Best Games - Smash TV
Did you know that The Godfather wasn’t the first gangster movie? There were a lot of them. Like really, a lot. All sorts. Funny ones, scary ones, true ones, boring ones. All the types of gangster movie. The Godfather is still one of the best. “How can that be?” you might ask. How could there be so many of the same type of movie, and one of them is somehow better than almost all of the others. Except Goodfellas. Goodfellas is better.
The Godfather and Goodfellas were built on a legacy of similar films and stories. They used all of the same ingredients, but those movies mixed them in a more successful way. It’s success through iteration. Movies aren’t usually very good at that. Games though, games are rooted in iteration. The only way to make a game is to iterate, and the only way to make a better game is to iterate more.
Movie sequels and remakes tend to be worse than the originals, but games follow the opposite trend. Every subsequent version and revision tends to be better than the last. Every sequel improves. Even games that aren’t direct follow ups to previous works can benefit from past innovations and build on them.
Smash TV is spawned from Robotron 2084, Berserk, and Space Dungeon. All decent games in their own right, but Smash TV combines all of those same ingredients into something outstanding.
Borrowing not only from other games, but also prominent action satire movies of the same era like Robocop and The Running Man makes Smash TV a surreal and nightmarish affair. With no real story, except what is delivered through the environment and set dressing, the player is left wondering what awful events could possibly have transpired to result in this game. Two shirtless men gleefully enter televised arenas and battle hordes of bald clones armed with 2x4s, laser firing robots, snake people, and enormous armoured mutants, for VCRs, luggage, and meat.
None of that really matters, since the gameplay is so sharp, difficult, and relentless, that most players won’t notice a lot of the nonsense around the periphery. Actually beating Smash TV in an arcade must have cost a small fortune in quarters. Some of the stages nuzzle right up to the border of impossible.
I won’t stand here and say that Smash TV is a perfect game. Some of the subject matter alone might put some people off. Even back in the dark ages of 1990, I think that presenting women as prizes was considered pretty skeezy. It’s sometimes hard to tell how much of that stuff is deliberate satire, or just the result of a game developed by a room full of dudes, who may have actually thought it was cool. If the point was to be unsettling, Smash TV probably does a better job of it than the movies it’s emulating.
Smash TV iterates on the precise, demanding play of previous games, it iterates on the nasty, sarcastic subtext of late 80s action movies, and it even manages to make fun of itself.
Smash TV is one of the best games.