The Dusty Cartridge – Doom Troopers
The holiday season always means staying at my parents’ house for a night or two. This year, I was sitting in the room where I grew up, surrounded by the many objects that filled most of my life, but feeling strangely disconnected from the place. It had been years since I cared about the well-worn action figures, tacky posters, and derelict electronics around me. It was an uncomfortable sensation to no longer feel that this childhood world was a part of me, so I began searching in my mess of a closet for some relic of my past that I hadn’t outgrown.
Far in the back, behind a stack of CD cases and a tattered old baseball glove, was a dusty box that somehow seemed important. As I pulled it from the shelf and heard the rattle of plastic, it hit me: this was my game box! I excitedly pulled open the lid and peered inside. It was filled with rows of cartridges, black, grey, or gold, spanning from Atari and Colecovision to the Super Nintendo and N64. Indeed, this was the link to my childhood, the part of me that will never go away.
The nostalgia isn’t just that these were games that I played for hours, beginning at the age of five; the antiquated cartridge format provides a sort of time-warping culture shock from the ’80s and early ’90s. For over 20 years we’ve grown used to the convenience of disc media, and now we’re even more disconnected with the rise of digital downloads. Nothing that we use anymore is similar to cartridges or their brute-force rituals of blowing out dust, mashing them into an old plastic box, and jiggling or hitting them until the screen lights up. It is visceral and enlivening to anyone who spent their early days obsessing over these bits of plastic and circuit board.
So, I will now roam through my old dusty cartridges and talk about some of my favorite gaming experiences from the past. With rose-tinted nostalgia goggles on, it can be hard to tell if these games have aged well, but I’ll go on loving them all the same. My first subject will be the 1995 SNES platformer/shooter hybrid by the name of Doom Troopers: The Mutant Chronicles.
I haven’t talked to many people that have played this game, and it may be more of a niche title than I ever realized. It is based on a pen-and-paper RPG of the same name, but the Mutant Chronicles universe became reasonably popular, leading to a franchise of collectible card games, miniature wargames, video games, novels, comic books, and a even a 2008 film.
You can select from two characters and then mow your way through an army of zombie-like mutants with pistols, machine guns, and rocket launchers. It plays a lot like the Contra series, only with a more deliberate pace, and with more emphasis on platforming. The enemy behavior is nicely varied: some hang from trees and fire from above, some sprint and jump at you with gnarled swords, and others man large stationary flamethrowers to block your path. They don’t fall easily either, continuing their attack even after their heads have been blown off or their bottom half has been severed from their body.
The extreme violence is one of the most memorable aspects of the game. It is also a strange anomaly for the ESRB rating system, carrying a “T for Teen” rating, despite the torrents of blood, piles of severed limbs, and sense of brutality that easily rivals that of the Mortal Kombat series. The gross-out factor was taken to another level by some of the character design; the first boss stands atop a huge pile of bones, repeatedly puking green bile into the room, and your goal is to kill it before you drown in its vomit. I don’t believe the SNES was home to any scenario more genuinely fucked up than that.
Doom Troopers‘ graphical quality is very good for an SNES title. While it doesn’t rival the likes of Donkey Kong Country, its characters and some set pieces do come very close, and have a similar pre-rendered 3D style. The levels are nicely varied, taking you through jungles, snowy cliffs, and a strange fungus-covered alien world reminiscent of Earthworm Jim, among other settings.
The game is not long, but it can be very challenging on the higher difficulty settings. It rewards patience over mindless gunfire, with scarce ammo and highly damaging enemy attacks. The brain-dead mutants are very predictable though, and once you start to learn their rhythms, you will fare much better. Because of this tactical pace, it feels different from most of the other 16-bit action games, and I still have a blast playing it to this day. It also allows two players to play cooperatively at the same time, which is always a welcome addition to any game.
Doom Troopers is a definitely worth a try if you see it in a store that sells classic games, or if you just decide that you want to fire it up on an emulator (shame on you!). If it sounds interesting, I would suggest skimming through this walkthrough on YouTube to get a better feel for the game:
Thanks for beginning this trip down memory lane with me. Until next time, happy gaming!