The Game: As the conductor of a time-traveling train, you must find and collect your passenger cars in the present day, move on to the near future to pull up to several stations and fill those cars with time travelers, and then deposit them at various attractions in the distant future. That would be difficult enough to do without running out of fuel, but you also have to contend with space creatures and repeatedly avoid collisions with a competing train by controlling the switches on the tracks. (1982, Taito)
Memories: This exceedingly obscure Taito arcade game is cute and innovative – it’s certainly not another riff on Loco-Motion, that’s for sure. But if you don’t remember it, there may be a reason – it takes several minutes to play a single game. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but the very nature of arcade games is to vanquish as many challengers as possible, and quickly – the more people come back to play an arcade game, the more money it earns, so conventional wisdom among arcade operators in the 1980s was to dispense quickly with any game that didn’t chew through players’ quarters quickly. A game that took a long time to play had limited earning potential, three words that could get an arcade game scrapped, sent back to the distributor, or converted into another game in record time.
Time Tunnel was just such a game, and even Taito doesn’t seem inclined to acknowledge its place in the company’s roster as quickly as it lays claim to Qix or Elevator Action or Space Invaders. It’s an intriguing and addictive little game, but perhaps one that would’ve been better off as a home video game or a computer game, where the player spends his money up front and can then spend as much time with the game as he chooses. There’s some twitchy action, sure, but for the most part Time Tunnel is a game of strategy, patience, and carefully planning a path of least resistance – again, not what arcade operators were looking for.
That’s a pity, because it’s so much more interesting than just another shoot-’em-up. Here we have a game like Frogger, built completely around the avoidance of hazards. The most control you have over your environment is via the switches on the railroad track, which allow you to momentarily stave off disaster. You can’t fire at anyone or take any kind of offensive action, and even worse, you have passengers to protect. The real challenge lies in balancing your safety and your logistics.
Time Tunnel is a fascinating, almost completely non-violent game, and a much, much more interesting way to control a video game train than, say, Loco-Motion.