounters, but those moments are very rare and fleeting. However, that stability comes at a cost. The game was advertised with a resolution of 720p, but the reality is a little more murky. The game uses an adaptive resolution that often drops somewhere below 720p. This gives the game a distinct blurryness at times, and it’s especially noticeable in handheld mode.
With all of that said, it’s a testament to this game’s art direction that it still looks so damn great. The environments look dreary and desolate, and the enemies look as gross as they ever have. There is a spectacular amount of gore, and ripping through demons is gruesome business. It’s awesome, and downgrading the visuals doesn’t take that away from the game at all.
Fight Like Hell
I didn’t have time to get into Doom when it came out last year, so this is really my first time playing through this game. I don’t mind that, though, since this game is such a nice fit for the Switch. Doom is the antithesis of the modern first person shooter. Other games tout their guided, cinematic experiences that really just hide their weak hallway-like level design. Like Nintendo’s own big Switch titles, this game prizes exploration instead, and opts to give the player more agency over how the experience unfolds. The levels in this game are labyrinthine dungeons of increasing complexity, and there are tons of secrets hidden in each level. Finding these secrets is the main key to upgrading your armor and weapons, so exploration always feels rewarding and enjoyable.
But this should sound normal for those who are familiar with the Doom series. However, instead of the slower, more atmospheric horror nature of Doom 3, this new game is a return to the series’ roots. Doom is fast, and it requires you to move quickly and to think on your feet in order to survive. Unlike other shooters, standing still is often the quickest way to get killed , and you are encouraged to tackle the demon hordes head on. This is further encouraged by an ingenious new mechanic: Glory Kills. When enemies are near death, they will glow, indicating that you can run in for a Glory Kill. When you perform these moves, you perform a flashy and gruesome execution on the enemy, and you get some health back in the process. By making these executions the primary way of regaining health in the midst of battle, you are encouraged to always be in the fight, and to never run away and hide.
There is a story of course, if you’re into that. It’s a standard retelling of the Doom tale: scientists found a way to open portals to Hell on Mars in order to solve an energy crisis back on Earth, but they lose control of this technology and cause a demonic invasion on their base. The story is pretty light most of the time, although there are cutscenes here and there. Like in, say, Metroid Prime, you can get a lot more information by collecting Codex logs that are hidden in all of the stages. I really appreciated it, and I think it amplifies the storytelling for those who want it.
I was really surprised to see that the full multiplayer mode is here, with the sole exception of the map editor that is included with other versions. While performance drops can be a thing in the more intensive game modes, the multiplayer performs pretty well, and you can unlock new weapons and costumes for your character. The mode is nothing revolutionary for the shooter genre, but it’s really nice to have a classic-style, fast paced shooter as a counter to the more methodical Battlefield games, for example.
Portable Demon Slayer
As great as Doom is, it does have a few faults. There is a distinct lack of visual variety in the levels and enemies, and it can make the game get repetitive after a while. Some levels require platforming, which is a callback to old Id Software games, but it can be frustrating here. Trying to land jumps while fighting demons at the same time just doesn’t feel intuitive, but luckily it doesn’t happen too often. Finally, the portable mode controls can be a little weird. The right control stick’s positioning can be a little awkward for an FPS, so motion controls to assist with aiming ala Zelda or Splatoon 2 would have been appreciated. This is definitely a better experience when played with the Pro Controller, although I wouldn’t say it’s terrible with the Joy Cons either.
I don’t know if I’m an anomaly, but in addition to being a Nintendo fan at a young age, I also grew up with Id Software shooters such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Quake III: Arena and Doom 64. That’s part of why I’m so elated to have this port, as well as the upcoming port of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which is coming next year. Id Software is such a stellar developer, and getting to play their game on my favorite console is a dream come true. If you haven’t played Doom before, I highly recommend it. This is a fantastic port that values gameplay over everything else, and that’s all one can ask.
- Despite the visual downgrade, Doom still retains a fantastic visual style. Environments are creepy and desolate, while enemies are gross and intimidating.
- The music amplifies the experience really well. It is a mix of creepy ambiance, as well as heavy metal bits that get you pumped up for fighting the demons.
- The levels are huge and non-linear. They are really fun to explore, and are packed with secrets to find.
- There are a ton of weapons, and the way you earn and upgrade them gives the game a satisfying sense of progression.
- The game comes packed with a variety of difficulty modes, so there is something here for people of all skill levels.
- The environmental storytelling is brilliant, and I really appreciated that you can learn more about the demons and characters through collectible Codex echoes.
- Multiplayer is really enjoyable, and I liked the wealth of different modes that give it a lot of variety.
- At its worst, the adaptive resolution can drop to really low resolutions. Thankfully this is rare, but is really noticeable, especially in handheld mode.
- There is a lack of visual variety in levels and enemies, which can sometimes make the game feel repetitive.
- Portable mode controls kind of make me wish there were some motion control option to help with aiming, since the stick on the right Joy Con is a little awkward to reach.