Smash T.V. was an arcade sensation and it is easy to see why. The Running Man was a great albeit cheesy 80s movie and its premise of sending convicted criminals into death match style arenas for freedom and the entertainment of the masses was ripe for video games. There was a game tie in for European PCs but it wasn’t what we wanted. Smash T.V. took that concept and ran with it, draining legions of quarters from pockets. While there were a number of ports the 16-bit versions were the most impressive. Although it isn’t the best version of Smash T.V. the Genesis edition is a more than competent port that is still pretty fun.
The most important element to examine in this port is the controls. The arcade unit used a duel joystick setup with one controlling movement and the other firing direction. For those accustomed to the legions of twin stick shooters released in the last decade it’s nothing new. Back then it took some getting used to. Probe has included two control schemes that, while less than ideal, actually work. The default has A & B set to fire while you move around with the directional pad. C is used to lock and strafe in one direction. The other setup uses the dpad on two controllers to mimic the arcade. It works but if you want to play coop you’ll need a multitap. As much as I want to avoid the comparison it can’t be helped: all versions lag behind the SNES with its four face buttons that perfectly mimic the coin op.
Greed is your primary goal as you rush to collect all manner of cash, prizes, and merchandise in each arena. Well, at least after survival. It is a bit ridiculous when you think about it: who needs 500 VCRs? Or how about numerous 2600 inch TVs? Nothing in life comes free as there are a seemingly never ending wave of enemies spawn until you clear the room. At the end of each studio your earnings are tallied and you are awarded even bigger bonuses in the hope that maybe the weaselly host of the show will hold up his end of the deal.
Aiding you in your endeavors are a number of temporary power-ups. There are shoes to boost speed, two different shields, screen clearing bombs, and even a Gradius style option. There are a number of weapons such as a spread gun, bombs, and the BFG, the rocket launcher. Although ammo is limited weapons spawn every few seconds so you aren’t relying on the default machine gun alone. You won’t survive long relying on just that otherwise. Surprisingly extra lives drop regularly which is good because you’ll need them.
In terms of structure the game is split up into three studios with many rooms in each. You can only view the studio map at their onset and can plot a course to each studio’s boss. At the end of each room you are presented with a choice depending on location as to where to proceed. This is important as each room is usually themed, with suitable traps and enemies to match. There are also hidden prize rooms in each studio you’ll want to hit up for even greater riches and access to the Pleasure Dome if you are good enough.
By its very nature the gameplay is very repetitive yet I feel the original designers have done a great job of adding variety to the action. Aside from your garden variety faceless thugs you have Mr. Shrapnel, who wanders around the room and bursts into little bits of metal. There are turrets, mines, and for some reason even tanks. All of these elements on their own are not too tough to handle. It’s their combinations and numbers that are so overwhelming. Later studios have their own gimmicks to add even more variety. It’s amazing how much the setting can play a factor your enjoyment of a game. I wasn’t a fan of Robotron 2084 however this, with its game show paint of coating makes that style of gaming appealing to me.
Smash T.V. was a challenging game in the arcade and that remains the same here. The difficulty curve is pretty steep and ramps up after a scant few levels. The enemy waves are relentless and incredibly quick and it doesn’t help that all special weapons last a brief period. That is probably my biggest gripe; weapons could have had a duration twice as long without breaking the game. Item drops are frequent but not so much that it makes up for it. You start out with seven lives per credit which sounds like a lot but you only get one continue! This is a pretty long game and passwords to each new dome would have made it a lot more bearable.
Probe may have managed to create a workable control scheme but they didn’t do a particularly good job recreating the visuals. For whatever reason the graphics have been redrawn and have turned out worse. The choice of colors doesn’t quite match, there is less detail in the arenas and sprites and in general the game just looks ugly. I will give it this: it throws a ton of sprites on screen without a hint of slowdown but you expect that at the very least. Audio wise the music just sits there, not that the arcade had a really good soundtrack. The quality of the voice samples is also off which really ruins some of the more humorous lines from the game’s host.
There are certainly elements that could have been better executed however the Sega version of Smash T.V. is still pretty good. The high difficulty and length give this one a long tail and considering its dirt cheap is worth your while. But that is only if you don’t have access to any of the superior versions of the game.