by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
Small game, big aspirations
Small Radios Big Televisions is a game which doesn’t give much away with its title. In fact, even after you’ve started playing it’ll be a while until you figure out what’s going on, and what the game is all about. Perhaps even after you’ve finished it, you’ll be left wondering if there’s anything you missed, or just how deep the subtle and thought provoking story goes. Small Radios Big Televisions is an adventure / puzzle game, and even though it’s a short experience, it will certainly get you thinking.
The basic gameplay loop has you looking at a room from a “fourth wall” perspective, and clicking on doors to progress through an array of varied locations. Some doors you’ll need a special object to open, while others might have you solving a puzzle to get through. You’ll never see the character you’re playing as, and in fact you’ll never see another living soul throughout the game, but you will hear dialogue playing through radios in between each level. They speak in cryptic tones about a world where people can become addicted to the virtual worlds inside a headset. Sound familiar?
You’ll be finding tapes scattered throughout the real world, and these will transport you to a virtual world where you’re able to look around and lightly manipulate some of the environments. It’s in these worlds where you’ll find the objects needed to open some doors, however some of the tapes are apparently bereft of what you need. That is until you apply the tapes to a strong magnet, which propaganda and instructions explicitly tell you not to do. After the magnet has been applied, the virtual world inside the tape becomes a distorted view of the original, and might unveil some new location or information, and most importantly, you’ll find the key to the next door.
Small areas, big time investment
This part of the gameplay is fine, it’s in the constant backtracking that Small Radios Big Televisions becomes bogged down. If you miss picking up an item or something required to progress through the next door, you’ll need to go back through doors to find it. Each level is a maze of corridors, rooms, and ladders, and all but the most skilled orienteer will become lost from time to time. There’s a map system, although it’s largely inscrutable and I ended up just clicking randomly through doors until I got to where I wanted than try and decipher the lines and squiggles of the map. A little indication of where you’re trying to get to wouldn’t go amiss, but perhaps getting lost in the mire of doors is somewhat analogous to the message the game is trying to portray.
As for the aesthetic, each of the areas you play through has a different look, but they each stay to the same sort of vibe. These places have been abandoned, trashed in some places, and even in some places nature has started to take them back. You’ll find messages, symbols, and drawings sprawled on the walls, some less subtle and more on the nose than others. Inside the virtual tape worlds things are more dreamlike, more idyllic, which is part of the reason why people have started trying to stay inside these worlds for so long. But when the tapes are subjected to magnets, things become a little scarier, a little less pleasant.
Small scope, big twist
Small Radios Big Televisions is a game mostly about clicking on doors, although you will start to come up against more complex puzzles as the game goes on. There’s also a major twist right at the end of the game which won’t be spoiled here, but it certainly shakes things up a bit for a brief moment. You’ll be easily able to finish the game in a single sitting if you want to, but the levels are segmented enough so that you can take a break without losing track of where you were.
It’s a game which you’ll enjoy clicking around in for a few hours, although when it comes to the story, you might be left with more questions than answers. You won’t get much satisfaction from solving the puzzles, but the look and general feel of the game might be worth your attention, particularly if you’re a fan of surrealism. It’s certainly not for everyone, but there is certainly an audience out there for Small Radios Big Televisions.
Great look and feel, intriguing story
Repetitive despite its brevity, easy to get lost in the maze of doorways