Game: Tunnel of Doom
Genre: Adventure, Action, Strategy
System: Nintendo Switch (Also on Steam (Windows) & Xbox)
Developer|Publisher: Antti Vaihia | Digerati
Age Rating: EU 16+ | US Everyone
Price: US $13.99 | UK £12.59 | EU € 13,99
Release Date: December 23rd, 2021
Review code provided with many thanks to Digerati
2021 is almost at an end but there is still time to review another little rogue-lite gem. If your new, rogue-lite is a game where you progress as far as you can on a run, but on death, you will restart from the beginning with some elements from the previous run carrying over. Tunnel of Doom has been released to PC since November 2021 but, as we all know games, are so much more fun to play on Nintendo Switch. What better way is there to enjoy the holiday season than with a good game, your favourite holiday outfit and a nice drink to compliment the experience.
For me, it’s just the ticket, particularly because this season is often quite stressful with a lot of travelling. Tunnel of Doom may have a dreaded title but if you decide to enter the darkness you will be welcomed with a different but entertaining rogue-lite experience.
Did Some Call For an Angel
Tunnel of Doom is set in 1903 in a small town called Goldcrest. A small mining town where things are going well until an incident befalls the mines causing several miners to be trapped inside. The mayor, in all his wisdom, thinks the sensible decision is to shut the mine down. But Angel, the wife of one of the trapped miners, is having none of that and decides to venture within, searching for her love as well as other survivors. What seems like a simple rescue mission soon turns to horror as Angel encounters hordes of ghoulish creatures in the darkness. You learn more about these creatures thanks to the aid of a vendor who will also offer you items, perks and equipment in exchange for gold.
It’s a pretty straightforward tale, presented in text boxes that don’t take much time out of the gameplay. You are pretty quick to get into the action in this title. What I did like with the design is the 1900s setting and your main character, Angel, who isn’t your typical strong video game character. She is vulnerable and seems a little out of her depth but shows she has a lot of smarts with her use of traps and compassion for the miners she encounters. You can’t help but route for her.
Into The Mines
Tunnel of Doom is a top-down action game with mild tower defence elements. It appears similar to a typical dungeon crawler on appearances. But there is something very different here. Enemies don’t automatically spawn when you enter a room. Instead, the game will allow you to make a plan of action. The top of the screen will warn you of the number of enemies that will spawn. On the left, it will display the type of enemies approaching and on the map itself, small red arrows will show you the possible spawn points of the enemies.
As the player you get to choose when the waves of enemies begin, but once you start you can’t stop the horde. You can choose to battle the beasts with your handy pickaxe, firearm or even throw resources at them but this is not the best approach. Ammo is incredibly limited and even your pickaxe has very bad range making your character incredibly vulnerable. To get the advantage you need to place traps in the room like glass spikes and barricades. All of these are acquired by mining for resources using your pickaxe. You can also buy useful items, like canons, which will fire off resources. But, you need to be careful to not get in their line of fire as these too can damage you.
Once you activate the battle you can see if your placement of traps turns into a master of design or a total flop. If the latter does occur, not all is lost; you can use the environment to your advantage. Light sources will damage enemies once, these can also be destroyed by the enemy. You can also dodge roll out of harm’s way. If you’re really sneaky you can trick enemies to shoot projectiles at each other. You can’t leave the room once you enter one where enemies will spawn. So make sure you have gathered all your resources before moving on. It’s not just your own head you need to protect. Some rooms will spawn miners who need protection. Successfully prevent them from meeting a nasty demise and they will reward you with items and perks.
The dungeon maps overall are enormous, right from the start. The game gives you a map to track your bearings and you can use this to fast travel to previous rooms you’ve already visited to collect leftover hearts you didn’t need or unlock chests that require a key. It’s not wise to explore too long in the dungeons. Even if you backtrack enemy waves will continue to spawn.
When a battle is over you can reclaim any traps left standing but your resources tend to dwindle the longer you dilly dally. There is a lot of flexibility for the player to experiment and find what works. For me learning from my mistakes and experimenting with the different traps through trial and error became an enjoyable learning experience.
Being a rogue-lite, every dungeon map is randomly generated along with the placement of items and enemy spawns. As you progress through the game you can unlock more perks and money to take in with you before you begin, to make the experience a little easier.
Perks can be both handy by upping your health, damage and resource collection but can also make the experience harder by making enemies deal more damage or exchanging health drops for money. Randomness is all part of the thrill making each run feel new each time. Once you conquer the game there are other modes to unlock including an endless mode so there is plenty of incentive to dive back in for another run.
What Lurks in the Shadows
The game goes for a familiar pixelated design. You have your simple cave designs you would expect to see in a dungeon crawler. What really sold me on the experience was the game’s impressive use of sound. In the first cave system, there is a sinister score that creates a tingle down the spine. Before you meet your first enemy you feel a sense of dread that this is going to be no walk in the park.
The enemies themselves make eerie noises that appropriately match their grotesque appearance. These are threats I felt I didn’t want to mess with head-on. Performance-wise the game ran well in TV and handheld modes with no slow down even with ludicrous hordes of enemies on screen.
There were a few niggles during my time in the dungeons worth discussing. Tunnel of Doom has a bit of a learning curve to really get to grips with its design. For me, it took probably at least three runs before the formula really clicked. Unlike some rogue-lites, runs in Tunnel of Doom are very long. We’re talking hours here starting and stopping with planning traps and thinking through your next step. Thank goodness for the Switch standby feature. If you do need to change to another game though you can save and quit after completing any room allowing you to jump back in. The game is quite tricky in terms of difficulty leaning into the medium to hard.
No Accessibility Options
There are no accessibility options, so you need to just improve by playing which may not suit casual players. This is only a minor niggle but it may not be the pickup and play experience some gamers might be expecting. Another personal niggle is those darn spiders and bats that randomly spawn in rooms. The spiders in particular, in handheld mode, are hard to even see on the walls and spit acid at you from afar. Both are hard to kill in general, usually avoiding the traps. They felt the equivalent of the medusa heads in the old Castlevania games, being just a bit too fiddly to deal with. Lastly, I did encounter a very irritating glitch where sometimes the game would just not let me mine for resources until it somehow unstuck itself. This feels like something that will probably be patched later.
Conclusion – It’s Not All Doom
Tunnel of Doom is another rogue-lite hit for me. I continue to be amazed that developers can find new spins on this genre. Tunnel of Doom will suit the gamer that wants to take their time and plan things out. It also just feels a bit more flexible than a typical tower defence game. Sure quick reflexes may help you but the biggest rewards for this game come from slowing things down and learning from your mistakes. While this is a tale of doom and gloom, as a video game it’s highly entertaining and well worth your time if you’re looking for a new rogue-lite adventure.
Final Verdict: I Like It A Lot