After expanding from mobile to PC over the past few years, Adult Swim Games finally made the jump to consoles earlier in 2016 with DoubleFine’s strange but enjoyable Headlander. Now its second release has arrived in the form of Small Radios Big Televisions, a serene puzzler that further suggests the direction of the fledgling platform publisher will be a quirky one.
With the exception of a brief sequence late in the game your interaction with the world is limited to pointing, clicking and dragging. Obviously that lends itself to play with a mouse; still, using a controller is generally fine. Sure, you might accidentally click on a door instead of a switch or miss grabbing an object on your first try, but it only ever results in a handful of lost seconds.
Presentation is a big part of Small Radios with its stylized visuals (the uniqueness of which led to me wanting to review the game). Each of the four factories has an interesting layout with hints sprinkled in to try and flesh out a story that’s largely left to interpretation. There’s also a nice mix of colors and blocky architecture on the respective exteriors.
While ambient sound is sparse — you are viewing abandoned structures after all — the soundtrack is nicely done. It relies largely on mellow, electronic synth to produce something akin to what you might find on a relaxation CD (or cassette) to play whilst soaking in the tub. These songs are accompanied by themed visuals; for example, a forest or a mountain.
In terms of a story, Small Radios Big Televisions sort of tosses out tidbits and ideas, but it keeps things vague for the duration. You can unlock some dialogue between unseen entities upon completing a factory, provided you locate a hidden lens to reactivate a machine, but that’s hazy, too. It seems to center on humanity retreating away from reality, but don’t quote me on that.
Your interaction with the world is limited to a 2D view of a room. Objects you can manipulate will have a white outline when you hover over them with the cursor. Clicking on a door sends you through it, doing so on a lever will flip positions and so on. It’s really basic stuff, and your goal is to complete all the puzzles in a given area before moving on to the next.
To do that you’re going to need to track down cassette tapes, each of which transports you to some kind of virtual world when played. Within that world is a gem of some kind that must be acquired and then used to power a door, allowing further progress within each factory.
Initially, the tapes display a scene based on its one-word description (for example, TUNDRA or COAST), but the object you need isn’t necessarily embedded in there. As fate would have it, each factory has some kind of magnetic scrubber, and when you use the tapes on it a second, much more alien version of the location can be visited.
Although this may sound abstract, the mechanics of actually solving the puzzles and exploring the factories is pretty straightforward. Completing one piece of a location may allow you to rotate the exterior, exposing more doors and areas to explore. They’re of a decent size, but there are just four along with a final location that’s decidedly easier to complete than the preceding ones.
With so few locales and limited challenge, Small Radios Big Televisions can be completed rather quickly. Even factoring in the time it took to figure out what I was trying to do when I first booted up I rolled credits in around two hours — maybe you could edge up toward three if you stumbled about, but with minimal replay value its $11.99 price point feels a bit high.
Small Radios Big Televisions has a clean, retro look and a calm soundscape, but its brevity and lack of viable challenge figure to limit its appeal.