From Small Beginnings
Puzzle games are everywhere in our indie gaming scene now. If you go onto steam or any type of gaming store, you can find at least a dozen great story based puzzle games. So how does a game stands out in this landscape full of games? Most of the ideas should have been taken by now right? Wrong. Small Radios Big Televisions, turns this puzzle based point and click adventure game on its head. It may have some pacing issues and be really short, but it is a ton of fun to go through the levels and take the environmental storytelling for what it is, and that is amazing. The whole point of the game is to journey through abandoned buildings all the while collecting these tapes. These tapes send you to other worlds and allow you to see most of the beautiful world from the comfort of your own living room. Be prepared to enter the world with the likes you have never seen, this is Small Radios Big Televisions.
Small Radios Big Televisions is developed by Fire Face, a two person team; the game releases November 8th, 2016 on PS4 and Steam.
A picture is worth a thousand words
The old adage rings true in this game, every individual tape that you journey into with this world is a beautiful set piece that you get to see. The artwork here is absolutely impressive, it is vivid and feels like the most beautiful painting that you stepped into, at least at the beginning of the game. The game is divided off into five chapters, each chapter has different tapes in it and they all seem to focus on a sort of theme. These themes are tied together in many different ways, but they do get the message of the game across. Each time you pick up an individual tape you are transported into a different world. These worlds can be a tundra, a train or even the top of a mountain. Each area feels significantly different from the rest, but they are short moments. Each tape visit is only supposed to last about 10-30 seconds at most, so don't expect to get to journey around in these tapes for too long.
It is disappointing in that sense however, you do wish that some of these areas could be explored, but alas they can't and are only minor distractions from the main area that the specific chapter of the game takes place. These areas can be considered as a hub world, one area is a factory of sorts, another is a kind of workplace and then some that are even a little too abstract to explain their real purpose. These areas are pretty and as a whole sell the world and what it is full of, but the cassette tapes are where the real beauty lies in this game. As you journey through the hub world you will find up to three tapes per area and when you do you get transported into one of the vistas looking for little gems. These gems power up doors and don't seem to have a definite shape, they look like The Sims green cursors and are the main items you will be looking for in the game.
These hub areas have puzzles in them and almost all of them are dilapidated and broken down to a point that it seems like no life is present there. The biggest gameplay mechanic that changes up this presentation though is the magnets present throughout the game. When you come across a magnet the tapes are subject to it and wraps the film. When you journey back into the world everything changes. Colors change to purples and blacks, the tree that was once living is now dead or what was once nothing now has something there. Overall, this game has a great presentational focus and if it didn't it would be hard to recommend playing this game.
Tell me a story
The story in a game like this can make or break an experience. Tell too much and you risk giving away the story too early, tell too little and your audience gets bored or thinks you just released a game with no story or cohesive plot. Thankfully this game skirts the balance. There is no definitive answer to the stories questions, which is good because I believe that means many players will enjoy discussing what the ending means or what the story stands for. Overall, it's a story that is well designed, but maybe not as fleshed out as I would like it to be.
When you start the game you are given no introduction, no explanation or even any kind of plot device to push you forward. You simply are staring at the outside of a building with a white door on the outside, so you click on it and in you go. Most point and click adventure games try to get you invested within the first few minutes because you want to know why you are doing a puzzle, no such luck here, and to its betterment. With no explanation, you are expected to use the clues in the environment to understand more of what is going on. There are boxes stacked here, there are vines that have overgrown and blocking doors, the machines are going haywire. What does it all mean? This level of environmental storytelling is spectacular and only goes on to build up the presentation and the story into one cohesive monster.
After you finish each individual section of the game you are then transported to a mechanical section with a radio inside of a TV, at least what I assume is a TV. When you click on the radio two individuals will start to talk and discuss the world outside and what is going on with the cassette tapes and the players. These dialogues are extremely vague but do help to bring the story to the player. You won't feel like you have really learned anything until the very end credits of the game, but the overall plot was pretty easy to figure out, unfortunately. It's not revolutionary, but when you combine it with the level of detail put into the world itself, it does feel and seem fantastically realized.
Point and click adventure games are not unheard of in the console space, but they do tend to create a problem, especially when puzzles start to become involved. One of the best parts of this game is that they found a way to make it work, but it still has some problems. The reason it really works though is that these puzzles are easy. Laughably easy. No puzzle should stump you more than a few seconds, as most of them are as simple as move this here, or go back to a previous area and remove that item and bring it here. Not revolutionary puzzles here guys, just bare bones.
This ends up being okay, though, but some more difficult or enticing puzzles would have been a welcome addition. The reason I bring this up is the games length. I did everything, found what few collectibles there were, as well as unlocked all of the trophies in a matter of an hour and a half. It's short. Really short. Now that's okay, but it is worth mentioning. These easy puzzles will mean that you are just clicking from door to door, journeying on the inside of the hub worlds until you find your next cassette tape. Journey in there, get the gem, then come out, find a power supply, put a gem in, find a magnet, mess up a tape, then go back in find another gem. Rinse repeat, rinse repeat, and again rinse repeat. It's a boring gameplay mechanic that grows old by the time you get to the second area.
This would be okay if the puzzles were varied and there is one or two areas that start to show some promise for puzzle diversity, but alas it quickly dissipates once you get out of that area and discover that those puzzles were temporary and they are never built upon. The last thing I would like to point out about the gameplay is the way the cursor works on PS4. It's awful. The left stick moves the cursor around, but when you get to the edge it starts to move the camera as well. When it does this it actually makes the edges of the screen distort a little and makes parts of the game not so attractive. I watched some footage on PC and it looked similar, but seemed to be a little better because you could move quickly to what you wanted to click on.
There is also some weird dead spaces in the corners, meaning you can't actually get your cursor to them. I would have much rather preferred for it to have a more 2D art style in the rooms so that I could easily hover over certain things instead of my cursor suddenly moving too far. When the camera would get too close to an edge it would distort the image so a lot of world detail got lost on me, because I could not make it out due to the camera angle. The worse part of this is that your inventory is on the bottom of the screen, so when you go to open a door on the bottom of the screen many times it will think you are going for the inventory making the door inaccessible. A nice menu to pick the item would have been a nice addition to have in those moments. Overall the gameplay is just kind of meh. It's not bad, it's not good either. It is just too simple for its own good.
Small Radios Big Televisions isn't a game that will stick with me in my mind. Its story is inviting and has a simple enough premise, but not enough of a reason to stay in it. The hour and a half game won't change the way you view puzzle games or even your life. It is a good game, it just needed some more game in the game itself. It has some minor gameplay issues, but the biggest affront is the ease of the puzzles in a point-and-click adventure game. When I got to the end of the game I was floored at how quickly I had gone through the game, and I hadn't even had to stop to consider any of the puzzles, they were all too simple. Fortunately, the presentation shines through in this game, though. I will not be forgetting the flooded portions of the game or even the abandoned orientation station portion of the game anytime soon, and the story definitely has something there that I can't wait to hear what other gamers think of it because it is worth having a discussion about.
So please leave a comment down below and tell me what you thought about this review or even what you thought about Small Radios Big Televisions because it is a game worth having a conversation about.
|+ Excellent environmental storytelling||– Easy puzzles|
|+ Story is strong and thought-provoking at times||– Story is a little too abstract in the beginning|
|+ All cassette tapes feel unique and worth your time||– Game is too short|
|– Minor gameplay issues|
|– Needed more game, less abstract ideas|