Video games are amazing things. Given the chance, a developer can craft a meaningful world, bestow digital souls onto its inhabitants, and then invite players to a place that feels real. It’s a magical thing, and anyone who has ever spent a late night glued to their television or monitor could tell you that. Small Radios Big Televisions isn’t concerned with that feeling. Instead, the debut release from Fire Face Corporation seems crafted from an outsider’s perspective on our hobby. The game’s cassettes offer brief glimpses into virtual landscapes, but the lack of interaction with those worlds really showcase how the game misses any deeper meaning it was trying to express.
The world of Small Radios Big Televisions is a post-apocalyptic landscape dotted with an endless array of factories. The population lives and works in these metal prisons, only getting a brief respite from their lives by diving into digital reminders of what nature used to look like before the industrial takeover. That’s about as much hard narrative as the game has to offer, and most of that is either inferred by the player or spelled out more explicitly in promo materials. Players are instead mostly left to their devices, aimlessly wandering from room to room taking in the trippy visuals and repetitive soundtrack.
Being best described as an adventure game, Small Radios tasks players with little more than pointing and clicking their way through environments and seeing what there is to see. Generally, games with this type of exploration (like Proteus or The Stanley Parable) are done from a first person perspective. Here, despite the player having no player character on screen, the action in the factories is all done from a 2D side-scrolling perspective, with players popping in and out of doors. It makes me as a player question whether I’m in this world or not. Sometimes I can grab far off objects without a problem even if they’re over a gap, and sometimes I have to solve a puzzle in order to build a bridge to cross, even if I’m looking at the screen from the side. It’s disorienting.
As mentioned, there are a collection of tiny puzzles to solve as you make your way through the factories, and these can range from the simplistic to the esoteric pretty much at random. In particular, a group of puzzles that had me spinning valves was solved by basic brute force, as any attempts to logic them out were met with no feedback. Other than that, the only real obstacles in your path are locked doors that can only be opened with green polyhedrons that can be acquired in the virtual landscapes.
Speaking of, the digital dreamscapes that you access through analog means should be the real meat of the game. Exploring the unexpected and the weird is a favorite pastime for narrative games like this, but the worlds of Small Radios are disappointingly mundane. Instead of getting to explore these landscape, each one plays out as a looping diorama with only the bare minimum of automated player movement. You simply chill in these areas for the seconds it requires to see everything, find the barely hidden key for the next door, and move on.
Of course, there is a bit more to it than that. You can find magnetic strips throughout the factory that will distort the cassette tapes, and that in turn changes the dreamscapes you can enter and reveals another key to collect. I expected these distorted worlds to inspire some sort of fear, or at the very least be trippy enough to enjoy on a meditative level. Instead, it was mostly just a dark palette swap of what was there before with a few things overturned. The soundtrack might change a bit between visits, but the music throughout the game is so minimalistic that it barely registered.
Overall, my time with the game made me feel as if I was required to partake in a questionable substance or two before diving in. Beyond the pretty colors and a few interesting ideas, the entire one to two hour experience feels lacking in any form of substance. There is nothing here that is challenging, the landscapes are barely interactive, and the graphics are alright, but nothing special. If you would have told me that this was a sequel to Mountain, I would have believed you.
It is very clear that the developers want players to bring their own interpretation to the proceedings, and everything I got from the game pointed me towards a confusion and rejection of the virtual. There is talk that diving into the tapes is addictive, and the people populating the factories were drawn in and captured by that reality. There seems to be a rejection of escape, a foreboding look at what happens to the real world when it’s left behind for virtual pastures. That might be an interesting story to tell, but Small Radios Big Televisions fails to find meaning in making that story interactive, or really understand the value of interactivity in games at all.
Small Radios Big Televisions has trippy visuals and an interesting premise but fails to accomplish anything meaningful as an interactive experience. Add that to its ephemeral nature, and it's unfortunate just how forgettable this adventure can be.
- Great Premise
- Enjoyable Visuals
- Lack of Meaningful Interactions
- Confusing Puzzle Sections
- Game Lasts Less Than Two Hours