In ’87, Arnie starred in “The Running Man” casting him as a former police officer framed for a massacre in a dystopian version of America. It’s the future, and the gulf between haves and have nots is something more like the Pacific Ocean. Arnie’s character is blamed for opening fire on a food line, arrested, and then put on show to run from his life as he’s hunted. It was another knife-edged notch for his career as an action star and an iconic film.
A few years later, an arcade game appeared in 1990 from Williams following in “The Running Man’s” footsteps. Players weren’t “players” – they were contestants, and two could co-op their way through the top-down action and compete for big money and big prizes. That only required them to grind down seemingly infinite mobs with lead rain, random power ups, and huge explosions. The game was Smash TV.
For an arcade game, it was unbelievably violent which was a big part of its draw. People didn’t just explode in a puff of smoke. They burst apart like overripe melons in a cloud of blood as “contestants” pursued the highest dollar score by snagging prizes that randomly appear in each room such as cash and gold bars.
The top-down playing field was divided into “rooms” with their own challenges. Some just threw mobs of enemies at you from one, or all, of the four doors, while others were trapped with mines. And the last room in a particular level was where the often hard-as-nails boss lurked.
This was also game that encouraged a lot of cooperation. The dual-stick conntrols left the left stick controlling where you went and the other controlling which direction you fired like in Robotron 2084, and doing the game through co-op made things a bit easier to survive.
It also yelled bits of encouragement with phrases such as “Big Money! Big Prizes! I love it!” with cuts in between showing the game show “host” and the Smash TV cheerleaders egging contestants on. The bosses were also a little on the cheap side ensuring a steady rain of brass into the coin slot. But people kept trying, me included. It was still too much fun.
Smash TV was later ported to other platforms including the Commodore 64 and the Amiga. The SNES version was a near-perfect port, blood and all, complete with voice samples from the arcade.
The ad below shows the arcade cabinet, our two “contestants” layered in some kind of skin bonding armor which probably would have helped in the game, and a few screenshots amidst a pile of cash. Also, the word “Super” was also attached to the title as it would be with many other games on the SNES. It’s no wonder considering how good conversions like this were.
It was also a sign of how far consoles had come. As they and PCs continued to improve in the hardware race, the need to go to an arcade to find the same experiences simply began to dry up. Less and less people frequented the local hotspot for the latest gaming thanks to what was happening in living rooms everywhere else, a trend that would ultimately lead to the sad decline of the local, mainstream arcade scene across the United States and elsewhere.
I even still have a few unused tokens left from the ones that closed around me, the tarnished brass a reminder of a bygone era.