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Tunnel Runner - The Atari Times

Tunnel Runner

When Pac-Men from hell attack (tonight on Fox!)
by Darryl Brundage

July 13, 2007
Tunnel Runner is a very amazing game, being especially unbelievable that it’s running off a 2600. Granted, it’s one of those “RAM Plus” games, of course, which enables it’s 3-D setting, but it’s still really astounding–and very scary! This is one very scary game, what with monsters popping up out of nowhere (seemingly, at times), which would come with a warning label nowadays if it was remade, advising against people with gas, bladder control, and/or heart problems to stay away from this game at all costs.

In the only original game to come from the CBS Electronics 2600 lineup (not counting Wings, which was delayed forever and then never released, and the rest were arcade adaptions), this one pits you against a series of unending mazes that you must figure out how to escape from. Your character is never seen, you’re just constantly looking “forward”, at the maze itself.

In order to escape from a maze, you must first locate it’s key, then pick it up and find the escape door. Your character must have some kind of bionic legs (and/or arms) or something, since I don’t see how you can run and carry what seems to be a gigantic key (looking like a huge, shiny arrowhead on the floor) throughout a bunch of mazes. Of course, with as much as Pac-Man ate, but he never got fat, such is video game “logic” (or not, rather).

Once you pick up the key, you must find an escape door; the one with a single arrow pointing up will take you to the next “Run” (as the mazes/levels are called), whereas a Double-Up Door will skip a maze (although you have to see a Single-Up Door first before you can activate it). If you can get out before the timer runs out, you’ll receive a bonus; if the timer runs down to nothing, you’ll be forced to go through the Run again, but without scoring any points (every step or two you take in a new area of the maze will earn a point times the Run number). There are also transport doors that will randomly warp you somewhere in the maze, should things get hairy.

Now, how can the game get “hairy”? Well, you’re not alone, of course.

Enter a bunch of what looks like angry Pac-Man rejects...that are hungry, known as Zot Monsters. These are gigantic chomping mouths who’s sole purpose in life (I guess) is to eat you. Real fun work, if you can get it. I guess they turned evil due to having their DNA combined with the monsters from Pac-Man, taking on both characteristics (being hungry and out to get you), but that would appear that I have too much time on my hands to come up with something so absurdly far-fetched, so never mind. I would say the Zots also come in four different flavors, but alas, you cannot eat them (maybe, on the other hand, YOU taste like chicken? Dunno...). So lets just say here are their four types:

Gray Zot Monster: slow and dumb. There’s nothing more rewarding than coming to a stop to try to gather your thoughts, you see him pop up...and he keeps on going without turning your way (probably 60-75% of the time). This is like a low I. Q.-type person with Attention Deficit Disorder who saw something shiny on the ground.

White: smart and a bit faster. Unlike the above, he’ll probably SEE you a good 60-75% of the time in the same above situation.

Red: faster and smart. Continuing with the video game theme of “red=evil” (scientific fact! Look it up!), this is NOT a good thing to have this guy on your tail...or next to you...or ahead of you, either, for that matter.

Blue: fast but dumb. Imagine Paris Hilton running at full speed but without falling over, and there’s your guy.

The scary part of this game is when, as you start getting through more and more Runs, you move faster, and the Zots can pop up out of nowhere. Each Zot has a different music theme that warns you when they’re approaching, which there’s nothing worse than being stuck at a dead end and THEN (of course!) you hear one coming your way, blocking your escape route. I’m surprised I’ve never heard these musical themes in my nightmares, really. Even though the scrolling gets to be very incredible at these speeds for not only a 2600 game, but one rendered in 3-D, you won’t get much of a chance to admire that when things start getting hot (cue obvious Paris Hilton reference again).

And hot they do get: the game’s very well thought-out and planned, with the difficulty bar constantly being raised just a little: first Zots start getting added (all four won’t start appearing for a while). Then they’re not shown on the map at times (which is activated by pressing the controller button). Then the path you travel won’t be shown until after you go over it. Then YOU won’t get shown on the map (!). The key also disappears after over a dozen Runs as well. However, a hint is that a certain Zot is programmed to appear with the key...but then, after over 30 Runs, there are mazes that appear that are so incredibly dark you can’t tell what kind of Up Door you’re going through, since they’re so pitch black you can’t see the Up arrows! And should you hit a Down door instead by mistake...well, it’s back to the previous Run for you to do over again (“rerun”? Har!).

Helping you out, though, are earning extra lives, a special DB/CB door that earns you bonus points (which doesn't start appearing until about the 10th Run or so), and even an emergency warp that can be used once per screen (wiggle the joystick around while holding down the button).

This is one very spectacular game, with fairly decent controls, pretty good sounds and music, scaringly (if that’s a word) good graphics, and a lot of challenge. Only a few minor bad things drag it down a tiny bit, like not being able to do anything about the Zots. It’d be great if you could occasionally shoot one of them or leave behind a poisoned Big Mac for them to choke on and die (hmmm, a Green, then Black Zot Monster, fun!), but that’s not going to happen. This is a game you might eventually get tired of, which you can then choose game 2 to play, which has random mazes...but if you make it to those totally dark levels, it’s probably time to end the game then, those can be horrendously difficult, and they’ll change, and taking notes won’t help you later, like on game 1. The game also has no ending, which sucks, as it just crashes at around the 121st Run (or so, I forget how many it has exactly), but most people aren’t going to make it that far. (And how many 2600 games HAD "levels", especially over 100 of them?)

This is a game that really needs to be updated, having the original game, but with a *real* ending (have your player actually SHOW UP on the screen while it says “you made it, Tunnel Runner!”, or something, which would be better than nothing), then the new version could have the occasional weapon to stop a Zot dead in it’s tracks. It could also have some cinematics for the kids nowadays (new games aren’t “cool” without them nowadays, dontcha know!) in regards to the latter, like showing a Zot being blown over the maze walls (in case the update would allow you to find a bomb occasionally; heh), while the other Zots are standing around saying things like “crap! He got Frank!”, or “eh, he was kind of stupid anyway” (in case it was either the blue or gray Zot that bit the dust).

Just PLEASE redo that monstrously ugly cover from the original, which you can see here. Other than it really sucks that I lost the box to this (and it’ll probably be near impossible to replace all these years later), that cover was ugly as anything (looooove those Zot unibrows! At least I still have the instructions though).

Other than that, though, this was one of the coolest 2600 games to have in the entire neighborhood, which I got for a measly $10 U. S. at either Target or Toys ‘r Us back in the day, during the Video Game Crash.

Eat THAT, Zots.

More memory, more title screens!
The giant bodyless head will eat you.
Or you can just roam the maze.
Use the map if you get lost.
Tunnel Runner
System: 2600
Publisher: CBS Electronics
Genre: Puzzle
Graphics Score: 80%
Sound & Music Score: 85%
Gameplay Score: 85%
Control Score: 85%

Final Score: 95%

Reader Comments for Tunnel Runner

Innovation! by Greg George on 2014-02-10 22:44:53
There was so much innovation on the 2600! Only wish game creators were willing to take chances today and create something new... Halo 14 anyone?
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