Utter rubbish - both in good ways and bad
Trash Panic, also know as 'Gomibako' in its native Japan, is a PlayStation Network puzzler available now for £3.99/$4.99 (who knows exactly where this pricing disparity comes from - certainly not from the current exchange rate). The game can essentially be described as Tetris with a physics engine. A rectangular shaped trash can fills the screen - your borders if you will - and garbage will slowly fall from above one piece at a time into this can. The build up of garbage is gradual and getting rid of it is a task more easily said than done, as unlike with Tetris' conveniantly shaped blocks the garbage will not simply disappear if a layer is completed.
Thankfully, there are a variety of ways of reducing that amassed pile at the bottom of the can. Each individual piece of garbage has its own unique attributes - whether its burnable or decomposable, and whether or not it's smashable. The most obvious way of reducing the surface area of the garbage is the latter, to smash it into smaller pieces. Different objects have different resistance to smashing, for example most of the time a pencil will snap in two, but a large safe (bizarrely being thrown away in a bin..) will take some significant punishment before it buckles. And even despite this, these pieces will still occupy space. Smashing works on most objects, but of course there are some resistent to it, such as mattresses, washing sponges and fish.
As mentioned, smashing will merely reduce the area of the rubbish - to completely expell it from the bin, it must be burnt or decomposed. Lit matches will occasionally come along as part of the sequence of garbage - once the initial flame has been ignited, toilet paper or any other highly flammable object such as propane tanks and petrol can be used to further goad the flames. To decompose, water sourced from upturned toilets and smashed tankards must be streamed to the bottom of the bin, and then a 'decomposition ball' added to the pool to bubble down the pile.
Trash Panic's handling of these mechanics is in fact fairly in-depth and a lot of fun. Oxygen and temperature guages line the left side of the game's HUD and, in the case of burning the rubbish, these must be controlled for an optimum spread of flames. Holding L2 will pause the current sequence of garbage and lower the can's lid depending on how much the trigger is depressed. It's a very intuitive exercise in keeping the lid just closed enough to increase the temperature, but at the same time just open enough to let the oxygen feed the flames - close the lid, the flames will suffocate and extinguish. Decomposition is more tactical in comparison. The L1 button will swap the current item of rubbish with one saved earlier, so it's often a good plan to save a decomposition ball for later, whenever a large pool of water is present and has plenty of non-burnable garbage floating in it.
It is these inventive ideas that manage to change Trash Panic from a typical Tetris-style puzzler into something which it can call its own. The combination of smashing down rubbish to compress the pile and then systematically disposing of it creates a beautfiul flow to the game which is immensely addictive. At least, it would be if the game did not have so many flaws in its design. There are several ideas which work against the flow of the game and disrupt a lot of the fun and intuition in the disposal system.
A big example is the Mottainai - special objects which must be saved, undamaged, and brought to the bottom to be collected by a Patapon-like creature for points - which are often introduced at the worst possible time in the stage and only serve to increase an already ludicrously tough difficulty curve. Other annoyances are bugs, one of which can delay the next object loading, particularly infuriating when there is a timed 'boss' object to be broken down. Physics glitches can send objects flying, invisible walls can prevent rubbish fitting between each other and, bizarrely for such a simple looking game developed by Sony themselves, odd framerate dips and ugly jagged edges are abound. Thankfully the simplistic art style, not dissimilar with that found in Katamari Damacy, helps slightly rectify the latter. A brilliant soundtrack lies at the heart of the presentation too which also distracts away from the rougher areas.
In Trash Panic, there is a rule which states that you can only let 3 undamaged items fall out the bin, otherwise it is game over. This introduces some tactics to the game as it prevents the player from mindlessly smashing down every object in sight (as a bouncy rubber ball will just ricochet out incurring a penalty). This is a flawed rule however as it can often conflict with the physics system and contribute to failed stages. Unfairly, items can become dislodged and even fall in front of the can or behind it. The rule is made moreso frivolous since a slightly damaged piece of rubbish which falls will not count towards the 3 - utterly insane that damaged rubbish is any better than undamaged when it comes to penalising the player.
Trash Panic is a competent puzzler with many clever mechanics which, at a slightly marked down price compared to other PSN games, is an attractive proposition. Those who fall in love with the game and who can look past its glaring flaws will find a long lasting experience, especially if they decide to go after the time consuming trophies. Unfortunately, for all the other people who could potentially be burned by purchasing Trash Panic, there is no demo to try, and the staying power of the full game beyond a few days is questionable. So the best advice for those people is to save their money for a different game until a representative demo is released, or until the price is reduced. But you never know, an impulse buy could make this one of your most unexpectantly brilliant downloadable games of the year.