Developer: Japan Studio
Trash Panic represents the first attempt in 25 years to remake Tetris without the abstraction. Here the line-clearing, tidy ‘em up ethos is made literal, blocks transformed into the detritus of contemporary living, broken lightbulbs, dirty dishcloths and empty pens, the receptacle into which they descend now an open-top dustbin.
And while Alexey Pajitnov’s masterpiece saw completed horizontal lines disappearing to make room for the next series of blocks, here objects must be smashed in order to send them to oblivion. Hurl a heavy battery onto a brittle pencil and the latter will splinter on first touch; but lay down a set of dumbbells and you’ll need to throw all manner of flotsam at it before it shatters. In this game, not every item has equal properties and, as such, the challenge is as much one of choosing the right items to pile upon one another as it is of economical arrangement.
The fact that the debris only reduces and never fully clears shifts the overarching objective away from Tetris’ never-ending game of survival. Here each level has a set limit of objects that will be sent your way: manage to fill the bin without spilling more than two of them onto the surrounding floor and you unlock the next level, which offers Katamari-esque progression of ever-larger objects to contend with.
The incessant grind of destruction is tempered by ‘Mottainai’, valuables such as diamond rings, paintings and sushi that are intermittently sent your way, and which must be carefully laid on the bin’s floor to await rescue from one of a group of squat, esoteric creatures that walk to and fro, observing your progress. Break these items before they’re recovered and you’ll be penalised with a shower of bin-filling fruit, damningly dubbed ‘ego-friendly’. But manage to protect the Mottainai and you’ll be classed ‘eco-friendly’, a little soft-learning, no doubt, to encourage thoughtful recycling.
In later stages, the consuming qualities of fire supplement the tactic of brute force. Matches can be strategically placed in the bin to burn wooden items, the flames encouraged and intensified by toilet rolls and satisfyingly flammable acoustic guitars. Here the systems that underpin play feel even more indiscriminate than the unpredictable physics of gravity, the fire apparently taking and leaving of its own accord. To counter the ensuing feeling of partial helplessness, play can at any time be paused by placing a lid on the bin to stop new items being added. This temporary break offers you chance to take stock, strategise and perhaps even wobble the controller to shake the bin in the hope that a troublesome item might shift its position in a favourable way.
However, this creative use of Sixaxis’ motion detection reveals the game’s deep-rooted flaw: that puzzle games always favour the mathematical precision of clear cause and effect. Here, the unpredictability of the game’s objects and their physics is unsatisfying in the long term, where success can too often seem a case of luck than skill or judgement. In many ways, Trash Panic represents the kind of inventive, inimitable Japanese release that comes all too infrequently – but here, such creativity has not been enough to turn an interesting idea into a brilliant one.