Knee-Deep in the Ports: Ranking the Best (and Worst) Versions of Doom

Shacknews' long reads editor David L. Craddock plays, and ranks, the many ports of id Software's 1993 opus.

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As of 2008, Tetris holds the achievement of the most ported video game in history. Which makes sense. Virtually any electronic device can run Tetris. That's the beauty of its design: difficult to master, but arguably the most accessible controls and objectives ever. 

Doom, however, is hot on Tetris's heels. You can play Doom on virtually any personal computing operating system, most consoles, and lots of handhelds. You can even run the game on a piano. Can you play Tetris on a piano? That's what I thought. (Though you'll probably be able to someday. Piano keys look suspiciously like lines.) 

To this day, I have an affinity for playing ports of my favorite games. I like to explore how adaptations of source material differ from one version to the next, in good ways and in bad. I've played Doom on more platforms than I can remember. Several have stood out as excellent. Others, not-nearly-as-excellent. In the interest of time--and the fact that not all ports of the game are available through emulation--I decided to replay nine ports I've enjoyed (or not) over the almost 28 years of Doom's existence, and ranked them from least favorite to the cream of the crop.

Doom and Tetris: Now playing on almost every device near you.
Doom and Tetris: Now playing on almost every device near you.

Before we wade in, a few disclaimers. First, this list is subjective. Like every list, ever. Your mileage likely varies, and that's fine. Second, I've stuck to ports released on major console platforms since playing FPS games with a controller contrasts most radically with using a keyboard and mouse.

Finally, my intention with this list is not to defame the work of developers who turned out these ports. Few platforms in the 1990s were up to the challenge of replicating id's seminal shooter. Every developer did their best with what they had to work with. And, frankly, the fact that several of these ports exist at all is a miracle. I'm glad they exist. Of course, that doesn't mean they're any good. That's just not always the fault of the developers behind the wheel.

Without further ado, let's talk about some ports.


9. Super NES

  • Year: 1996
  • Developer: Sculptured Software

Just because you can port a game to a platform doesn't mean you should. "Super Doom" is representative of the unfortunate decision to move id Software's mega-seller shooter to Nintendo's massively popular 16-bit console.

The port's issues are legion. The frame rate frequently drops into the single digits. Not only does this look terrible, low framerate affects input. Gameplay and frame rate are often intertwined. The higher your frame rate, the quicker a game will process and carry out your button presses. Super Doom's abysmal frame rate results in lost input when you need it to be paying attention the most, usually cycling through weapons in battle.

PC gamers who ran Doom in 1993 may remember Low Detail, a mode that made the graphics fuzzier but boosted performance on lower-end hardware. Super Doom's graphics are an order of magnitude worse. Textures have been stripped from floors and ceilings, reducing hazards such as lava and toxic ooze to flat, single-color planes. Any graphics farther than a stone's throw away are blurred past the point of recognition. Not only are they an eyesore, distinguishing enemies from far away is next to impossible unless you happen to notice their jittery movement.

The controls are the worst offender. Out of necessity, Sculptured Software's artists cut animations and sprites down to the bare minimum. As a result, enemies are one-sided and always face forward. To give monsters a fighting chance, the engineers removed the ability to circle-strafe; it is physically impossible to move and strafe at the same time. The frame rate piles on to slow movement to a choppy crawl. Anyone used to flowing through Doom levels with a keyboard and mouse (or just a keyboard, the way we all played in 1993) will feel hobbled.

All of this would be tolerable if you could save your game. You can't. No battery, no passwords, nothing. Prepare to complete your episode of choice in a single sitting, unless you're playing on an emulator and have no qualms about save-scumming.

Even more bizarrely, while episodes two and three (The Shores of Hell and Inferno) are included, they both impose mandatory difficulty requirements. Episode two requires Hurt Me Plenty at a minimum; Inferno demands Ultra-Violence, the game's max setting, since Nightmare was mercifully cut. Super Doom's sluggish controls and frame rate make it hard enough without factoring in difficulty.

That Doom ran on the Super NES at all is a miracle. Surprisingly, many fans' first exposure to Doom came from playing this version, so id's and Sculptured Software's experiment worked in at least one regard. That said, you were better off steering clear of this adaptation unless Nintendo's 16-bit machine was your only way to play.

8. Sega 32X

  • Year: 1994
  • Developer: Sega
Doom on Sega 32X.
Doom on Sega 32X.

Other than a few more sound effects and slightly (emphasis on slightly) better graphics, Doom doesn't fare much better on 32X than it does on Super NES. Sega left all nine levels of Inferno on the cutting room floor, along with several components of episodes one and two, such as certain geometry and lots of textures.

Not only do those absentee bits and bobs give levels a drab appearance, the omission of things like stairs and lifts in some areas makes those spaces less interesting to explore. Doom turned heads in 1993 largely because of how realistic it felt relative to every other game that had come before it. Most fans know it wasn't true 3D by now, but back then, no one cared. We were climbing stairs and riding elevators! The future was now! Er, then! Those design pieces were not cosmetic. They were integral. Without them, Doom 32X lacks a good chunk of the original's soul.

The graphics are nearly as blurry as the Super NES port. No surprise, given that the 32X is an add-on to the Sega Genesis that relies on the Genesis as a co-processor. Worse, the display features a border to shore up performance issues that cropped up during development, making objects on the already-hazy playfield smaller, and harder to decipher.

Doom 32X sounds and plays about as well as it looks. Sega's Yamaha sound chip for the Genesis was poorly implemented, leaving players with a muffled and overly bass-heavy soundtrack. Sega supports its six-button gamepad, but strafe is mapped to a single button you have to hold while moving which means circle-strafing is a no-go. That's fine, because the single-sided enemies don't pose much of a threat unless you let them gang up on you.

Cuts extend beyond audiovisuals. You won't find the BFG-9000 unless you enter a cheat code, but you may not need it: the Cyberdemon and Spider Mastermind were left behind, as was the Spectre variant of the pinky demon. I can do without the Spectre, but the absence of the game's primary bosses weakens the bestiary.

If Sega's six-button pad had incorporated shoulder buttons, Doom 32X would be more playable. But even that wouldn't make up for fuzzy audio, poor visual fidelity, fewer levels, and gaping holes in the ones Sega managed to carry over.

7. Atari Jaguar

  • Year: 1994
  • Developer: id Software, Atari
Doom on Atari Jaguar.
Doom on Atari Jaguar.

Doom for Atari's Jaguar had a lot going for it. For one, it was the only port of Doom id built in-house. For two, they developed it on Apple co-founder Steve Jobs's NeXTSTEP platform, just like the PC version. John Carmack wrote the engine, and programmer Dave Taylor specced out multiplayer, available only by linking two consoles.

When the rubber met the road, we got a rather muddy-looking port that wasn't great then and has aged poorly. Geometry and textures have been truncated from most levels; entire sections have been pruned from larger maps, likely due to performance issues that occurred when attempting to display too much real estate at once. There's no border, though, so that gives the Jaguar port over the 32X game.

Other content doesn't fare so well. Five maps have been trimmed from episodes two and three, one of which, Tower of Babel (E2M8), is one of my favorite maps. It features the memorable showdown against the Cyberdemon, my favorite boss in all of Doom-dom. No worries, though: Both the Cyberdemon and Spider Mastermind are absent as well. Without those epic encounters, their respective episodes fizzle out rather than end with a bang. The most obvious omission is the entirety of Bobby Prince's soundtrack other than tunes for the main menu and intermission/carnage screens. According to the Doom Wiki, the Jaguar's mathematics co-processor handles gameplay-intensive functions such as collision detection, as well as music. Between gameplay calculations and music, music had to go.

To be honest, the 32X and Jaguar versions kind of bleed together. The Jaguar port is superior only because it trims fewer levels, but neither port is the ideal way to experience Doom.

6. iOS

  • Year: 2009 and 2019
  • Developer: id Software
Doom on Apple iOS.
Doom on Apple iOS.

Between writing game engines and building rockets, one of John Carmack's pet projects was porting id's back catalog of games onto mobile devices. Doom Classic was originally published to Apple's App Store in 2009. Unfortunately, Bethesda supplanted it with its inferior 2019 re-release.

Doom Classic '09 worked because it was one in a crop of early FPS games that were simple in terms of features and tech. You couldn't jump, crouch, or aim the camera up or down in the original game; that made it ideal for iOS's touch-based interface, which included just enough virtual buttons to keep the screen from growing cluttered. (Games like Duke Nukem 3D failed on iOS in large part because the combination of too many virtual buttons and having to maneuver your thumbs all over the screen made it as difficult to see what was happening as it was to control.)

Carmack's port wasn't perfect--no port of a conventional game to touch-based controls is--but it was more than good enough for the low price, and for playing Doom on the go. Bethesda's re-release stumbled out of the gate. Users were required to log in to Bethesda.net, even if you only wanted to play single-player, until the "feature" was patched out a week or two later. The controls, unfortunately, remain horrible. The developer added faux-sensitivity gauges on the screen. Players move faster or slower as they slide their thumbs up or down. The problem is sliding your thumb up the screen to run, a necessity in Doom, impedes your view of the action. You can keep your thumbs lower on the screen, but that means moving at a slow walk. If you're not moving at 90 miles per hour in Doom, are you really moving at all?

Shooting is awkward as well: Instead of tapping and holding, as you might expect, you have to double-tap. Firing a single shot takes too long. While you're frantically tapping the screen to fire at a reduced rate, you've got other actions to juggle such as basic movement and more complex moves like circle-strafing to dodge enemies and projectiles.

You can still play Doom on iOS, but there are better portable options for your money.

5. Game Boy Advance

  • Year: 2001
  • Developer: David A. Palmer Productions
Doom on Nintendo Game Boy Advance.
Doom on Nintendo Game Boy Advance.

Nintendo's GBA is often thought of as part and parcel with the Super NES. In truth, its hardware was more capable in some ways, less so in others. Released eight years after the game made waves on PC, Doom's GBA port is outstanding.

Lots of geometry is missing, such as the stairs and raised platforms just off the starting room of E1M1, and the lift hiding a single Imp in the exit room of E1M2. Fortunately you'll be too busy marveling at how smoothly the game runs to miss these details for long. Graphics still blur at a distance, but are much more recognizable at mid-range than the SNES and 32X ports.

Gameplay-wise, GBA Doom plays like a dream. You can circle-strafe, an impossibility on Super NES; that alone puts you on more even footing with anything hell throws at you. I'd go so far as to say that basic movement feels almost as fluid as on PC. My only complaint is that the animations for raising and lowering guns as you cycle is intact; cutting them would have made shuffling through armaments one at a time much faster, which is critical when enemies swarm you.

Returning to aesthetics, the only major differences evident in the GBA port have to do with Nintendo's family-friendly image. All red blood has been colored green, and some of the more disturbing sprites, such as marine corpses skewered on spikes, have been removed. Those changes don't affect the gameplay, which is outstanding, but censorship is always a bummer. It's also odd given Nintendo's history with Doom. The House of Mario didn't bother to censor blood in the SNES port. Then again, 2001 was around the time it was cracking down on content. Capcom's port of Resident Evil 2 on N64 included the option to change the blood to green or blue--but it was an option, not the only way to play.

4. Doom 3: BFG Edition

  • Year: 2012
  • Developer: id Software, Panic Button Games
Doom in Doom 3: BFG Edition (PC).
Doom in Doom 3: BFG Edition (PC).

Doom 3: BFG Edition is almost perfect. Almost. It collects id's first three Doom games--minus Final Doom, which was composed of fan-made levels, and Doom 64, made by Midway. If you play BFG Edition on consoles, you won't notice any difference because the games in its package did not originate on consoles. On PC, the ports are missing bits and pieces whose removal feels arbitrary rather than necessary.

Multiplayer and cheat codes are gone. The absence of multiplayer seems a glaring omission, seeing as Doom popularized network play, until you consider that the original incarnations of these classic games ran on MS-DOS-based protocols. PlayStation and Xbox systems had built-in networking architecture to host multiplayer sessions, and the PC didn't. Fine.

More perplexing is the decision to trim shortcut keys. Actions such as pressing F2 to save or F9 to quick-load have been deactivated. To save or load, you must press Escape to open the main menu, and choose Save or Load. It may not seem like a big deal. It's just a strange choice. I will say, though, that the extra steps involved in saving and loading grow tedious.

If you have Doom 3: BFG Edition on PC, you may as well play the classic games since they're part of the package. If you want the games as they were envisioned, as well as support for mods like Brutal Doom, you can open BFG Edition's install directory and grab the game data (doom.wad, doom2.wad, and nerve.wad) and play them in any number of source ports freely available, all of which support cutting-edge features like quick-save and quick-load.

3. Xbox Live Arcade

  • Year: 2006
  • Developer: Nerve Software, Vicarious Visions
Doom on Xbox 360 Xbox Live Arcade.
Doom on Xbox 360 Xbox Live Arcade.

If you want a version of Doom that remains faithful to its source material and even polishes it to a fine sheen, the XBLA version is the best of the best. It displays at 1080p, features cooperative and deathmatch modes through split-screen and over Xbox Live, and cost only $10 at launch (Bethesda sweetened the pot by slashing the price to $5).

Levels, graphics, sound effects, weapons--it's all here. Really, the only significant change is playing a controller. Nerve and Vicarious took full advantage of the 360 'pad, however. From cycling weapons to circle-strafing, every action is a button press or analog stick-tap away.

You can still play the XBLA port of Doom (and Doom 2, which includes Nerve's nine-level bonus episode, also included with Doom 3: BFG Edition) through the Xbox One's backwards compatibility program.

2. Switch

  • Year: 2019
  • Developer: id Software, Nerve Software
Doom on Nintendo Switch.
Doom on Nintendo Switch.

Other than a border added to make the game display properly at widescreen resolutions (as opposed to implementing a border out of necessity, as in the Jaguar port), Doom on Switch is a masterful conversion. Multiplayer is restricted to local options, a decision perhaps influenced by Bethesda's (somewhat understandable) lack of interest in hosting servers for Doom and Doom 2, and/or paying Nerve Software more money to build a network infrastructure, but that might be for the best. Servers go offline. Local play is forever.

Released day and date with the PS4, Xbox One, and rejiggered iOS ports in 2019, Doom on Switch rates higher than those other ports for one reason: Not only is it a feature-complete adaptation of The Ultimate Doom, it's the best portable version of the game. For many, that might also make it the best.

1. PlayStation

  • Year: 1995
  • Developer: Williams Entertainment
Doom on Sony PlayStation.
Doom on Sony PlayStation.

There's something to be said for ports that wield creative license intelligently. Doom on PSX was not a technical masterpiece; the only way to save was by using a password system, and the game predated the advent of Sony's twin-stick DualShock controllers, though you can circle-strafe using shoulder triggers. In terms of creativity, I regard it as not only the best port of Doom, but my favorite version of the game.

PSX Doom separates itself from other ports in a few important ways. From the start, the soundscape by Aubrey Hodges (created for this port and later used in Doom 64) is utterly terrifying. Demons grunt and growl as they hunt for and fight you. The soundtrack's wailing babies and low, haunting tunes feed a dread that builds as you explore levels.

Hodges' revamped audio works so well because of how it melds with the revised lighting system. PSX Doom boasts more colorful lighting as well as lighting gradients that were not possible on PC in 1993. The classic levels you remember are much darker, and full of terrors that will scare you out of your desk chair or recliner much more often than their PC counterparts did. Some skyboxes are animated, such as towering flames that dominate skylines in hell-themed levels. It's a small touch, but makes the world feel that much more alive.

PSX Doom's audiovisual pedigree is only the tip of the Cyberdemon's claw. Rather than split Doom's episodes into discrete sections, Williams strings them together. You go from the memorable showdown with the Barons of Hell in E1M8 straight into The Shores of Hell's E2M1, and so on through Inferno and Thy Flesh Consumed. As you progress, you retain your weapon loadout, health, and armor status. Stitching Doom's episodes gives it a more contiguous form, like Doom 2, and the additional continuity is welcome, even if starting early levels of later episodes with high-tier weapons like the rocket launcher and BFG trivializes those areas a bit.

But the best change to PSX Doom occurs on Ultra-Violence difficulty. Select it at the start of your adventure, and certain monsters from Doom 2 will appear in the original game's levels. You'll never fight Mancubi or Revenants in overwhelming numbers, but the addition of one or two here and there add new dynamics to familiar encounters.

From top to bottom, Doom PSX remains a shining example of the right way to take creative liberties with ports. Hunt down a disc if you can find it, or download a mod of the game along with Aubrey Hodges's soundtrack and take it for a spin in your retail copy of Doom 2.


Hyped for Doom Eternal? Check out Countdown to Doomsday for even more Doom-related long reads, features, videos, and more.

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at davidlcraddock.com and @davidlcraddock.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    March 17, 2020 2:00 PM

    David Craddock posted a new article, Knee-Deep in the Ports: Ranking the Best (and Worst) Versions of Doom

    • reply
      March 17, 2020 2:07 PM

      Hrm.

    • reply
      March 17, 2020 3:10 PM

      Aww, ya skipped my favorite awful ports of Doom to consoles (Saturn, 3DO), both of which were severely compromised for different reasons.

      Happy to see the PS1 version top the list...I totally agree, it was an amazing translation of the game! Super fun read <3

      • reply
        March 17, 2020 6:33 PM

        For those who haven’t seen it, the woman who was hired to port DOOM to the 3DO put the source for that version online and told the story. She’s a veteran game programmer but the contract she got handed was a shit sandwich. Basically she was lied to about how far along the port was when it was handed to her and she still somehow knocked out a functional version in just a few months.

        https://github.com/Olde-Skuul/doom3do

        The SNES port of DOOM was done by Randy Linden who would go on to write the Bleem! emulators. Agreed with the general consensus that this made for an interesting tech demo but a poor version of the game.

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      March 17, 2020 3:15 PM

      typo/double use of left: “Sega left all non episodes of Inferno left”

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        March 17, 2020 3:49 PM

        1) Removed repeat of "left." Thanks!
        2) The "non" seems to be on your end. It reads "nine" in my source document as well as in the Shack CMS.

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      March 17, 2020 5:07 PM

      I was not expecting #1.

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        March 17, 2020 6:35 PM

        Yeah me neither.

        After playing through e1m1 so many times as part of getting it fixed on iPhone, I fired up the PSX port on an emulator and I saw so many changes in e1m1 I was all “lol nope” and bailed.

        Maybe I should give it another look.

    • reply
      March 17, 2020 5:19 PM

      DF Retro: Doom - Every Console Port Tested and Analysed

      https://youtu.be/784MUbDoLjQ

    • reply
      March 17, 2020 6:43 PM

      I played PSX Doom multiplayer by linking 2 playstations and 2 TVs. We spent much mire time playing multiplayer C&c: Red Alert that way.

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