Sunday, December 4, 2016

Review: Small Radios Big Televisions

Small Radios Big Televisions
Developer: Fire Face Corporation
Publisher: Adult Swim Games

I think if you put Small Radios Big Televisions in a hundred peoples hands and asked them what the game was really about, you could get a hundred different answers. From God, Creation, Technology and its affect on our lives, the environment, geometry, expressionism, to a simple its a puzzle game with tape cassettes. Interpretation is the key word here and its required to really enjoy this title. This game at its simplest is a puzzle game for sure, but underneath the surface the developer is being duplicitous, and in a way tricking the player. How? Well, read on and we will break down this game together.

I am going to break this game down in two ways, the same way there are two sides to a cassette tape.(See what I did there?) Side A in this case is going to be all about the basic functions of the game, the puzzles, the graphics, and all the nitty gritty of game design.

Side B is going to be all about the key word I mentioned earlier, interpretation. What I took away from this game and my personal experience with its unique themes and how I think Fire Face is screwing with our heads. We are starting with Side A first.

Fancy Steam description or not, Small Radios Big Televisions is a puzzle game that is played from a side view but many angles/perspectives are visible at the same time. The visuals are something comparable to Fez, but less static. You can click around the screen to tweak and shift things to get a look at another side of a wall. The way you interact with the entire game is very reminiscent of a mobile game. You swipe with your mouse to move the camera and click/tap to interact with objects and the environment. However, one of cool things about this title is that it plays with your head and changes things constantly.

Anytime you load up a new cassette tape, you never know where you are going to end up or from what perspective you'll be seeing things. One second you are riding along in a forest, and the next on top of a mountain. This constant shifting assault always keeps you on edge but at the same time in awe. Small Radios Big Televisions is a beautifully made game that crosses into what I like to call Gamer-art. One of the reasons I said Geometry is that this game is very playful with its polygons and colors. The style is constantly blending Science fiction themes and beautiful fields and sunsets. While the graphics are simple they never feel unrefined, the game has a wonderful vibrancy to it all.

The game has you traveling across different factories that all have a unique shape/design to them. These areas are all played from the side view and that is where most of the puzzle interaction takes place. The real WTF moment comes when you collect cassette tapes and begin magnetically warping them. Your character, who remains unknown throughout the game, has a headset/VR set up that allows escape into these cassettes. In these virtual worlds are keys, which look like a twenty sided die, that allow you to get deeper into the factories and move along deeper into the game.

Any child of the 80's could tell you that a strong magnet can damage and even erase content from cassettes because of the way they are made. In this case, it warps the realities inside of those tapes and allows you to find more keys, albeit at the cost of things getting terrifying and weird.

If anything this game deserves your attention for its use of color and atmosphere in true artistic form and then twisting it into something that makes you uncomfortable.

The basic goal is just getting from factory to factory, solving puzzles and enjoying the art. The story presents itself through the levels and some dialogue in between stages. More about that on Side B. There are some hidden collectibles in the forms of Lenses, which I still don't know the point they serve. The puzzles themselves, while enjoyable are very easy. I beat the game in about two hours and replayed the game to find the lenses, which took me about an extra hour. Not a huge gripe but I wish a little bit more complexity was involved in the puzzles to give the a game a bit more length. It's a very short game but it packs a punch. The puzzles usually consist of moving some objects or pressing buttons. Nothing that will make your brain bleed.

Sound design and music are used quite effectively especially at the end. The ending scene of this game is miraculous and the music just elevates it further.

There is one particular scene that I will just call "orientation" where voice work, visuals, and sound effects all come into this perfect storm of creepy. That is what I loved most about this title, it was always one note away from beautiful, scary, and captivating.

Sadly, there isn't much to speak of in the way of replay, its a play it and leave it type of game. Like I said before, at two to three hours at the most of gameplay, the experience is short. It's something to keep in mind as you make your purchase at $11.99. This is probably the one thing that holds this game back. This is a bite sized experience in visuals, with great atmosphere and art. There are also a couple minor hiccups in the way the camera's controlled in the 360 degree areas. Other than that, no bugs or glaring issues.

I will say that I haven't ever played a game quite like Small Radios Big Televisions. It is innovative and does things in its own unique way for better or worse. I think these types of games definitely deserve our support. Personal kudos to the Developer and Publisher for this game

Moving on to Side B.

Simply put, this game has no actual story. The entire game is stringing you along with scraps of information but never gives any actual answers. The why, how, when, who, are never set in stone and even at the end, you're unsure of what really transpired. I think the developer is being sneaky is for a sole purpose. To get you thinking and come up with your own answer.

Even the dialogue between stages is rather vague as you're listening to two people speaking about some sorts of events. What those are, is never made clear. In the same room as the two people, are the lenses you have been collecting, which are magnifying light into one of the games keys. This is never explained and puts the games timeline in question as to when everything occurred.

Don't get me wrong, there are some things that are made clear but I feel like these are all red herrings. Fact is that these tapes drove their users mad eventually to the point of suicide. The tapes were made to hide from some sort of horrible truth that they couldn't accept.

Another fact is that these were being made for global use. The last factory shows hundreds, if not thousands, of tapes being made for a large amount of people. However, most of them are still in production and never seemed to reach the outside world.

Last but not least, let's not forget the end. On top of the final factory is a device that seemingly recreates earth and all its beauty and glory, using a mixture of all the cassette tapes. So how can they all be so bad, but be used to help in this miracle? This just doesn't add up. Perhaps a new reality was created or our protagonist finally faced the horrible truth which wasn't all that bad after all.

One point of interest is the tape labeled "Alpha" which once loaded shows absolutely nothing but a black blob that has no shape or definition. If you've read the book of the Bible, Genesis, the universe is described  "The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep." Digging deeper into this, The word Alpha is used to describe the beginning and Omega the end. If this was intentional, I have no idea, but it is interesting to say the least.

My point is that this game aims to make you think about philosophy, technology, religion, and beauty. It accomplishes this in every regard.

Maybe I am looking to deeply into the game.

You decide and check the game out for yourself.

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