Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Smash TV Review

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smashtv_boxPlatform: Arcade, microcomputers, NES, Master System, Game Gear, SNES, Genesis/Mega Drive, Xbox/Gamecube/PS2/PSP (part of Midway Treasures)
Released: 1990
Developer: Williams
Publisher: Williams/Midway
Digital Release? Yes, it had a digital release on XBLA (360) but was delisted in Feb. 2010

Smashtv01These days there is a good chance any gamer is familiar with the “twin stick shooter”, a concept where you move with the left stick and shoot with the right.  Back in 1982 when fantastic game designer Eugene Jarvis premiered the concept in Robotron: 2084, it was unlike anything we had ever seen.  The merits of that game, and what it brought to video games, cannot be denied and if you want an idea of how Robotron played you need look no further than recent neo-retro release Rock Boshers Dx.  It wasn’t until almost a decade later, in 1990’s fantastic Smash TV, that Jarvis along with a talented team at Williams created one of the most addicting arcade games from my youth.  Set in the year 1999 – oh how we thought so much was going to change with the year 2000 back then – Smash TV has you and potentially one other person shooting it out in a room-to-room TV studio playing the most violent game show of all time (Running Man anyone?).  It takes the building blocks of Robotron: 2084 and brings it into the nineties by giving you a second player, having you kill tons of humans instead of rescue them like in Robotron, and of course you’re doing it all for cash prizes to selfishly grow your wealth.  I loved it then and I love it now.

Smashtv02Anyone who has played modern twin stick shooters like Geometry Wars will immediately notice that most of your tactics will hold up in Smash TV and you will get quite far on each life.  Don’t get cocky enough to think that this means the game is beatable; it was, after all, a quarter drinking arcade game from the people that brought you NBA Jam a few years later.  Your odds are so stacked and boss battles like the always shown (and here is no exception) bald tank boss will have you cranking out credits in order to finally reach the final bonus level, The Pleasure Dome.  In fact, the game was so crazy hard, long, and expensive that although there is mention in the game text, the original 1.0 version of the arcade shipped without a pleasure dome implemented because the developers didn’t think anyone would beat the game.  They were wrong, dead wrong.  Fans across the country were spending God knows how much money to reach the Pleasure Dome only to be greeted with an unfinished ending.  The development team wasn’t all bad, though, aside from quickly implementing the Pleasure Dome and getting updated boards out as soon as possible, there’s a bonus room south of Arena 3 that will flood the room with keys and potentially get you to the end of the game without costing you too much money.  There’s also a fantastic announcer over your gameplay voiced by Paul Heitsch (known for other Midway greats like Mortal Kombat) and even the line “I’d buy that for a dollar!” from the movie Robocop, so what’s not to love.

Smashtv03It was understandably ported to just about every home console, microcomputer, and even the Game Gear portable by publisher Acclaim (aside from the arcade ports in the Midway Treasures Collection).  While the overall port didn’t lose much in the conversion process, even on the NES and ZX Spectrum, the control scheme took the biggest hit and to this day I feel the SNES is the only appropriate place to play the home version thanks to the four face buttons easily emulating the second joystick.  Once Smash TV came home, much like other home ports such as Revolution X, the challenge was mostly in trying to complete the game with the limited number of credits the game allowed.  Sure, a quick cheat code or Game Genie could overcome your health or credits issue, but I still can’t believe there was a time where a home port of an arcade game designed to screw you out of credits didn’t automatically give you unlimited credits.  After all, you would assume that’s the draw to getting the home port.  Either way, Smash TV has much better ways to play without resorting to the 8-bit and 16-bit era, but back in the early 90s it was the only option and a fun weekend rental.  If you were lucky enough to pick up the online arcade port on XBLA before it was delisted in early 2010, you can even play the game with online co-op as it should be played these days but it appears Midway licensing has eliminated this title’s definitive version.  If you want to get together with a buddy on the couch and have some fun shooting guys for an hour or two, the spectacle that is Smash TV can be a ton of fun.

Final Score: 4 out of 5 (review policy)

Written by Fred Rojas

March 24, 2015 at 11:34 am

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