🚮 Trashy physics

Generally speaking, I don’t like physics in games. So in a way, I don’t likeTrash Panic. This downloadable PlayStation Network puzzle game for PS3 has a great concept: efficiently arrange random pieces of trash in a trash bin by destroying stuff. The most used technique to do this, will be to break your pieces of trash by smashing them into the bin with force. Logically, this is where the physics come into play and, sadly, start ruining the concept.

When you smash a light-bulb into the bin, it usually shatters into satisfying pieces. Not everything shatters instantly though, so when you get a dumbbell to use, you expect it to be some kind of rubbish killer. Surely it will flatten other items under its weight. But smashing it into the bin only seems to break the very first item it hits! Sure, that one item is then completely shattered, but for a ‘heavy’ item, the physics behind it feel weak.

It’s a massive shame. Once you understand the smashing procedure, you want Trash Panic to become a superb new twist on the Tetris formula. Instead you get a disappointing implementation of a physics engine (the Havok engine, no less) and will need to rely on occasionally burning, consuming or exploding trash instead of utilising items. Foul up those opportunities and a game over is almost guaranteed.

It makes me wonder again what physics actually add to games. In my experience it usually seems to clash with the games it’s being used in. All other aspects of the game might be on a tight leash, but physics add a ‘fuzzy’ element of perceived randomness to the proceedings that get in way of playing the game proper. It’s rare to find it well implemented.

For a puzzle game like Trash Panic, using physics incorrectly turns it into a game of chance that does not seem to behave as you expect it to. That makes it rather… rubbish, despite the wonderful concept underneath.