STAFF REVIEW of Tunnel of Doom (Xbox One)

Friday, January 14, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Tunnel of Doom Box art If you’re a fan of Tower Defense games and also enjoy Roguelike titles, then you might be interested in Tunnel of Doom, as its whole premise is combining these two distinct genres together. It may not seem like a logical pairing of game varieties, but it does have some interesting ideas within.

Set in the quiet mining town of Goldcrest in 1903, you play as a distraught wife, Angel, wanting to go save her husband who is trapped in the local mine. Problem is, the Mayor has sealed off the mine, and while she’s unsure why, she breaks through the barrier to search for her spouse. Armed with just a pickaxe, Angel defies orders and searches the unknown mines for her missing husband, hopefully finding other survivors along the way. It seems that there’s been a reason this mine was sealed off, as it is filled with creatures that mean to do you harm, but there’s also a seemingly friendly zombie-like character that wants you to help him defeat a foreboding evil. If that means finding your husband, then so be it.

Played in typical top-down view like most Tower Defense titles, this roguelike arms you with not much besides a pickaxe in the beginning, but as you gather materials like wood, stone and glass, you’ll be able to set traps however you like provided you have the necessary amount of materials to do so. If you’re lucky, you might even find a pistol or a rifle to be able to shoot your enemies from afar.

If you’ve grown up with classic Zelda games, you’ll quickly understand how the map system works, showing how all the rectangle rooms interconnect. In Normal mode you’re given a new map in the very first room showing all of the rooms and possible exits to reach the lower floors. Even though there’s only three floors of the mine, it’s going to take at least a dozen or more room clearings to reach an exit to go deeper.

As you enter a room, one of two things will happen. First, either nothing will happen, meaning you can simply gather any materials you find laying around by breaking the benches, chairs and barrels for wood, mining the stone ore with your pickaxe, or smashing glass and lanterns for glass shards. These are the materials you’ll use to craft traps and barriers when you reach a battle room. These are the other rooms that lock you in as soon as you enter and you won’t be able to leave until all of the enemies are defeated. Luckily you’re given time to setup your traps however you like, but more on that shortly.

Certain rooms will have lockers that require keys to open, massive stone nodes that can only be destroyed with dynamite, a wishing well pool that might grant you bonuses if you toss your hard earned gold into it, or maybe you’ll find a merchant room where you can purchase new traps and items. The map is completely randomized every time you play, so no two runs will be the same. Should you die three times in a run, and you will early on, it’s finally game over and you must start anew which is where the roguelike gameplay comes in.

The randomness can either go for or against you pretty heavily. I’ve had runs where I had a half dozen keys but no lockers to open, or the rewards inside the lockers was not worth it at all. The wishing wells on the other hand are all I saved my precious gold for once I learned how to play better. Dropping a ton of cash into this wishing well not only granted me a bunch of bonus perks, but also health refills and even empty hearts to extend my maximum life. I thought the way to go would be to save up for the expensive traps, but quickly realized that turrets and such generally wasn’t worth the cost at all.

When you do enter a battle room you’re able to see a list of which enemies are going to spawn by a list of icons in the top left corner. The more that are going to appear, the more prepared you should be. The room will show you where enemies will spawn from, usually the doorways or pits littered throughout the room. There’s no time limit to prepare for battle, so you can take your time figuring out the best way to set up your traps, which is if you even have enough materials to do so. You’re able to build traps like broken glass on the floor which will damage enemies, but can also create barricades to try and funnel enemies the way you want, like a true Tower Defense title. Until you get to the second floor you’re probably going to be struggling for resources to make any real difference though.

Once you choose to start the wave, it goes until you or all enemies die, then you can progress to whichever connected room you like. Enemies will not only chase after you, but other miner survivors as well which are helpless and sit in place. They’ll also attack your barriers and traps, and because they are so weak, it’s hard to rely on them for any real protection. Coupled with flying enemies that simply bypass your traps and barriers anyways, the whole Tower Defense portion of Tunnel of Doom’s gameplay feels unsatisfying as whole, not broken, but not very fleshed out either.

So how do you fight back? Well, you can use your pickaxe, but that’s going to do much damage and you’ll also likely get hit being so close. All that glass and stone that you picked up can be thrown, and while it won’t do much damage, ranged combat is generally a much safer option. Keep in mind though, throwing these at enemies removes them from your inventory, leaving you with less materials for barriers and traps, so it becomes a vicious cycle. If you’re lucky you’ll find the odd gun here and there, but the ammo is severely limited and won’t even last a single battle room.

I thought the turrets were going to be the end-all-be-all for the combat sections, but they get attacked so quickly that they generally end up not being worth the cost since they’re just a single use if they become damaged anyways. I eventually stopped even using them in my runs and actually got a rare achievement for beating the game without using any turrets, something I didn’t even realize was a challenge. Saving up my glass for ground traps and funneling enemies down a path over it was generally my best defense.

There’s a very small selection of enemies along the way as well. You’ve got annoying tiny spiders along the walls that can spit poison at you when you get close, bats, zombies, ghouls and a few other enemies I’ll leave as a surprise. The first floor shouldn’t give you too much trouble, but it becomes much more chaotic by the time you reach the second and third floor becoming swarmed by monsters. Luckily if there’s any light sources, that seems to hurt them as well, but only if they walk directly in it.

With combat being such a large component of Tunnel of Doom’s gameplay, it was a bit disappointing to how inaccurate it felt at times. Given that this is played in a top down view, you’re only able to attack, melee and ranged, along the 4 main axis’, not diagonally. This becomes an issue later on when you’re surrounded, as you’ll need to move to be in a position to hit directly horizontal or vertically. Melee combat is even more awkward and clumsy, as I’ve missed plenty of attacks because they moved just slightly out of my direct line of attack, only to hit me instead.

Tunnel of Doom utilizes a classic retro pixel aesthetic, and while there’s very little variety within each room of the mine, it’s easy to distinguish breakable objects and enemies from one another, except for those damn poison spitting tiny spiders that crawl on the walls and sometimes hide behind the lanterns. As for audio, well, it’s there. There’s nothing much notable from the few repeated tracks and repeated sounds that your weapons make when fighting monsters or pinging when mining a stone ore.

There are two extra modes that unlock once you’ve cleared the game once, one being a more hardcore mode and the other an endless challenge to see how long you can survive. Even with these extra modes, I can't see many playing through repeatedly over again as it just feels like a shallow experience overall. Tunnel of Doom is hard to recommend for Tower Defense fans, and for Roguelike followers there’s nothing new here to excite you either, so it falls into this kind of ‘meh’ category. Not bad by any means, but nothing excited me either, even when I finally faced and defeated the final boss.

**Tunnel of Doom was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 5.0 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 4.0 / 10


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