It's really rare that I find a game that I enjoy quite as much as Trash TV. Over the years, I've watched 2D platformers become a genre known for how criticized they are, gamers all over the world convinced that they're almost all the same. There are a few exceptions in the indie community, Rogue Legacy and VVVVVV come to mind, but there are still a lot of gamers that are convinced they won't find anything new with 2D platformers.
Those gamers will miss out a lot with Trash TV. I've watched this one since its earlier days on TIGSource and it's quite incredible how far it has come. From the moment you boot it up, chasing colored pixels to the lifeless television that is your character, rebooting it, a stunningly well-done CRT effect overlaid on the screen, creating an outline as if you were playing the game on an older television, the game captures your attention. It's surreal how well it draws you in. There's this world just beyond the screen in which a television is desperately trying to find his remote. You have to help him find his remote.
You do this by solving all manner of puzzles and platforming challenges. It starts out easy, jumping around and moving boxes to facilitate jumping around, always getting dropped back in a central hub. Then explosives get added in. Then weapons. From there, it becomes a lot more challenging, having to organize boxes on a multitude of buttons, time shots at explosives to get them to go off at the right time, and set up multiple explosives to launch you in different directions in a specific order, among other challenges. The amount of variety that Lawrence Russell has packed into this game is insane and I had fun figuring out each challenge as new elements were constantly brought forth. The torrent of new and creative puzzles simply doesn't stop and there's not a whole lot of repetition beyond using what you've learned in the hub.
I feel that at this point I am obligated to praise the hub a bit. It is designed incredibly well, constantly challenging you to use what you learn in each of the game's six locations to reach new locations. One or two were as simple as activating a platform or tearing through boxes with one of the weapons you acquire but it was a largely satisfying experience. What's more, the game tracks your progress intuitively, providing a map of the factory in the hub that shows locked locations in red, unvisited locations that you can reach in white, and completed locations in green. There's even a puzzle to unlock a weapon in the hub!
Beyond the general feel of the puzzles, there's even more detail. The minute details that are thrown in make it all the more “real." You are a living television. Instead of boxes, occasionally, you will be provided with other televisions that look at you and feel happiness when you pick them up, only to be tossed into a trash compactor so that you can get by, killing them. When you are near a compactor and it comes down, the screen will shake and static will show up on your screen. Story segments and teaching you how to overcome certain obstacles are done through a transmission of sorts that comes from the antennae of the main character. There are times it almost appears to become contemplative, even, reflecting on what it might be like to be a television stuck in this situation and what sort of moral dilemmas you might face. There are a lot of little details like that build this feeling and make the experience all the more immersive, despite being a 2D platformer.
Another of those details is that you're a hardy television that can survive an explosion. The game loves to use this one and there are a large number of puzzles that center around using explosions to propel yourself around. Personally, I can say that they are extremely well-done and warrant mentioning separately because there are a lot of games that don't get such puzzles quite right. This one did.
There's also a small bit of combat, which comes with almost all games that have weapons and, instead of dying from combat, what happens when you get hit is that you sort of go “haywire," automatically running until you hit something, at which point you turn around, the screen going fuzzy to disorient you. You can jump to try and avoid certain death but most combat segments are placed in places where there are compactors and other traps that can easily be run into. It was rather entertaining, and a nice touch, that you fought toasters, other televisions, and vending machines that charge at you. You are in a trash facility of some sort.
Should you die, in going with the TV theme, there is a brilliantly-designed “rewind" mechanic in place. It's essentially just a great checkpointing system that is incredibly lenient, never forcing you to replay completed puzzles but it's a nice touch. You can also choose to rewind at any time from the pause menu, should you feel stuck or actually be stuck.
It is unfortunate, however, that its best mechanic is the most short-lived. Near the end of the game, you unlock a weapon that changes everything, one that is extremely clever and gives way to some of the game's most challenging puzzles. I feel there was a lot of untapped potential with this one, mostly focusing on the sole use of that weapon, giving you only a taste of what more complex puzzles utilizing multiple weapons might be like. Judging from the rest of the game, it seems as if everything was carefully designed to keep from overstaying its welcome but it feels as if you barely say hello to this new mechanic before it's gone. Similar experiences occur at other times but this one is the most devastating.
That doesn't change the fact that there is a lot to like about Trash TV. From the well-designed puzzles to the little attentions to detail, it is one of the single greatest platformers I have ever played and, at a budget price of $6.99, it is really hard to say no to. It is a bit short, sitting at an hour and a half before I hit the credits, but that hasn't stopped games like VVVVVV and Escape Goat from reaching greatness. I genuinely hope that it doesn't stop this one either. It's a great game from start to finish and that is something we don't get often enough.
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Time to die all over again.