Two years after the release of the original Smash TV, Midway would put out a sequel. For whatever reason, however, it seems that nobody really remembers Total Carnage. Maybe it was because Street Fighter II fever had hit arcades everywhere, maybe it was just that this game just isn’t really a huge leap from what Smash TV was already doing. It has most of the same issues, particularly in terms of general repetitiveness, without much in the way of huge improvements. For whatever reason, however, it’s comparatively unknown compared to its predecessor, except for its appearance in a few retro compilations.
While shirtless men are shooting their way through deadly game shows, a war is on the horizon. The evil General Akhboob, despot ruler of Kookistan, is using his resources to create an army of mutants. He is also, despite his constant protests otherwise, not making baby milk of any sort. Meanwhile, at the United Nations, the decision is made to send in the Doomsday Squad, two shirtless guys who specialize in running around and blowing stuff up. As Captain Carnage and Major Mayhem, it’s up to you to shoot your way through Akhboob’s forces, rescue as many captured civilians as you can, and generally feel very awkward, given how the whole conflict the game is based on turned out.
The controls are almost exactly the same as Smash TV, with two joysticks per player. One will make you move, while the other makes you fire in any direction. In terms of basic gameplay structure, however, it’s pretty similar to the original game. You’re still maneuvering your character around, fighting off hordes of enemies while trying to collect the power-ups you’ll need to fend them off. The other big change from Smash TV is that you’re no longer kept to a single room at a time in your quest to blow everything up. The screen is usually always scrolling in some direction, although there’ll be plenty of times where you’ll have to stop and fend off a few waves of enemies. The game’s split into three distinct sections, much like Smash TV, although Total Carnage tends to feel just a little bit longer than its prequel.
The biggest new wrinkle to the established gameplay is the “bomb” button. Throughout the game, you can collect bombs that will act like a landmine when you drop them, exploding on contact with enemies. If you’re near something particularly large, however, it’ll call down an airstrike instead, pummeling it with bombs. The real reason you want bombs, however, is that using one gives you a single second of invincibility, giving you a chance to slip away from danger. This actually adds a little depth and strategy to things that Smash TV didn’t really offer, although it’s not a huge difference. It is, however, pretty nice to feel like you have some sort of control over how long your quarter lasts, even if the game’s still quite the quarter muncher.
There’s quite a few other changes, as well, some of which are more interesting than others. Throughout the game, you’ll come across warp points that’ll either bring you to a challenge room, or actually let you skip ahead further into the game. Challenge rooms will generally either put you against a few waves of enemies or challenge you to destroy as many of a certain kind of object as you can, but you’ll also usually find extra lives hidden inside them. Warp points will instead bring you to a specific point in the game, no questions asked, and the game will even give you a four letter password you can input at the start of a new game to skip to that point. Given that you’re likely never going to beat this game in a real arcade on your first try, this is actually pretty kind of the developers.
Most of the power-ups and weapons from Smash TV return, along with a few others. There’s a new flamethrower, which deals obscene damage at close range, along with a jetpack that lets you float over land mines. You’ll still need to keep a look out for keys if you want to unlock the Pleasure Dome and get the best ending, but this time you’ll need 220 of the things if you want the chance to hang out with the Smash TV guys. These are generally scattered all over the game, so if you want them all, you’ll have to grit your teeth and play through the entire thing. You’ll also find plenty of gems and tiny American flags you can collect to boost your score at the end of a section. The random prizes don’t make an appearance, being replaced by captured soldiers, reporters, and tourists that you can collect for bonus points.
There are plenty of new enemies, some of which are upgraded versions of the foes you’d go against in Smash TV. You’ll still go up against a few thousand or so mooks who haven’t mastered the concept of “ranged combat”, sure. Some of Akhboob’s soldiers take to turrets to fire at you from a distance, as well. Occasionally, you’ll also have to deal with a vehicle, like a fleet of fighter jets that rain missiles down onto your head, giant tanks that spew out about a dozen guys on fire when destroyed, and jeeps that’ll quickly run you down if you don’t move out of the way. There’s actually quite a bit of enemy variety, even more so than Smash TV had, and the game does a good job of making sure they keep things interesting, if pretty overwhelming.
The mines return from Smash TV, and lead to a similarly bloody end if you happen to wander onto one like an idiot. There’s also a few new hazards to keep an eye on, besides the mines. There are barrels that’ll explode if you don’t stop shooting at them, oddly enough, sending out a ring of projectiles for you to dodge. You’ve also got points where the game will rain down time bombs on your head, forcing you to collect them all before they go off, as well. The game also likes to spawn homing missiles from out of nowhere, forcing you to dodge around them until they go off or drop a bomb to absorb the explosion.
There’s only a couple of bosses, compared to Smash TV‘s four, but they take so much punishment and take so long to kill that the game doesn’t even really need more than that. The first boss is Orcus, a giant green head with two arms with guns on the end, with a smaller demon head atop the whole thing. The game claims that Orcus is “the mother of all boss monsters”, which is a little bit of a stretch, but he’s still a pretty tough fight. He takes quite a while to kill, given how many pieces of him you’ll have to blow off. You start with his forearms, move on to his bloody arm stumps, his eyes, and finally the little head on top of his own giant head. And then there’s General Akhboob.
Genral Akhboob may well be most over elaborate final boss you’ll encounter, except for a few possible contenders in the JRPG genre. He has no less than seven different forms, most of which put you against his battle craft. Once you destroy that, he gets blown back into his nuclear room thing and becomes a giant cyborg head. While most games would be content to conclude here, finishing this form reveals that Akhboob was apparently Adolf Hitler the entire time, forcing you to blow up Hitler’s giant cyborg head. And unlike Bionic Commando, this Hitler head fights back. His final form, somewhat disappointingly, makes him become a giant demon head. After all, after a game that challenges you to destroy Hitler’s giant head, dodging the missiles he spews out of his mouth and listening to him screaming random German at you, anything after that just doesn’t quite compare.
But you’re not done, yet, as the final phase of the fight involves Akhboob’s many clones leaping out from his own bloody jaw stump. Clone after clone will pour out, with your goal trying to catch every one that pops out. Miss a single one, and you get a slightly worse ending out of it. Catch all of them, and you get a sequence where you strap Akhboob into the electric chair he previously tried to use on you. For such a morbid ending, it’s actually played for laughs, considering it ends with him exploding like a Mortal Kombat boss, leaving behind a charred skeleton. And to be fair, given all he put you through, it’s actually pretty satisfying. It’s unlikely you’ll ever get to see that satisfaction without a steady supply of quarters or your finger on the “insert credit” button, however.
The entire problem with Total Carnage is that while there are a few improvements to the general structure, there’s not much that fixes some of the underlying issues with Smash TV. Much like the original game, it’s actually a lot of fun when you’re just starting off, but the further in your get, the more likely it is you’ll end up getting bored. The more complicated environments mean that you have less room to maneuver, meaning you’re probably going to die a lot more, bombs or not. The game is also just as long as the original game, if not longer, so unless you cheat to the end, the game still quickly wears itself out. It’s definitely worth playing through the end just to see the ridiculous final boss, but there’s just not much to make it worth playing through more than once.
Compared to the original game, where you had crowds cheering you on, this game actually feels somewhat hostile to you, the player. The game is constantly either threatening you or mocking your skills, it’s generally even gorier than Smash TV, and there’s one particularly mean surprise at the end of the second section, where you get captured by ten of the guys you’ve been killing en masse for 2/3rds of the game. This puts you into a minigame where your commandos get strapped into electric chairs, forcing you to button mash to escape. Fail to do this, and you lose your entire credit, right then and there.
The biggest draw of the game is, once again, its presentation. While the game will occasionally use sound clips from the original game, the real star of the show is General Akhboob. He’ll show up every so often in cutscenes to taunt you, usually ending it with a quote like “I’ll buy you for a dollar!” or, more truthfully, “You suck at this game!”. What’s also great is the way the game tallies scores after each of the three sections. After showing your total score, the game will show your commando firing his gun wildly into the air and giggling to himself, as the game tells you that “PLAYER ONE KICKS BUTT!”. What’s even better is when you have another player with you, as the player with a lower score will stand in the background pouting to himself, thinking something like “Player One got lucky”. The silliness is present throughout the entire game, like how the game will randomly announce that “YOU ARE THE WEASEL MAN! YOU SHALL ABSORB TOTAL PAIN!” before sending horde upon horde of axe-wielding mutants at you.
The graphics have been subtly improved since Smash TV, usually showing through in larger, more detailed sprites that have more animation on them. Total Carnage generally does everything “bigger” than Smash TV did, from the bosses to the occasional screen-filling tank you’ll be expected to blow up. And things blowing up is something this game does very well, with bigger objects you destroy practically bursting into a blinding rainbow of explosions that can leave you distracted by the sheer beauty as a missile hits you in the face. The sound, just like you’d expect from a Smash TV sequel is loud, overdriven, and contains plenty of digitized speech. General Akhboob has a ton of speech himself, going from insisting he’s only making baby milk to taunts like “You’re pretty good… NOT!” The music is all right, with the game’s main theme being an militaristic ’80s action movie sort of theme, although the rest of the music isn’t really as notable.
Total Carnage is fun for a while, at least when you’re just going into it. It’s loud, goofy, and it generally never stops being challenging the entire way through. On the other hand, whatever issues you may have had with Smash TV are probably still going to be an issue here. It’s still pretty repetitive, and it’s still not remotely close to a fair, balanced game. But if you’re a fan of the cheese Midway made themselves known for, and if you had fun with Smash TV, it’s a worthy enough game to seek out and play through just once.
There aren’t nearly as many ports of the game as Smash TV, and sadly, most of them are pretty dire. If you’re looking for a legal way to try it out, your best bet is Midway Arcade Treasures 2. This compilation gives a pretty no-frills emulation without any particularly fancy features, but it’s still pretty much the best way you’re going to play this game legally.
The Super Nintendo version was ported by an entirely different developer than the SNES port of Smash TV, and it’s much worse for it. The gameplay remains more or less the same, although the controls for firing feel somewhat unresponsive at times. And of course, you’re still dealing with limited continues, and this particular version doesn’t even care to tell you how many you happen to have. It’s the general presentation that’s this port’s biggest failing, though. Everything looks grainier and muddier, and the SNES’s more limited color palette really don’t help this port much, either. The music and sound don’t fare much better, although most of the digitized speech actually comes through.
And compared to how much Smash TV got away with on the SNES, there’s a lot more censorship. Most of the blood has been removed, or recolored blue or green in places where it couldn’t be removed. General Akhboob now promises that you’ll only be “annihilated”, as opposed to “drowning in pools of your own blood”. And in the best ending, you simply throw him in prison, where he promises his revenge like he’s some sort of long forgotten GI Joe villain. Obviously, you don’t get to fight his Hitler form, either, although that means that there’s one less form for you to fight. Overall, it plays decently, but it’s just not as fun as the original arcade version.
The Game Boy version is absolutely horrid in just about every conceivable way. In some ways, it manages to overtake the Game Gear version of Smash TV as the worst port of the two games, and it might just have a place on the worst ten Game Boy games of all time. Much like Smash TV on the Game Gear, the developers took a game that clearly didn’t belong on a handheld, and then put it on a handheld regardless. This isn’t a situation like the ZX Spectrum version of Smash TV, because that version, despite its quirks, was still capable of offering fun. This does not.
The first issue is that a game like this clearly doesn’t belong on the Game Boy, so you’re dealing with tiny, grainy gray sprites that can’t possibly be identified, especially while they’re moving. This isn’t as much of an issue, because this port removes just about any enemy in the game that doesn’t slowly move towards you, meaning that any sort of variety in the gameplay went with them. Strangely enough, this version actually gives you a health bar that drains quickly in contact with enemies. It’s somewhat useful, but your health drains so fast that it probably won’t help you much, anyway.
There are several other “additions”, as well, none of which do anything helpful whatsoever. Bombs are replaced by grenades, with get thrown out about a couple of inches in front of your character, creating an explosion so small that you’ll basically never want to use them. There’s two new weapons, with one being a spinning diamond that spins around your character, killing anything that gets too close. Only you can’t actually shoot with it, and enemies can still hurt you while you’re using it anyway, making it actively harmful to you to pick up. There’s also the flamethrower, which goes out about an inch from your character, which also makes it more worthless than your starting weapon.
The gameplay, as you’d imagine, isn’t much of an improvement, either. Mostly, it just involves standing in one place, waiting for enemies to slowly waddle towards you so you can kill them. There are barely any points where you’ll even be dealing with projectiles, making for a very slow, boring game in general. The graphics are unidentifiable at the best of times and plain ugly at the worst, and the sprites are so small and grainy that even an emulator won’t help you tell apart the vaguely man-shaped blobs coming towards you. The sound effects sound like they came straight from an Atari 2600, while the only in-game music plays during, oddly enough, the boss fights. And it’s probably the most inappropriately jolly, whimsical music you can use for a game such as this.
Among other annoyances are that General Akhboob is even wimpier in this version. He won’t make you “swim in pools of your own blood”, or even “annihilate” you, he’ll just “make you regret” not exiting his country. Overall, Total Carnage, given its terrible sound effects, gameplay, graphics, and just general awfulness at everything, may well be one of the worst games on the system, and we’re talking about a handheld that had The Tasmanian Story on it. Run screaming.
The DOS version looks and sounds the most like the original arcade version, and it plays fairly decently. You get a lot of options for how you want to control the game, including the option to use two joysticks, if you happen to have them. The biggest problem with this version is that the camera is a little more zoomed in, meaning you don’t really get as much room to move, and there’s a lot more screen scrolling than there was in the arcade game. This can be kind of an annoyance, especially when you have projectiles coming just off screen and you can’t always tell where they came from. It’s a pretty playable port aside from that one glaring issue, though.
The Amiga version is utterly awful, and everything about it just feels wrong. It only takes about a minute of gameplay to realize just how many underlying issues this particular port has. For starters, this port has a particular quirk where dead enemies take a couple of seconds to actually die, meaning that they can move into you and actually kill you while they’re exploding into blood. The flamethrower has had its range reduced to the point of near uselessness, and bombs no longer give you invincibility of any sort. The issues compound from there, but you also have to deal with the Amiga’s loading times, its one button joystick (although the game offers the option of using a two-button pad, in fairness), and absolutely no music in the entire game, whatsoever. Even the Amiga port of Smash TV got the core gameplay reasonably accurate – something that can’t be said at all for this port. The CD32 version, aside from using a different controller, is identically awful.
The Jaguar version, released as a homebrew cartridge in 2005, looks and sounds fairly closely to the arcade version, aside from a lack of in-game music. The color palette’s also somewhat off from the arcade version, although not quite to the extent of the SNES port. Unfortunately, copies of the actual game are rather expensive, and it doesn’t work on any emulators.
After Total Carnage came and went in the arcades, Midway never put out another twin-stick shooter of any sort. Apparently, there were plans and discussions for a long time to make a sequel to Smash TV, all the way up to Midway’s bankruptcy in 2008, but it never came to be. The closest there was was The Grid, an arcade game that’d take the “deadly game show” concept and put it into the context of a deathmatch-based third person shooter. Sadly, The Grid never left arcades, and has never been emulated on anything. However, Smash TV lives on, in some form or another, from the many, many twin-stick shooters that would spawn from it. While there’s just as many that probably spawned from its spiritual predecessor, Robotron 2084, you only have to look on your average digital distribution service to see the impact the game would go on to have.