Released in 1984 by New Generation Software, Trashman was developed by Malcolm Evans - the man responsible for the ZX81 classic 3D Monster Maze. In Trashman you play the part of Fred Scrunge: alert, nimble footed and able to hold his drink, Fred is a happily married father of three, chess player and home computer expert, and therefore only able to find work as an apprentice binman. Although you have to wonder what went on in some of the pitch sessions at games companies in the 80s...
'The T. Rex is ancient history, we need a new gaming icon!'
'How about some sort of astronaut - maybe with a jet pack?'
'No, something the average kid in the playground can relate to. Nobody's dad is an astronaut!'
'Something like a miner then?'
'Well now you're just being silly. Something working class though, for sure.'
'So, something like Binman: the Video Game?'
'Fred Scrunge, you are a certified genius!'
And so it came to be that schoolboys across the nation could virtually live the dream, simulating the daily grind of the lowliest council employees (Probably). The job of a trashman is seemingly straightforward: collect the bin, empty it into the back of the lorry, return the empty bin, move on to the next house. If you survive seven streets without getting run over, you get to be Trashman of the Year and travel the world on a busman's holiday (but that's another game).
Things are complicated, however, not least because nobody in this town has the common decency to put their bins out on the kerb before 7am; this leaves you having to make your pixel perfect way along the narrow paths around the houses to collect the bins. And in case that wasn't enough, there's that old standby, the time limit, represented by a constantly decreasing bonus shown in the corner of the screen. If it runs down to zero before you've emptied the required number of bins, you get a black mark; three strikes and you're history.
The bonus ticks down steadily, and can be replenished if you allow yourself to be seduced by the many bored housewives who want to moan about their children, get their TV fixed on the cheap, or take over the world with a ZX81. Stray onto their well manicured lawn, however, and not only will you not be invited in, but your bonus will decrease much more quickly while you're on the grass - and they may even release the hounds. All of which conspires to give the game a nicely pitched difficulty level (although I'm still somewhere near the bottom of the learning curve this time round).
Sound is minimal; the sounds of gates opening and bins being emptied - and even the almost scary dogs that bark at you from some of the houses - are so unobtrusive that the almighty crash when you inevitably get hit by a car (crossing the road is, as far as I can tell, a matter of pot luck most of the time) is as loud and alarming as it should be. Minimal, but effective.
It may come as no surprise, given that its developer made a convincing T. Rex out of the standard ZX81 character set, that the visuals are where this game stands out. Trashman is a full colour game with very little colour clash and some really cracking graphics; there are several different layouts of houses, greenhouses, trees, even cyclists and dogs to avoid which are actually recognisable as cyclists and dogs, even with the slightly odd overhead perspective (I've never seen a bin lorry from directly overhead, but I'd be willing to bet the rendition in this game is not far off). And then there's the clever use of the BRIGHT attribute to give the effect of shadows...
Trashman himself may be a little stick figure, but he's a stick figure who walks, picks up a trash can, then walks back with the bin on his shoulder (the wheelie bin is some years away from widespread acceptance), and tips it up into the back of the lorry. Another nice touch is the way he slows down with a full bin, or a dog bite, or a cyclist inflicted injury. And on later levels there's a pub to contend with too...
I probably spent hours playing this game when it was new, spurred on by the knowledge that I could have finished that level if I hadn't been run over by some pillock in a speeding Fiat Strada. Playing it now, the strange little chats with those bored housewives and their sometimes very 80s comments add a nice bit of retro humour to a tricky but fun game - and I think I'll be spending a few more hours with it now.
Review by Steve Trower