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Eugene Jarvis was involved with the design of many classic arcade games like Defender, Robotron 2084, the Cruis’n series, and Smash TV. I like arcade games but I usually wait until ports comes along to play them. And for this review, I played Smash TV from the Midway Arcade Origins collection for Xbox 360 which was released in 2012. The original arcade game was developed and published by Williams and released in 1990. Smash TV is a twin stick shooter that lets you blow away mass amounts of enemies for points and fabulous prizes.
From what I understand, Smash TV was inspired by films like RoboCop and The Running Man. Smash TV is a game show where contestants must shoot their way around arenas for prizes in front of a live studio audience. It’s kill or be killed. The game reminds me more of The Running Man than RoboCop but I know there’s at least one direct nod to the latter.
Smash TV supports up to two players. There’s two contestant characters to choose from and the goal is to survive each room. As a contestant, you’re equipped with an automatic weapon and must slaughter all of the enemies in a room to move onto the next. You can move around the rooms freely and shoot in eight directions. There are three arenas with multiple rooms, and each arena ends with a boss. There are different paths you can take which does add some replay value to the game.
Thankfully, this Midway Arcade Origins version allows you to play in a Free Play mode where you can select one of ten difficulties and how many lives you start with. There’s also a Score Attack mode which comes with achievements and lets you post your score to the leaderboard. In Free Play, you always have the option to keep going after losing all your lives. That said, Smash TV is a crazy hard game and just feels borderline unfair. Even on the Easy difficulty or lower, the game can make short work of you. Although, you should expect a challenge since this an arcade game after all.
Killing enemies earns you points. As you run around blowing away the seemingly endless mobs, powerups and pickups will appear for a brief time. Powerups can include weapons that have a limited amount of ammo and abilities that last for a brief time like increased movement speed. There’s a shield thing that lets you kill foes by running into them and a bomb that will clear the room of enemies. Pickups include extra lives and items that add to your overall score like money, gold, and prizes. Some of the prizes are humorous like a 2600″ TV for example.
Smash TV is a repetitive game. Despite each arena having a different theme and some new enemy types, the goal of every room, minus certain bonus rooms, is the same. And the further you progress, the more challenging things get. Hordes of enemies will pour in from multiple directions constantly. Baddies with melee weapons, droids, tanks, and snakes are just some of the foes you’ll have to face. You’ll always be surrounded, and you’ll need to pay attention and have quick reaction times to survive. Enemies can move faster than you and it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. Every time a powerup appears, you’ll want to go for it but depending on where they spawn, it may not be easy to get to them. Furthermore, you don’t have long before they disappear. A mistake almost always results in death. I actually found the boss battles to be easier than the rest of the game.
Most of the rooms are square with four doors. Not only will you have to avoid enemies, bullets, and lasers, but also the mines on the ground. Nowhere is safe in Smash TV. If you stay near the walls, there’s a good chance you’ll die from enemies coming in from doorways. Different paths take you to different rooms including bonus rooms like rooms full of prizes. There are keys to collect throughout the game and if you collect enough, a special door will open and take you to the Outer Pleasure Dome Area which is full of showgirls.
Smash TV is a colorful game but I do wish there was bit more visual variety in terms of the arenas. Characters, enemies, and projectiles are clearly visible so it’s always easy to see what’s going on. As you move between rooms you’ll see camermen and people behind workstations in the backgrounds which I think is a nice touch. It just reminds you that this whole thing is a game show. Many enemies will blow up but some explode into a shower of body parts when killed. Bosses are huge and well designed and show more and more visible damage as you shoot them and chip away their health. The music is upbeat, gunfire and explosions sound good, you’ll hear the audience cheering, and the host will appear every so often to make an announcement. On the technical side, I witnessed the frame rate dip once or twice but most of the time, the game ran smooth and I encountered no major issues.
Despite Smash TV feeling cheap and almost impossible to beat without losing all your lives, and being a repetitive game, I love it. I love this game. In fact, it’s one of my favorite arcade games. I love the whole over-the-top violent game show thing. I would put Smash TV in the ultra violent category like Narc that came before it. Granted, these games are dated now but were pretty violent for their time. In Smash TV, you’re literally rewarded for killing everything in sight. It’s action-packed, absurd, and humorous. I would say this particular version of the game, from Midway Arcade Origins, is the way to go unless you own the arcade cabinet.
I don’t know if I would recommend anyone actually play this in an arcade with the intent of beating it unless you don’t mind losing a good chunk of change but if you’re just looking for some fun, then maybe. But even then I would recommend the version from the Midway Arcade Origins collection. It plays well and you won’t lose any pocket change. You can even enjoy it on Xbox One. Smash TV is a fun, violent, humorous, and crazy hard twin stick shooter that can be enjoyed solo or with a buddy. Definitely check it out.