Despite this review's subheading, Small Radios Big Televisions is not a VR game – at least, not in regular terms. Indeed, it's your in-game self that dons a headset in Adult Swim's exploration puzzler as you make your way through the empty halls of abandoned facilities. Quite why this is the case is very much a mystery, and while the story is rather thin on the ground, part of the game's pull is its intriguing premise.
Gameplay is almost entirely restricted to pointing and clicking through the myriad doors within each location, your main objective simply to unlock the path ahead. The indoor environments are all relatively similar, but they have just enough unique flair to differentiate. The complexity of the interiors increases with each cleared building, naturally, although none of the five levels left us truly stumped. Puzzles are primarily of the key and door variety, and are where the cassette tapes found throughout the levels come into play.
Your head gear is capable of transporting you to various virtual worlds, but it makes use of these tapes to do so. There are three in each building, passports to virtual dioramas. These areas, again, offer very limited interactivity, allowing you to pan around in search of green gems that act as keys for the bulky, locked doors. The virtual spaces offer a wide variety of places to look around; some natural, such as a forest or a mountain range, and some more abstract, such as the flying shapes found in the 'Alpha' or 'Beta' tapes.
Some of the tapes won't initially contain a key, however, and require deeper exploration. Exposing your collection to a magnetic field distorts the worlds, which can be viewed again. Doing this is essential for uncovering enough keys to progress, but it's interesting to see the straightforward landscapes all warped, glitchy, and discoloured. The rough and ready graphics, in a way, reinforce SRBT's retro sci-fi presentation, and emphasise the trippy creepiness of entering the stuttering worlds found on this analogue medium.
The tapes are not the only things to keep an eye out for. Tucked away in each level is a lens, its use not becoming apparent until you've cleared the level and entered the story segment in between. The dialogue is initially extremely fuzzy, but finding the lenses and placing them in their respective stands appears to clear things up. As we said, however, the story is told with hesitance, never quite giving you enough information in these between-levels exchanges to get a confident grasp of what exactly has happened.
Sadly, this is not our main issue. Controlling your cursor feels incredibly elastic; it always wants to recentre and will only travel so far. Everything in between is imprecise, leading to some frustration when trying to complete certain puzzles or even just selecting a particular door. Speaking of puzzles, they're not very challenging, and never really change or evolve. There's plenty of potential for more elaborate puzzles, especially considering the virtual worlds slant, but as we say, no such changes occur.
To the game's credit, we were very much engrossed for the duration, and this was mainly thanks to the mysterious, eerie atmosphere. The vivid colours found within the tapes contrasted with the grey, decrepit facilities we were exploring, and the soundtrack was simple yet effective, ambient and abstruse in equal measure.
While very short and suffering from some control issues, Small Radios Big Televisions mostly succeeds in delivering a fun, bizarre adventure game. Its presentation is its greatest strength, offering moments of tranquility and also of total obscurity. It's a shame that the puzzles never grow beyond their initial design, as the premise practically begs to be expanded upon. Hopefully a more fleshed out sequel can introduce some new ideas, as there's the core of a good game here. It's just not quite long enough or varied enough, so you may want to rewind your expectations before pressing play.