Small Radios Big Televisions, from Canadian developer Fireface, and publisher Adult Swim, is a minimalist puzzle game with a big message and amazing synth soundtrack. Players are instantly thrust into a small dollhouse-like side view of an abandoned factory. It reminded me of those photos of real life cityscapes made to look like toys at first glance. Right away I knew I was in for a different gaming experience. SRBT is, if nothing else, very unique.
Small Radios Big Televisions is not for the standard gamer. It relies on the player to be smart enough to solve the puzzles and open up the linear paths at each factory. There are hints but they are few and vague at times. Gameplay is not explained, but players will see a hexagon indicator they can control with their left stick. This indicator has some odd feedback at times and can even make things hard to select or see, as the focus adjusts based on its location. This is one of the quirks of SRBT I found irritating.
Players use the indicator to select doors mainly, moving from room to room in the factory. There is a map available, but I did not find it much help, to be honest. As you move along exploring these abandoned rooms that open up and close, like looking through the fourth wall of that Castle Greyskull you had as kid, players encounter all sorts of scenes that tell a story if you pay attention. There are puzzles that include adjusting gears and knobs, but I found them mostly frustrating and/or boring.
Players will come across old cassette tapes. These can be played to whisk the player away to various scenes. These scenes will contain green gems used as keys to open doors and progress further into the factory, so keep an eye out for that green glow. These tapes can also be thrown into magnetic machines found through the factories that will magnetize the tapes so that when played again, they reveal a twisted and off-sync version, where you can sometimes find another key.
Using this combination of finding the tapes for keys, then finding the magnets, players will reveal a small part of the story of these missing people and see some very neat visual effects. The minimalist approach to the graphics is so unique. I really liked the different design themes for each factory. The story, as it progresses, is in a way a sad mirror of our current world. Make sure to pay attention to the cut scenes.
The soundtrack for Small Radios Big Televisions is phenomenal. It’s all synth and goes well with the minimalist design. I would say it is my favorite aspect of the game. There are very good ambient sounds throughout the rooms and the magnetic warping effect when using tapes is so trippy. I wish they had done more of them, they really stood out to me.
There are two factors that I feel hinder me from giving this game the rave review I want to. The first is that it is so short. I was able to complete it in about two-and-a-half hours. The second is that at times I felt that Small Radios Big Televisions was trying too hard to be unique and artistic that it lost the game aspect. More time could have been spent making the puzzles more various and engaging, I feel.
If you are a fan of very unique indie games you will probably love SRBT. I hope many people are not put off by the price versus the time to complete, but If that is an issue for you, try to pick it up on a sale if at possible. Small Radios Big Televisions is a short but unforgettable gaming experience.
Small Radios Big Televisions is available now on Playstation 4 and Steam. This review is based on a copy provided for the PS4 for that purpose.