Platforms PC (reviewed), PS4
Developer Fire Face Corporation
Publisher Adult Swim Games
Release Date November 8, 2016

Review code provided

Small Radios Big Televisions is a game that almost escapes description. It’s a world of abandoned factories and virtual realities, uncovered by the collection and manipulation of cassette tapes. It’s a point-and-click adventure game where players must find these tapes and explore these worlds to uncover the secrets hidden within them, using those secrets to make progress back in the “real world” and reveal a narrative and series of events that is incredibly perplexing.

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This is a weird video game from start to finish. You’re dropped off with a view of an oil rig and no clear idea of where you’re supposed to go or what you’re supposed to accomplish. You can enter doors and explore the abandoned environment, solving light puzzles until you come across your first tape. Picking it up transports you to another world where you’ll find a green gem, which is used for activating locked doors back on the oil rig.

Small Radios Big Televisions essentially follows this gameplay loop for a couple of hours until the credits roll. To keep exploring you’ll need to find more tapes and the gems concealed within. Sometimes you’ll need to run your tapes through magnets scattered throughout each of the levels, distorting the worlds within and changing them enough to reveal a gem that was previously hidden within.

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This is not a stressful game, nor is it particularly difficult to progress through. Small Radios Big Televisions is a calming stroll through some abandoned factories and strange virtual worlds found embedded on cassette tapes. Progress is based around solving puzzles, but the puzzles are rudimentary, almost being entirely superfluous to the overall experience. Any puzzles that caused me to flex my brain only kept me thinking for a few seconds at most before the solution became apparent.

There are some neat twists in the actual puzzles themselves, with each new level offering a different type of puzzle to solve. The first merely revolves around opening doors with gems, while later levels will present you with mechanical contraptions powered by gears, logic puzzles involving water and using light to manipulate overgrown vines. If you’re after a testing puzzler, Small Radios Big Televisions won’t live up to your expectations. It’s fun enough to play through and the lack of challenge keeps the game moving at a lively pace, but I feel like the puzzles could have been so much more.

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What the game does nail is its relaxing atmosphere. There’s an interesting narrative thread to follow as you travel between the game’s varied environments. Environmental storytelling mixes with a minimalist narrative told through the collection of special lenses hidden throughout levels. Each level contains one, which you can plug into a laser machine between levels to hear a distorted conversation musing on the apparent predicament Small Radios Big Television’s world finds itself facing.

It’s massively open to interpretation, leaving as much of its as narrative open-ended as it could possibly get away with while still being a legitimate story. There are many questions still unresolved by the time the credits begin to roll (all of them, actually). But through incidental details in the environment and the exposition delivered through these distorted conversations, there’s enough information presented to players to form hypotheses of their own as to what’s actually going on.

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Not that I could really tell you what was going on for most of my 2 hours with the game. It’s a weird, mind bending experience, a lot of which comes down to these virtual reality cassette tapes you’ll be delving in and out of as you play. For the most part, these tapes will have you visiting places such as “Ice” or “Tundra” – in their vanilla state they’re exactly that. It’s almost oddly relaxing to visit these strange, new worlds and try to see if you can spot the telltale glow of a precious green gem hidden within.

Things take a turn into the bizarre as you begin to magnetise the tapes. You’ll need to do this to find all the gems necessary for progress, with the act of doing so changing and distorting the world you were familiar with. These once calming environments suddenly take on an almost creepy dimension as their colours become inverted, their landscapes become broken apart and even the music becomes distorted. It’s not full scale horror by any stretch of the imagination, but revisiting these changed vistas triggers the feeling that something just isn’t right

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This is a feeling that gnaws at the back of your mind throughout the entire game. Greatly helping the atmosphere along is the very stylistic art and the subtly deployed background music. Both help sell the entire experience, grounding you in the colourful if semi-realistic settings of the abandoned factories you’ll visit. I loved the way both visuals and soundtrack enhanced the experience, though I can’t help but look across at my PSVR headset and wonder what if.


Summary

Small Radios Big Televisions is a decent narrative experience. It’s centered around being a relaxing time with a thought-provoking narrative that’s open to interpretation. It’s puzzles will never really stand in the way of your progress, with only a small handful keeping me rooted to the spot for longer than 30 seconds, but the atmosphere makes up for the lack of challenge. Dipping in and out of the virtual worlds offered by the cassette tapes, particularly after you twist and distort them with magnets, is a fascinating experience that adds a slight sense of unease to the game. 

7


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