Spectrum

Trashman

 

Trashman

In the days before gaming was big business, there was a beautiful moment in time when games were perhaps at their quirkiest - when one person in a spare room, hunched over a black and white portable TV, could produce something completely unique and off the wall and then somehow manage to get it commercially published. This period of time produced not only some of the oddest but also some of the most uniquely British titles that have ever been released. And despite it's Americanised name, New Generation Software's 'Trashman' is very, very British indeed.


Malcolm Evans is perhaps best remembered for the groundbreaking '3D Monster Maze' on the ZX81, a game that many rank among the machine's very best. Unfortunately his early attempts at replicating that success on the Spectrum weren't nearly as well received despite generally being very solid games. It wasn't until 1984 that he finally struck gaming gold again, and while Trashman might not be as technically impressive as 3D Monster Maze it still stands out as an all-time classic.

Cast in the role of a hapless rubbish collector, your task is simple - empty an increasing number of bins on each of the game's streets before the timer runs out. To do this you need to visit each house and retrieve the dustbin, before carting it back to the rubbish truck, emptying it out and (crucially) returning the empty bin back to where you initially found it. This is often a tricky enough task in itself, but Trashman's daily routine is further complicated by a number of extra hazards - some gardens contain dogs who will chase and bite you if you step onto the lawn, while unruly teenage cyclists riding up and down the pavements will knock you down given half a chance. Both of these result in a temporary limp, making Trashman move more slowly and therefore more susceptible to being hit by cars on the increasingly busy roads.

It's not all bad news, however - empty a bin without incident and the owner of the house might pop out to invite you in for a chat, with the added bonus of topping up your timer a little. This is perhaps where the game is at its most British, as each of these short, two-sentence conversations is slapstick comedy gold - a mixture of classic British sitcom and early '80s computer scene gags that still raise a smile today if you're of an age where you can remember them in context.

 


Although an early game, one of the things that strikes you the most about Trashman is how beautiful it is. Each street is presented from a bird's eye view and at a slight angle, and this isn't just for effect as it also helps to give the world depth - Trashman can pass behind houses and other objects in a semi-realistic manner, helping the player to more naturally understand the layout of the levels. The backgrounds themselves are impressive and well drawn, and although the sprites are small they move smoothly and Trashman himself is very well animated despite lacking the same level of detail lavished on the street itself. But it is perhaps the use of colour which deserves the greatest praise - despite the Spectrum's hardware restrictions each level is presented in glorious full-colour, with the layouts cleverly designed so as to avoid too much attribute clash. The end result is both incredibly pleasing to the eye and also very clear and easy to follow.

The game itself is easy to pick up and play, with simple, responsive controls and a fair learning curve that lets you feel like you're making progress each time you play. That said, it's certainly not easy - the time limits can be very harsh, and being hit by a car results in an instant 'game over' with no second chances. As the levels progress the road quickly becomes your biggest enemy; as the cars get faster and more unpredictable and the gaps in the traffic get smaller and harder to navigate, trying to cross quickly while carrying both a full bin and a limp becomes hugely risky and likely to leave you in a sweating panic with every near miss. The risk/reward system is very well judged, however, and even though you'll fail often you can always see exactly what it was that you did wrong, and how you might do better next time.

 


Trashman was quite well-received by the gaming press, scoring 8/10 in Sinclair User and 83% in Crash, but has gone on to be something of a fan favourite in later years despite just missing those coveted Classic and Smash awards. Conversions to the Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC followed, and these are both well done and faithful to the Spectrum original. Later in 1984 Malcolm Evans followed up with a sequel, 'Travel With Trashman', which although fun in itself had little to do with the first game and lost a lot of the magic that made the original so special. A third game, 'Trashman Goes Moonlighting' was hinted at in magazine news pages but sadly never made it to release - Malcolm's last Spectrum game was 'Jonah Barrington's Squash', released the following year.

Trashman holds up very well compared to many other releases of that era and it's still excellent fun to dip into even today, but it's that quirky 'Britishness' that really makes it stand out from the crowd. In much the same vein as Microsphere's excellent 'Skool' series, Trashman is a product of both a very specific period of time and a very particular set of cultural influences, and a brilliant example of a type of game that would be all-but extinct just a few years later once gaming became more business-driven and needed to appeal to a wider global audience.

Speaking personally, however, Trashman isn't just a fascinating curiosity but also a genuinely superb game and one of my all-time Spectrum favourites - a true classic in every sense of the word.



Writer Info
Blerkotron
Author: Blerkotron
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User Blerk - gamer, writer, retronaut, chiptune fan, professional moaner. Available for birthdays, weddings and bar mitzvahs. May contain nuts.
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Parent Category: Game Reviews
Category: Spectrum