Trash. Rubbish. Waste. It’s a conundrum. How do we reduce, reuse and ultimately eliminate it? Well, I won’t be answering such big questions here but instead introducing you to a world where the know-how already exists to turn trash into treasure. No, I’m not talking about a new late morning BBC show, this is Trash Sailors.
It looks like humankind has pushed its luck too far, and as a result a huge tsunami of rubbish has flooded the world and rendered trash the most valuable resource going. It’s a good job then, that your compactor can churn it down into useful materials. The only way to get around is aboard your fragile looking raft, made with (you guessed it) trash.
Your journey will take you through the jungle, sub zero temperatures and eventually to face a fearsome mecha monster. You can navigate the world map freely, aboard a miniature avatar version of your raft. There are twenty base levels in total and a couple of bonus stages too. Many levels have a “crazy” mode, where the conditions are very different.
These normally slightly simplify the situation (such as giving you unlimited fuel) but ramp up the difficulty in other ways such as chucking enemies at you at almost every turn. I have to be honest, as the gameplay is fairly short and simple this meant I had no real desire to play through these extra levels, especially as their design is identical to their regular counterparts.
You can play Trash Sailors solo, choosing a crewmate to play alongside your trusty AI controlled robot assistant. Rather oddly, you can select a human companion instead of the robot, but if you’re playing solo they will stand there and do nothing. There are numerous roles you can take up, such as steering, fighting off pirates, fishing for trash and manning the spotlight atop your mast. It’s often not possible to do it all at once, so the help is very much appreciated.
Guiding your raft is pretty straightforward, and you need to keep the engine fueled up with scrap from your compactor. This is done by fishing for trash, and matching the set of three symbols on your screen for a perfect grind. Achieving this will also give you a little boost for good measure, as well as some extra resources.
Of course, there will be all sorts of obstacles in your way, many of which can be blown to bits with your cannon. However, despite the illusion of being in open water, each level is restricted to a pretty narrow path. As a result you’ll quickly reach a point where you can’t steer further in a given direction. This really restricts the gameplay, and becomes a little problematic when you’re unable to steer around hazards because you’ve hit the edge of the playzone.
When casting your hook, it’s not just trash that’s up for grabs. Many items will be bathed in a sparkling light, signifying they are valuable. The most important, however, are the bottled maps which you will need a certain amount of to progress forward. There are three in each level, and your progress bar at the bottom indicates roughly where they will appear during your voyage. Thankfully, there is a generous margin for error when trying to hook trash, so you don’t require pinpoint accuracy.
Before long, indigenous creatures and people will try to board your raft and sink you by smashing it up piece by piece. You can use compacted trash to make repairs, but your best bet is fighting them off. Giving them a good slap will usually knock them back into the drink, and certain critters will drag your raft towards danger. At times, night will draw in presenting a different type of threat, and you’ll need to leg it up the mast to switch your spotlight on. This will clear the danger, for a time at least.
At times there’s quite a bit going on in Trash Sailors, and it’s easy to lose control of the situation. Luckily, your raft is pretty sturdy, so you have time to take the reins back before you’re sunk. However, there’s one really fundamental issue with Trash Sailors, and that is how it controls. Something as simple as trying to pick an item up can be utterly infuriating.
This problem is only worsened when it’s all kicking off, as your little character will either pick up the wrong item, take the wheel, try to climb the mast, man the cannon or cast its hook almost at random. When you need to be able to, acting with precision is a pure lottery. I was endlessly chucking the wrong item in the compactor, or grabbing the steering wheel in error.
As helpful as your little robot is, it can also act questionably at times too. For example, if it gets battered off the raft and returns, rather than automatically head back to steering it may decide to start fishing instead. Before you know it you’re on a collision course with a tree, with nowhere near enough time to stop it. At other times, it will stand next to the steering wheel but not actually take it, because you haven’t placed it back in exactly the right position. The AI is inconsistent and usually lets you down when you need it least.
The currency in Trash Sailors is screws, these can be used to buy a variety of upgrades and cosmetics in between missions. You can choose from all sorts of practical upgrades, such as a stronger hull, better weaponry and a spotlight which lasts longer. I found the anchor to be one of the most useful however, allowing you to come to a complete stop, take a breath, and assess the situation. Screws will also allow you to kit out your characters with all sorts of clobber, and you’ll recruit new crew members as you play.
Trash Sailors almost looks like a kids pop-up book, and although the characters themselves could look a bit intimidating for younger players (they’re a bit hideous), I like the hand drawn style choice fluckyMachine have gone for here. Each part of the world is distinctly different too, with the day and night segments taking on their own identity. Given the dev team is made up of just two people, I was even more impressed with the design of the game.
Trash Sailors is aimed at co-op play but it feels exactly the same as solo mode. So if you decide to assign someone to steer whilst the other hooks trash, apart from the occasional obstacle to blow up or pirate to fend off, you end up having to do less as a player. As there’s two of you this means that suddenly the game becomes much easier. There is little need for you to communicate either, it’s possible to play it in silence which kind of defeats the object. It’s not often I say this, but playing co-op doesn’t really make this game any more enjoyable.
I tried a couple of times, and I couldn’t find an online match which, given Trash Sailors is a smaller game, is not surprising. But hey, I managed to get through this review without mentioning my current trigger word, simulator. Oh dang it.
Trash Sailors is a fundamentally flawed experience which isn’t totally sunk but will have you questioning when you can get back on dry land.
Trash Sailors is on the Xbox Store
- Solid core gameplay ideas
- Plenty of upgrades to unlock
- Visually engaging
- Inaccurate controls
- Co-op play adds little value
- AI can be dodgy
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - tinyBuild
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
- Version reviewed - Xbox One on Xbox Series X
- Release date - 8 November 2022
- Launch price from - £16.74