It is rare that you go into any experience without any prior knowledge. In the age of Google, YouTube, and Facebook almost anything you could possibly want to know is right at your fingertips. Without it being my actual intention, I have had major twist in Pokemon, Final Fantasy XV, and Titanfall 2 spoiled for me. It happens. That’s part of what made Small Radios Big Televisions so special for me. A fresh start.
Being developed by Adult Swim Games, I expected a certain level of utter insanity. Seeing as the channel has changed drastically from when I was a child I figured that this game would be filled with a unobtainable level of craziness. What I got was a well grounded experience with a story that managed to keep me involved in the world around me.
My first impressions were that of Fez. The game world could be rotated and I needed to go through the areas and solve puzzles in order to proceed. Puzzles presented themselves in a smaller form before being used in a grander scenario later on. The game is point and click until the very end where it gives you the freedom to move around in first person. This startled me the most as the game has Portal-style hints of impending doom.
Within Small Radios Big Televisions you find tapes that show several random areas. Stuff like snow, roads, and trains. When you put in a tape you are transported to what feels like a pocket universe that holds that specific moment in time. It is both beautiful and haunting to watch the moment play on repeat. Within the tapes you are looking for green orbs that allow you to unlock doors and progress in the levels.
The story unfolds in the background of the puzzle solving and between the levels. Much like Inside by Playdead, the actual story is up for grabs. Nothing is plainly stated in the 2 hours of gameplay and the main plot is only ever addressed in conversations between your character and an unknown second party. From the outside, it seems like a quest of self discovery.
The tapes seems to hold segments of the past that are lost to the player now. However, the tapes and the games ending can be taken in multiple directions. I wasn’t left scratching my head like I was with Inside but it did take me several minutes and a couple of conversations to try to figure out what I just witnessed.
The game shoots for a more stylized approach which only servers to help the look and feel of the areas as the tapes get distorted. I kept waiting for something to come after me which never happened. That would be my only downside with the game. The levels feature a sense of foreboding and warning that never gets resolved in the end. Several messages on the walls of the levels speak to the danger of the tapes, to not trust the tapes, or to not tamper with the tapes and yet nothing happens out of the established ordinary. I kept waiting to run across something that would give me nightmares for weeks but it never happened. It was a minor yet missed opportunity.
Small Radios Big Televisions isn’t game of the year material. It probably won’t win an awards for art direction or sound design or anything like that. It won’t change your life or even the way you feel about story telling, however that doesn’t stop it from being an amazing experience. What Small Radios Big Televisions does beautifully is wrap you in a world that is left open to interpretation. It lets you rack your own brain with ideas. It makes you ponder about the smallest detains. And, if my theory is true, it gives you hope for the future of that world.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.