Smash TV certainly grabbed my attention. I legit remember the very first time I saw the game. We arrived at the movie theater to see Problem Child 2, and I caught the cabinet out of the corner of my eye. The loud visuals, the even more insane graphics and enemies, the music, it was game like this that made arcade experience the envy of mere children who owned consoles.
Created by Eugene Jarvis and Mark Turmell (whose name was all over a lot of arcade staples like NBA Jam and NFL Blitz) in 1990, developed and published by Williams, Smash TV gained notoriety for not only its over-the-top ultra-violence (preceding Midway's Mortal Kombat by a year), but it's high-impact stimulating gameplay. Drawing its presentation from RoboCop and the death match game show atmosphere of the 1987 film The Running Man, it was one of the more prominent representatives of co-op arcade gaming.
Taking place in a dystopian future on a "kill or be killed" sporting event, participants compete for fame and fortune against an increasingly difficult gauntlet of mutants and adversaries...IN THE YEAR 1999!!! The gameplay is very similar to Jarvis' previous game, Robotron: 2084, sporting dual stick shooting controls across succeeding single-screen segments. The waves of enemies enter through doors, and weapon drops are common.
Using dual sticks to control and fire was incredibly innovative, something home platforms wouldn't see come to fruition until eight years later. Because I grew up with a directional pad that covers both your movement and direction of fire (in games like Jackal and Ikari Warriors, for example), the aid of secondary aiming was like finding a key to handcuffs. It's responsive and fluid second, quickly becoming second nature to the player.
The presentation, when it comes to the graphics and sound, was indicative of the time period; it didn't ask for your attention, Smash TV SNARED you and pulled you inward. The sprite work is clean and colorful, even when lots of stuff is happening on-screen, there's almost no slowdown. The stage show atmosphere makes the cartoony violence that much more gruesome. Bosses, some being part man/part machine, will fire eyeballs at you, and the more damage you deal, the more mutilated they become. The blood and gore may not be anything special by today's standards, but it was evocative and left an impact on the time period.
Smash TV is a super fun solo game to blitz through, but I think it's at its best when playing with a second player. Arcade Smash TV has 3 stages in total with a giant boss fight (four, if you meet collecting a certain number of prizes). The home ports, namely Super Smash TV for the SNES, is apparently longer. Shockingly, I don't have a lot of experience with the console versions of the game, I've only ever really played it in arcades. That feels like the only way to truly enjoy it.
The game serves as a stress-relieving adrenaline rush, and while Smash TV can be a fleeting experience, it's certainly entertaining. If there is any game a younger enthusiast would like to try out that encapsulates the coin-op period, Smash TV is definitely one of those titles.