Smash TV

      Reality TV sucks. I've alluded to this in the past, but now I'm just going to come out and say it. Anyone who thinks that the television networks can solve their problems in the realms of love, employment, or financial stability should be fucking shot. The only people more pathetic than those desperate Ivy League assholes on The Apprentice are the losers who watch reality shows. Rather than empowering themselves, millions of television viewers are sitting around waiting to see who will be the next American Idol or which stupid whore The Bachelor will fuck this week. Some Europeans accuse Americans of being classless and degenerate. That's pretty fucking funny coming from people who live on a continent that has topless commercials, loose drinking ages, the running of the bulls, soccer riots, mail-order brides, and that train wreck of a country known as the Netherlands. Then there's the Germans. German porn is the single most scary shit ever put to film. M. Night Shyamalan is currently being heralded as the greatest horror filmmaker ever by sterile Hollywood yes men, but The Village and The Sixth Sense look like Disney shit compared to die überporn. Once you've seen some chick get anally fisted, you will never ever want to have sex again. So those smarmy European bastards have no right to gaze upon America with condescension. At the same time, if The Swan and Trading Spaces are the most compelling TV shows that we have to offer, they may still have a point: our society sucks almost as much as theirs.

      Ironically, reality shows were parodied before they even existed. In the 1987 Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man, the legal system was turned into a sadistic game show. If you won then you were innocent. If you didn't, you were dead. The Running Man was a damn entertaining satire of the increasingly television-oriented culture of the 80s. One of its basic messages was this: TELEVISION SHOULD NOT BE THE ULTIMATE ARBITER. I wish more people had listened. Instead, men and women are lining up around the block in the hopes that NBC can find their fucking soulmate for them. News flash: they can't. Live your own fucking life. 1990 brought us another brilliant diatribe railing against the slippery slope of lowbrow reality television. Well, maybe not. But it did bring us Smash TV.


      The concept behind Smash TV was simple: a game show where contestants would square off against killer robots, land mines, and bald men with baseball bats in a battle to the death for all the toasters, gold bricks, and 2600" televisions that you could ever want. It was very violent and very hard. Since Smash TV was presented as a deadly game show, inevitable comparisons were made between the game and The Running Man. However, such comparisons stem from a fundamental failure to understand both the movie and the game. The Arnold movie primarily focused on the arbitrary nature of law in military states. In the former Soviet Union, trials were generally done just for show; the defendant would inevitably be found guilty and punished. Justice was never truly served, but the illusion of justice persisted. Just because a society has rules and procedures to govern trials does not mean that the trials are fair. That's how it was in The Running Man. A set of rules and a win condition existed, but the game show was blatantly stacked against the contestant. Unarmed prisoners faced off against the network's heavily armed professional hunters. In order to perpetuate faith in the system, a fake trio of winners were invented. As one of the few forms of entertainment allowed by the state, The Running Man was a very popular show. The audience took great pleasure in watching the contestants haplessly blunder into certain death. Smash TV is an entirely different premise. In the game, the Smash TV show is not a punishment. Contestants willingly subject themselves to the dangers of the studio's labyrinth in order to win cash and prizes as the audience cheers them on. When you successfully clear a room, you're met with encouraging applause. When you lose a life, disappointed groans can be heard. Smash TV seems to be much more influenced by the casual violence and hypercommercialism of Paul Verhoeven's Robocop. In fact, one of the game show host's lines is "I'd buy that for a dollar", which is lifted directly from Robocop. Smash TV is a parody of capitalism where the system is reduced to two basic functions: kill and consume. After all, what's more American than winning a year's supply of meat products?


      Smash TV's studio arena has three levels, each one comprised of a dozen or so rooms. You will never enter every room in the course of a game; in some rooms, you will be forced to choose a path. The first can be completed by entering a mere six rooms. Don't let this low number fool you though. This game is damn hard. Once you enter a room, the doors lock and you are subjected to wave after wave of enemies from all four sides. The controls don't help things, either. You are given two analog sticks, one for moving and one for shooting, and it's easy to mix up them up in the heat of battle. As the levels progress it gets worse and worse. You will spend over six minutes in some of the later rooms while snakes, tanks, and exploding men try their best to stop you from ever getting to enjoy those 28 paid vacations that you just picked up. Even though you're up against impossible odds, the game isn't entirely merciless. You are given a steady supply of power-ups ranging from better guns to speed bonuses to temporary invincibility. There are even extra lives. Within a few seconds of picking up an item, a new one will appear somewhere in the room. Did Contra give you the spread gun every 10 seconds? I don't think so. Of course, the only reason that Smash TV gives you constant power-ups is because the game is FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE.


      In additional to the shitloads of little guys trying to kill you, there are also bosses. Each level has a theme and the theme of the first level seems to be humanoids. Your enemies in this level consist mostly of man-operated tanks, men with blunt objects, and exploding fat men. Subsequently, the boss of the first level is Mutoid Man. Mutoid Man combines the firepower of a tank, the ruthlessness of man, and the excess of a vintage Van Halen concert to create a formidable killing machine. Also, he has laser beam eyes. You really have to beat the shit out of this guy to kill him; he absorbs unfathomable amounts of damage. Not only that, but regular bullets bounce off most of his body which means that you NEED to grab power-ups to win. As you can see in the screenshots above, you literally have to dissect this fucker to beat him. And from here on in, it only gets harder.


      Meet Scarface, the second boss. Level 2 is centered around fighting robots: floating laser-shooting orbs, combat droids, giant robotic caterpillars, that sort of thing. So naturally, it follows that their overseer should be a blatant rip-off of Madballs. Scarface is a frowning frisbee of death that eventually turns into a floating skull of death. His first form is a pain in the ass to beat because you have to destroy all the gray censors around his face and Scarface has a tendency of positioning himself so that you can't shoot out the ones below his mouth or along his right side. On the plus side, you do get to shoot his eyes out. His skull form also demands that you serve it 360 degrees of carnage, but it's slightly more forgiving and it explodes in an exciting display of pyrotechnics. OK, it's not that exciting. But at least the fucker dies.


      Die Cobros are the bosses of the third level. However, "die Cobros" is not German for "the cobras"; die Kobren is. It doesn't really fucking matter though, since these snakes clearly aren't cobras. First of all, cobras don't spit fire. Secondly, as anyone who's ever watched the discovery channel or G.I. Joe knows, cobras have those poofy flaps on either side of their head. Yes, the cobra is the Eddie Money of the snake world. Unlike other bosses, Die Cobros don't go through any interesting transformations. Instead, the two snakes just sway back and forth trying to kill you until you fire enough bullets into them to make their heads explode. Die Cobros lack the weird factor of the previous two bosses. This is especially disappointing when you take into account that this level closely resembles the set of Nickelodeon's Legends of the Hidden Temple. John Tobias, the man who later found notoriety as co-creator of Mortal Kombat, worked on this game so I expected a better boss. Like maybe a giant moss-covered Aztec statue that spits rabid parrots. Or Goro. Luckily, the boring snake monsters aren't the final boss. Although the third level is the final level, there is one more giant enemy to defeat. After beating Die Cobros, the level doesn't end. Instead, our lucky contestant exits into two more enemy-filled rooms. These rooms are the most brutal part of the game. The second room seems to take forever to clear. And by "forever", I mean like 10 minutes. I mean, come on, this isn't fucking Asteroids. In 1990, spending 10 minutes on one screen was excruciatingly painful. However, when the angry mobs of enemies finally did subside, it was all worth it...


      Behold the Pleasure Dome, the game's secret room. In order to access it, you have to enter at least one money room on each floor. You can tell when you've entered a money room, because a gigantic pile of money will appear when you enter the fucking room and the host will pop up and say one of his five exciting quotes. Also, it's clearly marked on the map. You will also need to collect at least ten keys to enter the Pleasure Dome. Keys appear randomly throughout the game, but that doesn't really matter because the money room in the third level is filled with them thus defeating the purpose of even fucking having a key prerequisite. If you meet both of these requirements, you will be given the option of going south in the final room instead of east; this will take you to the Pleasure Dome. The Pleasure Dome serves no real purpose other than to give you some extra points and perhaps induce seizures with its obnoxious flashing colors. Unlike other rooms where you collect cash and prizes for extra points, the Pleasure Dome is filled with hundreds of the Smash TV models that generally flank the show's host. What exactly happens in the Pleasure Dome is left to the imagination. If you really have nothing better to do than pretend that your faceless gun-toting character gets to bang the shit out of close to a thousand badly rendered chicks, go for it. And then seek some fucking counseling.


      The final boss is a giant robotic version of the show's host. Whether it actually *is* the host or not is debatable. The host encourages you throughout the game and a normal size version of him that has all of the typical lower extremities can be seen in the TV studio. Nothing else about this game makes much sense though, so it is quite possible that he somehow morphed into a huge automaton bent on your destruction. As you may have noticed, Evil M.C. is just a palette swap of Mutoid Man. Instead of laser beams, he shoots eyeballs at you. In fact, the room is actually titled Eat My Eyeballs. Every room in the game was given a stupid name by the programmers, but this is by far the stupidest. In any case, Evil M.C. isn't any harder than Mutoid Man. The payoff is much better though. After you beat him, prizes keep appearing in the room for a solid minute or so. After that, the final exit appears and it's game over.


      Out of all the games that I've reviewed so far, this one has the most half-assed ending ever. Revolution X, for instance, gave you a free Aerosmith performance if you managed to rescue all five band members. That's pretty friggin' sweet. Hammerin' Harry had a really gay ending, but at least they tried. The ending to Bad Dudes was pretty stupid, but at least it was fucking hilarious. Time Killers also had awful endings, but some poser in R&D obviously thought they sounded badass and he definitely put in more effort into his endings than the Smash TV team did. Like Super Mario Bros. before it, Adventure Island kinda sorta resolved its storyline in its ending. On the whole, none of them had great endings. Aside from a few RPGs, there are very few video games released before 1996 that have good endings. Hell, prior to Nintendo, most games didn't even *have* endings. You just kept playing Pac-Man or Space Invaders until you fucking died... or got bored. The reason that it is particularly frustrating with Smash TV is because the game was so fucking hard. The damn thing was scientifically designed to burn your money faster than a lap dance. And if you were stupid enough to sink $20.00 worth of quarters into the game, all you got was a few congratulatory words on a mostly black background. WHAT THE FUCK!? A slightly altered version of the game was eventually released for the Sega Genesis and SNES as Super Smash TV. The graphics weren't spectacular to begin with, so there was nothing to lose in translation. Disappointing ending aside, Smash TV is a very fun albeit very stupid game. It's currently available on the Midway Arcade Treasures disc for Sony's PS2, Nintendo Gamecube, and Microsoft's Paperweight. If you're looking for a challenge, this is fucking it.


Posted by: Syd Lexia