Trash Panic PS3 Review

Throwing stuff away is rarely fun. Every sane person knows this. Surrounding yourself with the debris of wanton destruction is one of life’s little pleasures. At least, this is my world view. I suspect the developers of Trash Panic feel somewhat differently.

See, Trash Panic is a game all about tidying up. Putting stuff in the bin. You win if you get everything in the bin, and lose if you drop any out. To be honest with you, kind reader, this is a vision of hell. Deriving fun from being neat? Wait, what’s this? You get points for breaking stuff? Burning stuff in your bin? Making stuff rot in your bin? That’s more like it.

Trash Panic is the PSN exclusive breaking-stuff-in-a-bin puzzle extravaganza. It’s quirky, fun, challenging, and very, very cheap. When a game like this pops up for less than a price of a pint of expensive imported lager in a trendy bar (a.k.a. £3.99 for the lowly, non-highly paid, non-games reviewers amongst you), it’s hard to say bad things about it.

Not that there are many bad things to say about Trash Panic. The game is a well-crafted puzzler, blending the best elements of Tetris puzzling with Katamari Damacy charm. The basic premise is as outlined above. Each stage sees you receiving a series of items to smash up in a bin. You get points for breaking the items and lose if you let three or more unbroken items fall out. Each item has its own set of properties, including its basic material type, weight, flammability and (for want of a more appropriate word) bounciness. Aside from the items you must smash, there are also the occasional precious item that must be protected and salvaged at all costs. Wedding rings, tasty sushi, valuable portraits of penguins, all must be gently lowered to the little imp who patrols the bottom of the trash. Break one of those things and you get punished. Save them and you get rewarded.

Trash Panic is one of those games that sounds deceptively simple on paper, yet turns out fiendishly complex in practice. Similar to the excellent Air Traffic Chaos on the DS, Trash Panic really nails what makes a good puzzle game – layers. Like onions have layers, so too should a good puzzler. Trash Panic sets you up with something simple then ramps it up progressively. At first, all the items are easily smashed. Then you get harder items, like microwaves and computers. Sure, hit them with other microwaves and they’ll smash, but chairs and coat hangers aren’t really going to do it. And then sponges? Fish? How do I break those? So what the game does is swiftly introduce you to the fire mechanic. Basically, it hands you a match and leaves you to figure it out yourself.

Essentially, everything will burn if you get it hot enough. Throw the fire in the bin, slam the lid on and watch the temperature rise. As that happens, you’ll see the oxygen % metre plummet. With the temperature soaring over 1000 degrees, even bigger objects like legendary samurai swords and safes will perish. However, you have to balance the rise of the heat with the lid closed against the chances of the dropping oxygen levels extinguishing your blaze. Later on, the game starts throwing items like fire extinguishers, toilets and water barrels into the mix, followed by items that mop up water and bits of trash containing oil and explosives, you end up with a very complicated set of relationships, and have to invent, adapt and abandon strategies on the fly.

And let me tell you, that’s no mean task. When I said at the start of this whole thing that Trash Panic is challenging, I actually meant hard. As in so hard that even playing the stages on normal mode will take more than a handful of attempts to pass. Until you start to figure out the inner levels of the game mechanics, you’ll rarely score higher than a big fat E at the end of each stage. The moments where victory is cruelly snatched from your hands by accidentally throwing a bouncy ball too hard only to see it ricochet out of the bin will tax even the most stoic of gamers.

But you’ll keep on coming back. At the end of the day, the reason why you failed isn’t because the game was unfair, deliberately making things tough to fail you for no good reason. No, it’s because you weren’t paying enough attention, because you didn’t notice the valuable piece of trash before you tossed in that match, because you weren’t careful enough with the fire extinguishers. The sign of a good puzzle game is that when you fail, you blame yourself and hit retry instantly to have another shot. Trash Panic is fortunately one of these games.

And it’s not just down to the rock solid gameplay. The game is enticing to watch, and to listen to, pretty much consistently. The tone of the game is very much “Japanese zany”, with the strange little monsters that patrol along the bottom of the play area, the offbeat music, the weird overlay of a giant bin being stuffed with post-boxes, bells and mopeds over every day office and street scenes, and the boss fights that see you trying to smash up piggy banks and flatscreen TVs within 10 seconds. The game is beautifully animated, with a superb physics engine managing all the little bits and pieces, making sure everything falls just as you’d expect. While the music is occasionally repetitive, it suits the fairly madcap action down to a tee, and the voices of the monsters, and the general clamour of stuff breaking is perfect.

When you get right down to it, there’s really not much wrong with the game. The unprepared could conceivably be put off by the sheer difficulty of some sections of the game, and the loading times are just a little bit on the side of too long, but for the price, you can’t really be too critical. It’s games like Trash Panic that all these PSN services are made for – high polish, low price, short-burst games that keep you coming back, and that get successful through word of mouth more than anything else.