Trash TV Review «

Trash TV Review

Trash TV? When you first hear the title, you might expect a game that sends you off to battle the forces of network evil with the likes of Snooki and Kim Kardashian, but this 2D sidescroller and puzzler takes its title far more literally than that. You are, after all, a TV, and you’re in the trash. You follow the tubular guy as he bounds from platform to platform in a grim recycling plant in search of his remote, all while using everything from uzis to shotguns to battle his way to destiny. Like so much trashy TV, the game is not particularly memorable, but neither is it entirely without appeal.

Its heart is certainly in the right place. The artistry that characterizes games from the current 2D revival shows up in the very first seconds, as you guide a single pixel to merge with others in order to bring life to the dead box. Personality oozes from the presentation, particularly in the way that the display defaults to a curved 4:3 aspect ratio that recalls old Magnavoxes and Zeniths, or in the way the IBA-style cue dots march across the upper right of the screen as you near the end of a level. At some points, the screen crackles and fuzzes up and vaguely Pip-Boy-esque cartoons pop up to display hints. When you die, it cuts to the colored rectangular bars familiar from the days when networks actually went offline.

Cutesy animations introduce most new concepts.

The 2D, slightly pixelated style perfectly fits the subject matter. It’s a style that belongs to the era of its antenna-capped protagonist, and not so much to today’s world of curved Samsungs and 4K resolutions. It’s a style that promises the magic some of us experienced on the NES on similar screens in the 1980s, and the general fluidity of the controls as the TV flits across molten steel and lasers suggests that developer Lawrence Russell has the chops to pull it off. I found it especially fun with an Xbox 360 controller.

Too bad the end experience comes off as merely passable. Part of the reason why Trash TV shares the same running time as late-night network movies is that it rarely presents a challenge, so thoroughly does it cling to the most basic conventions of the current crop of platforms. Our TV bounds from platform to platform, sometimes while lava fills gaps behind him or massive platforms threaten to crush him, but Trash TV never achieves a tenth of the tension of games like Super Meat Boy. Even death is forgivable, essentially resulting in a quick respawn to the point at which you fouled up. Much of the progression centers on placing crates on the right buttons at the right time (and, pleasingly, some of the crates affectionately recall Portal’s Companion Cube), but never once did I find myself stumped for more than ten seconds. Get into the rhythm, and the whole thing flies by in a blur, which eventually caused me to slip into same type of slack-jawed hypnotism I might experience while watching My Strange Addiction or Buckwild.

Much of the challenge is about perfectly tossed throws, not nail-biting action.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy my time with Trash TV; far from it. It’s just that, as with so much trashy TV, getting the most out of it usually involves forgetting that I could be doing something better. And to its credit, Trash TV does a good job of keeping the experience from slipping into a repetitive slog. Indeed, my chief enjoyment from the game sprang not from the actual platforming but rather from each weapon that TV Guy finds inexplicably strewn around the facility, whether it’s a simple handgun or shotgun or, later, twin uzis and C4 explosives that he uses to blast crates and vindictive vending machines. The timing is great–new weapons usually appear just as the previous one is wearing out its welcome. (Alas, that’s also a problem, as it’s almost never necessary to use a particular weapon again once you’ve moved past its specialized zone.)

And so it goes for two hours, to the tune of a catchy but similarly passable soundtrack. The entire experience would have been better if Russell had managed to work some boss battles into the mix, but all that usually heralds the end of the stage are the cue dots mentioned above. On at least one occasion, I failed to even notice I’d completed a level. At times, the hint of something better presents itself, such as when you have to to fend off a swarm of other appliances while you wait for an elevator to descend, but then the end comes (along with the promise of a new “season”) and you realize that was as good as it gets.

Crates are a big part of Trash TV, and it’s always good to experiment with tossing them around.

It shouldn’t have been. The potential for greatness broadcasts from every corner of Trash TV, but it comes off as guilty-pleasure television programming that was rushed out by studio executives intent on meeting a deadline. And perhaps there’s some truth to that. Trash TV seems to have started life as a co-op game, and even now, that legacy shows up in the hand-drawn artwork that’s used to promote the game, in which two CRT television sets face off against a clothes dryer and a slot machine atop a garbage heap. Russell’s blog claims it could still make an appearance as a “post-launch free update,” but that was almost a year ago.

Even so, I had fun. Trash TV’s puzzles and platforming might bear the heavy stamp of other games that came before it, but its endearing use of the conventions of CRT television paired with weapon-toting boob tubes does much to make up for such misgivings. As with a decent trashy TV show, I probably won’t experience it again, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy my brief time with it.