One of the great things about gaming is that it offers an escape. We’re currently living in a turbulent and troubling time, and being able to escape into a new world offers us a brief respite from carnage. Rookie developer Fire Face Corporation’s debut effort, Small Radios Big Televisions, is almost a meta take on that idea. Instead of just going into one world, you go into several in order to survive the apocalyptic world around you. Confusing, yes, but I expect nothing less from the purveyors of the weird at Adult Swim Games.
As mentioned, Small Radios Big Televisions is set in a post-apocalyptic world where nothing remains but factories. Trapped in these metal prisons, the remaining population gets to enter the world of old via the TD-525 cassette player. Instead of playing tunes, however, these cassettes offer up peaceful landscapes that have long been destroyed. You’re an outsider of sorts in this world, one who’s trying to figure out what exactly happened, and the answer lies in these mysterious tapes.
There’s an interesting story here, albeit one only told in drips and drabs. Outside of what you can gleam from the factories, the narrative is only laid out through bonus dialogue that can be unlocked after each level. And while I’m fine with the fact that you’re kept in the dark for pretty much the entire game, I just wish there was more plot in general. If they kept it strange and mysterious, but also delved further into the concept, it could have turned out pretty well. This lack of content is symbolic of my problem with Small Radios Big Televisions as a whole.
In order to locate missing cassette tapes, players will need to navigate four different abandoned factories. The best way to describe how this plays out is that it’s a cross between an exploration sim and a point and click adventure. You click on doors to enter them, and items to pick them up, but it’s all done from a 2D perspective. It’s an interesting way to go about things, and outside of some weird aiming issues, it actually works well. It also helps that the factories are interesting to explore due to their maze-like structure.
This same style of gameplay transfers over to the worlds you get a glimpse into while wearing the TD-525 as well. Instead of wandering deserted steel prisons, though, you’re looking for mystical green orbs. After finding these orbs, you can then use them to unlock new rooms in the real world of Small Radios Big Televisions. I’m not sure exactly how this works, but I suppose it fits right in with the irregular world of the game. These worlds, which range from an orientation session to the peak of a mountain, can be altered by warping the tape with a magnet. After you do that, the once regular scene contorts into an off-kilter, haphazardly colored vision. From there, you can usually collect another green gem.
I mentioned before that Small Radios Big Televisions suffers from a lack of content, and that’s really noticeable in the barely-there gameplay. Both typical exploration sims and point and click adventures have depth, whether it’s through narrative strength or mind-contorting puzzles. Fire Face Corporation’s trippy title lacks significant depth in both of these departments, which makes this whole experience feel hollow. The puzzles you come across during your three hour adventure provide little challenge, and the search for green orbs is as simple as can be.
At times, it almost feels like the game was created specifically as a vehicle for the outlandish visual design. Jumping into these fantastic landscapes is one of the few highlights to be found in Small Radios Big Televisions. Every tape from the first four factories ooze style, even when they haven’t been warped beforehand. After that process takes place, though, they dazzle with unique visual flair. The only tapes that felt like a letdown were the three you collect in the final area, which feel less like places you can imagine people escaping to, and more like Windows 98 screensavers. It’s disappointing because Fire Face Corporation has an eye for stylish visuals, but it seems like they lost steam as the title progressed. Of course, in a three hour game, that’s a little silly to say, but I digress.
There’s an excellent experience buried within Small Radios Big Televisions, but not nearly enough of it is unearthed. There’s just too little of anything to make this game worth recommending. The story is barely plotted out, and the gameplay is as simplistic as it comes. And while the unique style may be worth dealing with the lack of depth for some, I need more from my games than just nice visuals. Adult Swim Games is not afraid to champion non-conforming ideas, but their latest publishing endeavor is too barren for its own good.
This review was based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was provided for us.
Small Radios Big Televisions has visual style to spare, but the lack of depth in both narrative and gameplay make this oddball experience worth skipping.