Why do we play video games? That might be a slightly lofty way to start, but hear us out. What is the purpose of video games? That’s debatable, and it changes from game to game, but the vast majority of games exist to entertain. A video game should challenge, yes, but it should also be enjoyable; at its most basic, a video game will allow you to pass a few hours, and at its most advanced it’s an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Whether you prefer your games to tell a compelling story or simply offer a great gameplay experience, it’s undeniable that you want to have fun playing them. Into this world, and with this challenge hanging over it, comes Tunnel Rush. Tunnel Rush comes to us from Deer Cat Studios, a small, relatively new independent outfit based in the UK. They’re not a massively experienced studio; their projects to date consist of Tunnel Rush and one other game, with several other projects having been shelved over the years.
We started with that rather windy opening screed because Tunnel Rush was the first game in a while with which we’ve had simple, pure, unadulterated fun. There’s no struggle to get into a Tunnel Rush game, no huge narrative scroll beforehand to sink your teeth into and no interruption of the action. Once you begin playing, it’s just all gameplay, all the time.
Let’s back up a little and explain the core gameplay. In Tunnel Rush, the objective is to…well…rush through a series of tunnels. The gameplay strongly resembles auto-runners like Bit.Trip, only without the ability to jump; the game plays out entirely in first person, with players dodging and swerving through obstacle courses which increase in complexity as the 100 stages play out.
If that sounds like a slightly reductive explanation of what a video game is, that’s because Tunnel Rush is basically the video game experience distilled down to its core elements. If you’re tired of the modern triple-A trappings, then this is the palette-cleanser for you. If you’re sick of exploring endlessly massive open world maps, taking part in unfair multiplayer showdowns or having to wade through masses of text to understand a fantasy universe, we would strongly recommend Tunnel Rush.
Part of the game’s appeal is its unabashedly retro presentation. The visuals here are beautiful, all sumptuous early-3D evocation and fluid 60FPS animation. If you’re a fan of early 3D tunnel shooters like Tempest 2000, you’ll find much to love in Tunnel Rush’s deliberately blocky PlayStation-era visuals (higher fidelity, but a similar aesthetic). The music, too, is glorious, a pulsing techno soundtrack that accompanies your fight for freedom from this oppressive tunnel in a menacing continuum.
Of course, the principal appeal of Tunnel Rush is its central gameplay loop, and here we come to the crux of the matter. The game only uses two keys for its control, one of which moves left and the other (believe it or not) moves right. Obstacles start off innocently enough – simple shapes which can be easily dodged – but it’s not long before the stage is throwing elaborate chains of moving blocks and mashing machinery at you, daring you to surmount its challenge or be thrown back to the beginning of the level in ignominy.
There, though, is the other key point about Tunnel Rush. Although it might be a difficult game, its well-honed difficulty curve constantly challenging the player, it’s never a chore or frustrating to play. That’s largely because of the incredibly forgiving save system, which automatically throws players back to the start of the stage if they die. Stages are fairly short in Tunnel Rush, so death never means losing too much progress. Again, the excellent presentation is omnipresent, always making sure you’re having fun even while you’re dying; “fun to lose” is a concept many developers strive for and Tunnel Rush achieves.
In the end, though, Tunnel Rush excels simply on this core tenet: it’s very fun to play. In the endless quest for “content”, it’s easy to forget how much fun it can be to play a game that’s simply good in its own right, a game that doesn’t pretend towards game of the year status but is content to be a very good game that offers entertainment and challenge. There aren’t many games we can say this about, but we found ourselves wanting to revisit Tunnel Rush after we finished its 100 levels just to play a little more.
It’s a real success when a game manages to be simultaneously relaxing and challenging. This is arguably the goal of all video games: to stress us out even as they remove our stress, to linger in the mind as an enjoyable experience even if we struggled at the time. Tunnel Rush is a good idea perfectly executed, a great balance of what makes video games enjoyable, and a ridiculously good time into the bargain