I’ve reviewed more than one title from Adult Swim Games and usually they end up disappointing me, which is really depressing because I happen to really like Adult Swim’s television programming. But today the losing streak comes to an end. Small Radios Big Televisions is a recently released point and click adventure that strips everything about the genre down to the bare minimum in order to create a surprisingly fulfilling experience.
The graphics are broken into two main parts, neither of which you can see in the main menu. Actually this game has one of the laziest main menus I’ve seen in years. It’s just a solid color background that changes colors on a continuous reel with the title in big, rounded, white block letters. When you press a button, the options come up in smaller white block text of almost the same style. The replay menu has no text and only uses shapes to convey what’s going on. In a lot of ways it’s very creative, but it’s also extremely simple looking. The two main parts of the gameplay are factories and tapes. Factories are two-dimensional areas that have some level of three-dimensional visuals, but can only be traversed on a single movement plane. The factories are very simple looking as a whole, but do have a decent amount of detail. There are various objects to make them seem more real such as boxes, track lighting, and graffiti. Each factory has its own visual style/setting, but the graphics as a whole are consistent between them. There is no HUD in reality. Just a hexagonal reticle that you move around the screen and items you collect float at the bottom of the screen in the center. One thing I found interesting in the factory portions of the game is that the focus of the reticle also focuses the camera. In a larger room, only the part focused on is clear. The other parts of the room are a bit blurry to simulate a camera lens being out of focus outside the specific area it’s aiming at.
The second major type of graphics is in the tapes. Tapes are small independent worlds based on realistic settings such as caves, roads, rivers, and fields. These are three-dimensional spaces that sometimes have you moving forward as you move the reticle around in the game’s normal plane of existence. These worlds are much more impressive looking than the factories with a much more vibrant color scheme and more polygonal objects within them. Each of the game’s 15 tapes has two to three different forms making for a total of 39 tape areas to explore. These areas are quite small though so they don’t take that much time to experience. There are a few short sequences that help the game transition from one factory to the next one and an ending movie. The game is so simple that there’s just no way it could experience any lag running on a PS4. Essentially this is a very simple looking game, but it’s that simplicity that makes this game perfect. It’s not just the graphics that are simple, but everything about the game and for whatever reason, it all works together quite well.
The gameplay is point and click, but in its simplest form. You don’t have a character to move around. There are no other characters to interact with. Imagine playing Firewatch or Everyone’s Gone to Rapture in 2D with just a moving reticle and no proximity limitations due to the existence of an off-screen body. You just move it anywhere on the screen with the left stick and press X to interact with key objects. Some things you can do are open doors, collect special items, and move certain interactive objects such as turning wheels and swinging gears. When you collect an item, other than tapes, it floats on the bottom of the screen and must be picked up with X when you want to use it. The three objects you can collect other than tapes are keys, gears, and lenses. You can put the tapes you find in your tape player to access them. These give you access to separate micro worlds which can be explored to find more keys. Each tape can be magnetized up to two times with separate machines, adding two additional worlds to most tapes. The whole game is composed of five extended puzzles in the shape of exploring five separate factories. The controls are very simple, but as with most point and clicks can be a little buggy at times. You’re trying to grab something and the focus is off or when you have to pull an object it’s a bit of a hassle to pull it just right. Nothing so bad that it lowers the quality of the gameplay though.
What I liked most about playing Small Radios Big Televisions was that even though it has single player controls it doesn’t have to be a single player experience. I played through this whole game with my girlfriend and she held the controller about 90% of the time. But we both enjoyed the experience quite a lot and got 100% completion. The gameplay is so simple that most of it takes place in your head. It’s figuring out how to solve the puzzles and move forward, often by backtracking, that make the game fun. Actually holding the controller is of little to no consequence except in a few movement puzzles which are over in a matter of seconds. This game is way more about the visuals and figuring out where to go than anything else. Ultimately the gameplay is simply perfect with the emphasis on simple.
I was not a huge fan of the sound in this game. Or more specifically the soundtrack. The effects were fine. It’s mostly a quiet game other than some key machinery noises since you are in a series of factories. All the sounds are pretty much spot on for appropriateness. But the music is just lacking. It’s really weird background tracks that are arguably not even really music. Lots of odd scratching sounds and rhythmless beats. It’s all kind of dystopian, which I guess goes with the plot, but it doesn’t sound great. The only options in the game pertain to sound. You can control the music and effects volumes separately, but they are mixed very well at default so it’s unnecessary unless you just want to turn off that bad music altogether.
The writing in this game is more interpretive than anything else. There is a very subtle plot which is made up of only four broken dialog strands that only appear if you find certain items while playing. These dialog sequences refer to a dystopian reality where the human population is dying off in massive quantities for reasons unknown. The game is about trying to find a way to deal with the problem. But because of the way it’s written and presented you can’t actually tell who or even what is talking during these dialog sequences, which are presented as playbacks from found tapes. You also are never told who or what you are. It’s quite possible that you’re an alien life form or a sentient animal. And since all the people are gone you aren’t really sure if they found a solution or just all finally died off. A lot of the writing, especially at the end, comes down to how you choose to perceive the story as a whole. I took it as a happy ending but others may not. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily well written, but it was creative.
The place where this game is lacking most is in replay value. There are only five factories total with just three tapes and one lens, which is an optional find, in each of them. The whole game can be completed in about three hours and you can easily get 100% completion in a single playthrough. And if you don’t get 100% completion the first time around, you can visit each individual factory with all your progress saved and fill in whatever holes you missed. It’s a great experience, but there’s no reason to play it a second time because there are no stats or anything of consequence other than the very easy to acquire nine trophies, with the highest one being a gold. For £10 I gotta say this game is way too short. Both I and my girlfriend were really depressed that it ended so quickly because we really enjoyed playing it together but we won’t ever see the need to take the time to play it again. It did however encourage us to check out other games similar to this one such as Everyone’s Gone to Rapture.
I greatly enjoyed Small Radios Big Televisions. It was one of the more enjoyable point and clicks I can remember playing. It’s not at the level of The Wolf Among Us or other TellTale Games adventures, but the experience is something entirely different and enjoyable in its own right. If not for the disappointingly short length and exorbitantly unbalanced price tag, I’d recommend it to everyone. But sadly I cannot because it’s about four times more expensive than it should be. If you ever see it on sale for less than £5 then I say definitely buy it. Otherwise it just isn’t worth the price.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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