An Analog Trip – Small Radios Big Televisions Review

Posted January 25, 2017 by Jeremy Winslow in Video Games

Developer: Fire Face Corporation

Publisher: Adult Swim Games

Release Date: November 8, 2016

Platforms: PC and PS4 (reviewed)

The act of being “held captive” by something is a customary idiom usually attributed to a positive experience. Examining the root of the word, captive — per Merriam-Webster — means either “taken and held as or as if a prisoner of war” or “being such involuntarily because of a situation that makes free choice or departure difficult.” In its most simplistic form, captive means “trapped like a rat,” to use another colloquial as explanation. Though the true definition of the word feels negative, captive can sometimes yield positive experiences. Because English is a funnily complex language, and both context and tone change the feel and definition of a word, captive can sometimes refer to its rather frilly opposite, something more akin to “charmed” or “enraptured” or “fascinated.”

Fire Face Corporation understands the teetering of emotions captive elicits and crafts a beautifully mesmerizing game about the oscillation between the analog and the digital; however, Small Radios Big Televisions is both compelling and disappointing in the same breadth, and this dissonance is palpable throughout its short runtime.


Developed by a two-person team, Small Radios Big Televisions is a point-and-click adventure-exploration game where you traverse abandoned facilities in search for low-polygonal green orbs to advance to the next abandoned facility. As rudimentary as the game sounds — and, frankly, it is — it’s the environments that are captivating. Colorful, simple, aesthetically pleasing, and perfect to use as desktop wallpapers (if you’re into low-poly, minimalistic art), Small Radios Big Televisions is more so an experience than it is a tactile game.

Though first-person, there is no tangible movement. Though there are controls, there is no depth. Though there are puzzles, they are not challenging. Rather, Small Radios Big Televisions professes a big ambition in a small package: pastoral trips to scenic areas using both aged and advanced technologies, cassette tapes and virtual reality headsets. On this front, it delivers extraordinarily.

As you’re clicking in and around the myriad isolated, uninhabited factories, you’ll come across cassette tapes, each marked with a word written in black sharpie. (Think hipsters and indie kids and star-crossed lovers passing mixtapes to one another, perhaps one of the tapes left behind in a basement hangout, discovered some hundreds of years later.) These cassette tapes are entered into the TD-525, a virtual-reality-cassette-player combo reminiscent of a walkman (remember those?), which then transports you to an immensely peaceful, utterly enthralling world where you’ll begin the search for the low-polygonal green orbs. This looking-into-a-snow-globe experience seeks to trap lightning in a bottle — and it does, if only for a fleeting moment.


While these picturesque environments never end until you find the orbs, you don’t exist in them; rather, you’re a bystander, haplessly watching as the world continues its course with or without your meddling. This realistic approach is at odds with the fantastical nature of the game: Small Radios Big Televisions seems to beg for you to take part in these bucolic worlds, but doesn’t want you to interrupt the flow.

This interpretation is a novel idea, except for the fact that just about every aspect of the game requires your interruption: entering a room, solving a puzzle by removing and placing cogs or turning valves, selecting a tape to transport into, warping a tape to enter the inverse of that world (the Upside Down, if you will), etc. Searching for, gathering, and using the orbs feels inexplicable, serving no purpose other than progressing to the next abandoned facility. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s a shame that simply being in these halcyon worlds isn’t the true focal point and feels more of a secondary implementation; Small Radios Big Televisions seems to say, “Here, visit these beautiful worlds, but you can’t stay long. And don’t forget the green orbs: you need to collect those to move forward.”

This disconnection between being and being is exacerbated once you finish the game. In a rather perplexing move, Small Radios Big Televisions doesn’t have a mode where you can revisit the worlds on their own. Upon completing the approximate two-hour clickfest, you can revisit any factory of your choosing to collect whatever remaining orbs, tapes, and various collectibles you missed — and that’s it. In order to revisit the worlds themselves, you have to select a factory with the tapes you’re captivated by — essentially, more clicking in this abundantly clicky affair. (Moreover, once a tape has been warped it’s warped and that’s it; it can’t be reverted back to normal.) Couple this with the frustrating cursor that slowly creeps back to center screen and the few unnecessarily exasperating puzzles and Small Radios Big Televisions can induce either a small headache or a big migraine, depending on your tolerance, patience, and aptitude for obtuse, unexplained puzzles.


Still, Fire Face Corporation — with accompanying publisher, Adult Swim Games — created beautiful vignettes within the analog, environments that are both comforting and magical. The sparse narrative alludes to a civilization that may have gone extinct many years ago. “They must have really grown attached to those places,” one of the disjointed voices proclaims. This attachment to the ephemeral worlds leaves an acerbic, lasting disappointment; being captivated by these worlds but having no ability to just exist in them is upsetting, as everyone needs a bit of respite from the mess one may be in. Sadly, that respite is as ephemeral as the trip to those ethereal worlds are. And that’s a shame.

About the Author

Jeremy Winslow

Just a word smithing, coffee loving, vinyl collecting, anime watching, film viewing, video game playing Black guy.