Small Radios Big Televisions has the look of a Fez lovechild. Each level is made up with a single structure living in a 3D space, with doors leading to a series of rooms of varying size and complexity. By rights, exploring these structures functions an awful lot like a side scrolling platformer, though you move from room to room and interact with objects using an on screen cursor that is more finicky than it needs to be. The ultimate goal of each level is to reach the end of the structure, which is achieved through bypassing locked doors and advancing through puzzle rooms. The keys needed for secured passages reveal the game’s interesting hook: Found in every level are a series of cassette tapes that, when placed into a Walkman-like device, teleports you to idyllic, serene worlds.
Green keys are tucked away in the cassette tapes, with some requirng a pass across a magnet to reveal its location. This has the side effect of severely distorting the image originally placed on the tape. What were once picturesque landscapes of mountains or a simulated relaxing drive in the country, turns into an acid fueled freak out. As such, I can’t help but wonder if this is the game to help celebrate California’s impending marijuana legalization. Most cassette tapes are easily found in various rooms in any given level. Some, however, require working through elementary puzzles in order to gain access. Here lies the major fault with Small Radios: it’s way too easy. The puzzles are hardly taxing and never go beyond simple light switch and cog-based designs. The lack of any discernible challenges and the necessity of having to backtrack through rooms to move forward results in mindless tedium.
Small Radios has a story, but at no point did I get the impression that it was interested to tell it. There are interludes in between each level stage where you’ll hear a conversation between two unknown individuals discussing the nature of the world around them and the function of the cassette tapes. In-game, environmental graffiti and other wall scribblings flesh the story out a bit further but nothing really goes anywhere - like Portal without its second act. Were there something to create urgency and drive, I might have been more interested. From a visual and sound design point of view, Small Radios is certainly cool. It’s an appealing amalgamation of Fez's three dimensional artwork with the eerie sound work of Suda51’s Killer7. An odd mix, but it works.
Small Radios Big Televisions is an interesting project and those keen on trying it out should either wait for the game to go on sale or watch a Let’s Play on YouTube. With no real challenges to test your mettle and a game length of just under two hours, it doesn’t come with much staying power. It might be more fun as a VR game, given the premise and the places the cassette tapes reveal. Either way, there is little more to the game outside of it being a “Hey, check this out” experience.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.