Players of a certain generation might recall just how special it was having an actual Doom on Nintendo 64. The FPS that put corridor shooters firmly on the map was pretty ubiquitous in its ports – even back in 1997 – but having a graphically superior take with bigger levels, more guns and even more challenging demons to slay made that little grey cartridge feel even more special. Doom 64 was also a bit of a time capsule; a last-ditch throwback to the genre’s roots while the likes of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and GoldenEye 007 (both released the same year) started pushing boundaries with large, open levels and stealth.
Unsurprisingly, it’s built up quite the cult following over the years, and with good reason, too. Despite being an ultra-violent bloodbath designed for the typically family-friendly library of Nintendo, Doom 64 wasn’t censored (well, not in the West, at least) and unashamedly revelled in its cacophony of blood, guts and demonic entrails. And it wasn’t even developed by id Software, instead falling into the hands of the long-defunct Midway Games. It didn’t even have multiplayer, a staple of the couch play era of N64. And yet, it remains an underrated classic – and now you can play it on your Switch.
Why is it so fondly remembered today? Because, with id Software’s supervision, Midway understood exactly what it meant to be a Doom game. Doom 64 isn’t concerned with story; sure, it includes a plot surrounding the rise of a Mother Demon in the wake of Final Doom, but even the game simply doesn’t care about such things. It immediately drops you into action, barely takes a breath before it plonks a shotgun into your hands and proudly points you in the direction of the nearest zombie. It doesn’t rewrite the formula, because why would it? Doom works because of its simplicity, so Midway simply did more of the same with bigger levels and more guns to collect and unleash.
It’s a testament to the talent of that studio that Doom 64 feels so instantly playable in 2020. And in the very capable porting hands of Nightdive Studios – a developer that did the first two Turok games justice on Switch and other platforms, and is now working on a port of the equally underrated Shadow Man – this slice of mid-’90s action-adventure fits the Switch like a glove. The fifth Doom game to arrive on Switch (and not the last this year with DOOM Eternal also on the horizon) brings with it another take on a popular format that’s a perfect match for the console’s perpetual love for nostalgia and retro ports.
Nightdive has done a fine job of transitioning a game that’s nearly a quarter of a century old for a new console. Despite the limitations Doom 64 inherited from the original games, it feels fast and fluid with modern analogue sticks. The shotgun still kicks with glorious recoil, the Unmaker still (ahem) unmakes enemies with wanton abandon and demons still turn into piles of ectoplasmic gore when you empty enough slugs into them. All the same secret rooms are still there, and there are even some in-game achievements to help you feel rewarded in your search for the Mother Demon.
Changes include motion controls, naturally, and if you’ve played the studios other retro shooter ports – including Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Turok 2: Seeds of Evil – you’ll know how well these work either in handheld mode or via a Pro Controller. There are more than 30 levels to slay your way through, including a newly-designed level that serves as an additional epilogue for the game. It ties directly into the events of DOOM and DOOM Eternal, giving this often overlooked entry a little more significance. And for those Switch users having to wait a little longer for the Eternal port, you’ve now got a little something extra to tide you over.
As you’d imagine, there’s still no support for multiplayer of any kind. It was an issue that added to Doom 64’s mixed reception back in the late ’90s – local deathmatches were already all the rage at the time – but we hardly expected Nightdive to go in and build support for an entirely new aspect to the game. In that regard, the DOOM reboot on Switch is still probably your best bet for multiplayer action (even if the lobbies aren’t as busy as they once were).
While it was already something of a relic when it launched on the N64 almost 25 years ago, Doom 64 remains a great example of just how refined a formula the series offers and just how good a job the late Midway did in the shadow of id Software. The lack of local multiplayer support still stings, even after all these years, but with support for motion controls on Switch – something Nightdive has already pulled off to a tee with its Turok ports – and the addition of a new DOOM Eternal-themed level, this is classic retro shooter that deserves a little more love.