Author: John Legendoffzelda
Released in video arcades back in 1990, the satirical and gory gun-fest Smash TV only wished it could adequately contribute to the decline of western civilization. Superficially grafting the bad-future aesthetic of The Running Man onto the design of Robotron 2084, the game presented monotonous and static action supposedly made relevant by the scary notion that we enjoy brutally demeaning one another. What this game wasn’t anticipating is that the vaguely Hobbesian view of society its entertainment value relies on has since quieted down in popular culture; two decades of social progress have helped us learn how nonsensically downbeat the thought is, and the creative works built around the theme have grown stale. With Super Smash TV, Acclaim and Beam Software port the exact same game to the Super Nintendo, changing nothing except for a trendy “Super” in the title and perhaps a token RoboCop reference included. It’s no stretch to say this title has aged just as badly.
The year is 1999, and from what we can tell the world isn’t a fun place to live. All the regular parts of society may still exist, but the story here is concerned with television, where the “more violent nature of man” is now highly prevalent and the game show is the most popular type of program. One show rules over all others, and it isn’t Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? – it’s Smash TV, the competition where one contestant shoots countless other people and blows up robots to win cash and prizes. In each show, the contestant (or contestants, in two-player mode) is ushered through several mazes of metallic rooms, where from the four doors in each room emerge waves and waves of enemies. At random times, prizes appear in each room; cash, bars of gold and silver, and cartoon presents that contain cars, luxury appliances, and more. Provided that the contestant proves their mettle and survives each maze, up to and including the monstrous bosses in the final rooms, those prizes are all theirs to keep.
The game arms the player’s character with a meager gun that fires tiny bullets. The four face buttons on the controller determine the direction that the gun is pointing: A fires right, X fires up and so on. It’s a simple mechanic, one that works well with the Super Nintendo’s controller design and one that’s constantly countered by everything that happens when the weapon is put into action. When entering every new room, the player starts shooting from the center, and the enemies who pour into the room hold the advantage of overwhelming them. The advantage works, due to the enemies’ erratic patterns of movement (their priority is apparently cornering the contestant) and from the sheer quantity of them flooding the room. While this strategy is acted out by the mooks, additional nuisances come to worsen the situation, including tanks and certain enemies that march around and blow up into damaging fragments. Firing in a single direction at a time manages parts of these situations, but it keeps giving the player a blind spot for enemies to enter and attack; all of the action keeps highlighting that one weakness.
That’s nowhere near as bad, though, as what happens when an enemy successfully dies. Considering all that THQ has done, it isn’t right to say Acclaim games had the worst game feel of the fourth generation, but this game makes a stunning case for the thought. The way this game is designed, every moment of action takes place in a confined square. As the player uses his weapon to defend himself and the enemies are defeated, the effect is so light it’s unnoticeable. There’s nothing special to get out of killing bad guys; robots explode into balls of fire and the human mooks explode into clouds of blood, but there’s no input to these results, no enjoyment. Going through this over and over again makes the game a bore, and the added ability to use secondary weapons like shields and rocket launchers makes the action worse; at that point, the carnage feels as invigorating as ripping apart a wet newspaper.
The top-down view continues to remove any enjoyment by making the game look small and ugly. The character models and explosions are grainy, while the stages have interchangeable patterns and are marked with gaudy colors and hideous flashing rainbow text. The music adds to this by being so deprived of personality, it could have come from a real game show. The bosses, giant tanks for the most part, bring some necessity to using the secondary weapons, but that’s because they’re the most boring parts of the game: they’re usually only vulnerable to those weapons, they hog the room, and they take a ridiculous amount of time to beat. Collecting the cash and prizes off of the floor holds the same kind of non-existent “thrill”, even if the protective shields make getting to them much easier – their connotation as anything valuable or gratifying dissipates in relation to the effortlessness of acquiring them. It’s almost like watching someone else win those things on TV. Super Smash TV is such a large, soggy bowl of Saturday-morning breakfast cereal. The only result anyone could get from it is that in its monotony, it accidentally enhances the moral about how selling ultraviolence with an impersonal game-show grin is wrong. No one could support a sensation this dull.
Even with its status as an early Super Nintendo title, there were far superior arcade ports around its time, such as U.N. Squadron and Street Fighter II, and also better two-player experiences such as Super Tennis. Compared to those games, Super Smash TV deserves the axe.
Two out of five stars.
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