Outside of Metroid Dread, Trash Quest is probably the next best Metroid-like experience I have had in 2021. It is short, compact, and nearly perfectly paced, easily demonstrating that big things can come in small packages.
Trash Quest features Metroid gameplay with a very small touch of rogue elements, giving it a slightly different twist on the genre. Playing as a trash panda, the player needs to platform through a spaceship composed of a few different areas, each indicated by a different colored background. In time, a double jump, triple jump, hover, more powerful canon blasts, and a dash move will be obtained, all of which are used to reach new areas Metroid-style. Just when you think you are lost, you’ll find a new ability or a new hallway to explore keeping progress constant and fulfilling. The controls are also very responsive and feels pixel perfect.
The gimmick behind this low-cost digital download comes from the respawn system. Instead of saving/restarting at dedicated checkpoints, the player always spawns from the same trash can placed in the center of the map. On paper, this might sound annoying but thanks to the thoughtful level design, it works way better than you think. In time, the player will eventually make it through each stage and flip a switch to unlock a door which unlocks a shortcut from the starting point. Therefore, death, which will happen regularly but never constantly, isn’t even an annoyance since you can usually make your way back to the exact same location within seconds, learning something new with each approach. If the stage design wasn’t as tight and thoughtful as it is, this could have easily flew off the rails and generated an entirely different, more frustrating experience. The mini map is also just a button tap away so the player can quickly decide any course of action. It is also possible to keep moving while the map is activated, a handy feature for speed runners.
There are some challenging moments but each circumstance can be overcome with a little tenacity – tough but fair through and through. In fact, the game encourages high level play if you so desire by activing numerous toggles designed for speed running. The final screen also acts as an interactive summary of your performance that is ranked against all other online players, letting you know how much damage you took, keeps track of deaths, and much more.
Each world is also capped with a boss battle. These fights are tough but can be beaten after a few trial and error runs. Thankfully, the game respawns the player just outside the boss door with each death which is a godsend. This is the only time the player doesn’t auto respawn in the middle of the map. This allows the player to keep practicing until you get it right. Again, this is thoughtful and respects the player’s time.
Graphically, the presentation is composed of original Gameboy-like graphics and each carries a similar color scheme of a Super Gameboy. The dual toned visuals also standout thanks to a creative shadow effect that highlights a bubble around the player, providing detail in the background. It is a really cool effect that hasn’t been used much in games and there is even an option to tinker with it in the menu screen. The only thing better than the charming pixel art is the unnecessarily good soundtrack. From the first few seconds of my stream, I was blown away by the music, stopping just to listen. So good.
My complaints are minor and never stutter the gameplay. There are a few cheap enemy placements and behaviors that can cause some annoyance, like the floating enemies toward the end of the game that follow you and launch heat seekers that never stop hunting unless they hit a wall. The common enemy also does not reward the player with health drops or XP so sometimes it is easy and faster just to jump over them. The map screen is also detailed, taking notes from the later Metroid games, and clearly gives the player an indication where to go next, where secrets might be contained, and the location of power-ups. However, it is a little weird that there is no narrative and the game just starts; there isn’t a true main menu screen. Again, by no means a deal breaker and the quirks, in a way, makes this game what it is.
Trash Quest is a great exploratory platformer that rewards the player for performing well and making through some tough challenges. Released at a time when 200 hour RPGs and brutally difficult roguelikes are the norm, a tight and precise two hour Metroid campaign is refreshing, welcomed, and I wish more games mimic this structure.
Also available on Nintendo Switch.