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Joystiq hands-on: Trash Panic (aka Gomibako)

Kevin Kelly

We already previewed Gomibako back in October at TGS, so when we were given the chance to take another look -- this time under the North American title Trash Panic -- we nearly passed it up. It's trash after all, right? Well, yes. "Gomibako" literally translates to "trash box," and plenty of attendees at Sony's Gamers' Day event walked right by, assuming, "Oh. Tetris with trash. I get it."

It's easy to dismiss Trash Panic as a Tetris knockoff, but this puzzle game has a robust physics engine, whimsical graphics, and Katamari-like inspiration that'll find your trash bin growing with each level -- until it actually sits on top of Earth. As you play, the trash also grows in scale, and you'll graduate from tossing away routine office trash to comets, meteors, space stations, and even aliens.

If this sort of gameplay counted as community service, then the world would be a much cleaner place.

Gallery: Gomibako aka Trash Panic | 17 Photos

The basic gameplay is as straightforward as it was in October when we played Gomibako. There's a big blue trash bin that you'll need to fill up with trash in the most efficient manner, grabbing pieces off of a conveyor line that never seems to run out of junk. The trick is figuring out how to stack pieces up and manage your remaining space. The pieces are destructible as well, meaning you can drop substantial items (like a bowling ball) onto something breakable (like a television) and it'll bust up into tiny pieces. It's great fun to drop pieces from above and watch them pummel things to bits.

The game splits the way you dispose: Eco vs. Ego

You can also burn your trash, although that's not very good for the environment. The game splits the way you dispose of trash: Eco (Ecological) vs. Ego (Egotistical). If you burn a lot of junk, you're going to have a soaring Ego score, but if you smash things to bits and group together biodegradable items so that they'll decompose, then you'll have a high Eco score -- doing so keeps the little trash gomis happy, and they'll return the favor from time to time. You'll be able to "hold" two pieces of trash at any time if you aren't sure what to do with something massive and unbreakable, but if you swap a new piece out for the held piece, you immediately have to use that old piece, so you must plan accordingly.

Every now and then a special piece with a yellow ring will drop down, and if it gets to the bottom, one of the gomis will trundle out and fetch it. But if you destroy the special trash, your bin will fill up with yellow balls of "penalty trash," and you'll get a ding on your Ego score. Of course, if you keep those gomis smiling and full of special trash, your Eco score will soar. You also have the option of burning trash by dropping a match (which appears as a piece of trash) onto your heap, and you can then clamp the lid on the bin to cause the fire to burn much hotter and, more importantly, burn out. If you don't care about the planet, then just let the fire roar away with the lid off. You can guess which action is better for your Eco score.

The goal of the game is to beat the clock by placing all your trash in the bin without having pieces fall.

The goal of the game is to beat the clock by placing all your trash, however you want (the Eco and Ego scores don't stop you from advancing), without having any undamaged pieces fall out of your bin. If three pieces fall out, it's game over. The game features two-player, splitscreen gameplay, and secondary modes ranging from Unlimited Mode, where you tender trash as long as possible, and Mission Mode, which tosses you specific trashy goals to complete. The online features are limited to leaderboards, and the ability to upload up to ten minutes of gameplay directly to YouTube.

We spoke with US producer Josh Miller who has been working on the North American localization of the game, which was developed overseas as part of the PlayStation C.A.M.P. talent search, and he assured us that it'll take users a "long time" to get through all of the levels and additional content. Miller was doubtful that there would be future add-ons, so don't expect to be nickle and dimed just for new bits of refuse after the game's release.

Trash Panic, which has been available in Japan for over a month (as Gomibako), is scheduled for release between late May and early June, exclusively on PSN for an as yet determined price. As much fun as it is to burn (or recycle), there's also not a ton of depth to this game. Still, Tetris proved simplicity can be addictive, and Trash Panic could very well command your gaming hours as you wait out the typical summer drought. After all, one man's trash is another man's treasure.

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