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Wot I Think: Trash TV

What's on the other side?

Absolutely nothing to do with Smash TV, Trash TV is a brief puzzle platformer in which you play an old television set attempting to escape from a recycling centre. A concept that sounds so strange, it's quite the mystery that it feels so very ordinary. Here's wot I think:

I tried to like Trash TV a lot more than I ever did. It feels like a game I should really enjoy. But then I keep wondering if that’s because it reminds me of enough other games that I did enjoy, without actually matching them.

A side-scrolling puzzle platformer, it tells the tale of a small old television, dumped in a trash heap, trying to escape a grim recycling centre. Which is a cute start. And its very first moments lay out that it’s going to be at least a little unusual, starting as it does with a single pixel under your control. Swoop it toward other pixels until a gathering swirl revive the television, and then off you go on your journey to find your old remote control.

The presentation is splendid, the screen warped at the edges to get the impression of an old CRT box, the controls screen laid out as a screen from CEEFAX. My absolute favourite little detail is the little black and white striped box that appears top right of the screen when you’re nearing the end of a level. It gets 90s television, and that creates a pleasing mysticism.

As much grace as that makes me want to give the game, it’s then unavoidable that it plays out like so, so many other puzzle platformers, without seeming to have its own inspiration beyond the aesthetics.

At first it’s a very simple thing, running and jumping, avoiding enemies, dropping crates on switches to open doors, and so on. As it quickly adds new elements, from guns to rocket jumps to timed explosives, the puzzling follows as expected. And it’s all done neatly enough, with tricksy jumping challenges making up most of its fare. But as each twist comes along, it all feels so familiar. And by the time you reach the fabled remote, it manages to combine an extremely over-used platforming staple with blankly opaque direction.

Perhaps most significantly marring what might otherwise be pleasingly generic (side note: we’re in a great time when indie puzzle platforming offers us so much variety and inspiration that such things can feel generic) are the controls. It’s set to the keyboard, with movement on the arrows, and jumping, picking up/using and firing weapons on three keys. No matter how much I fiddled around with arranging these on my keyboard, it never felt comfortable. In fact, it desperately feels like it needs to be on a controller. However, at the time of writing (a couple of hours before release) a last minute update has added some semblance of gamepad options, but they wildly don’t work. (I’ve set jump to A, fire to B, but in-game neither does either, and in fact both are simultaneously mapped to Y.) If this can be patched to work properly, and perhaps it will be by launch, then it’ll make a big difference to how comfortably you can move around. Arrow keys have never been a good home for slippy movement, and it’s proved again here. And with weapon switching on the number keys, trying to do a clever swap between two weapons requires a mutant third arm.

I think my largest issue - and as I say, trying to figure out why I’m not enjoying it is puzzling me to some extent – is the lack of satisfaction when completing a task. On a couple of occasions I’ve managed to propel myself across the screen in a splendid fashion, landing perfectly on a distant platform, and felt effortlessly brill. But on far more occasions I’ve found I’ve blasted off in the wrong direction, or not quite understood why I’ve not arced as intended, and had to repeat the same jump multiple times until I’ve fluked it. The game is extremely forgiving with its resetting you back to just before you failed, thank goodness.

By the end, you’re trying to do moves that involve using the remove (press 8, press X) and bombs (press 7, press X, hold X), while moving on the arrow keys. It’s clumsy and frustrating, and while possible, again, unrewarding.

It’s all over in a just a few hours. (Quite a few more the first time through, with all the working things out on the fly that’s required. I imagine it could be re-finished in under two hours.) As I say, the design is gorgeous, the pixel art lovely, and the concept behind the tube television presentation a splendid one. If only more could have been made of it – if only it could have gone deeper into those familiar icons of pre-internet television, and made it be a more meaningful part of what you actually do. In the end, you might as well be a blue blob or angry badger for all the impact being a television has on what you play. What you actually get feels like lots of other people’s ideas, rather vaguely stitched together, for no real reason.

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