Justin Roiland presents Trover Saves The Universe, a magnificently debased and hilarious action-adventure game that's even better in VR.
It’s fairly straightforward stuff: you’re but a simple chairorphian living a home-bound life before an aggressive titan-sized eyehole monster named Glorkon kidnaps your two dogs and stuffs them into his eyeholes, using the resultant power to disrupt the cosmos and attempt to destroy it. Lucky for you, Glorkon’s mystical former associates the Abstainers concoct a last-gasp retaliatory mission, roping in a helpful and foul-mouthed purple eyehole monster named Trover to work alongside you, touring different planets on a quest to save the pups and possibly the universe in Squanch Games’ unprecedented VR-optional game, Trover Saves The Universe.
Those who know Justin Roiland from his smash Adult Swim series Rick and Morty (co-created with Dan Harmon), Squanch’s previous absurdist quasi-horror VR adventure game Accounting+ made alongside cult indie studio Crows Crows Crows, or his massive jurisdiction of voicework across a slew of projects all over television and beyond already know that Trover is gonna be weird. Of course it’s gonna be weird. They might expect improvised and imaginative dialogue, rambling off-color references to genitalia and bodily secretions, confidently disastrous one-of-a-kind character names like “Shweppy” and...well, “Trover” is a rather singular one too, now that we’re really thinking about it. Seemingly ever single Roilandverse molecule and tic is digitally presented here, unabashedly jubilant and madly intoxicated.
Beyond the predictable, Trover Saves the Universe is also wonderfully well-rounded, so far as what players actually do (not just hear and see), with enough conventional guidance and gameplay basics to provide an experience that’s briskly paced and feels great to play. Humor-based games always tinker with an interesting paradox: at base-level, the writing needs to be outstanding to sell the jokes, but the repetitive nature of the medium also means that those jokes need to feel constantly fresh. Additionally, writing a funny script does not translate to making a good game on its own; voice performances need to hit all their marks, idiosyncratic gameplay mechanics should be funny within their own logic, if possible, challenges need to be tempered just so, and it’s harder for these types of games to rely on the oft-repeated melodramatic tropes that appear when a plot corner-paints itself or loses direction due to budget constraints. To describe humor-based games as walking a tightrope is insufficient — they walk a barbed wire wearing two left-footed ice skates.
To add to its complexity, Trover Saves the Universe is also an optional yet fully-fledged VR experience. Conveniently, the player takes on the role of an unnamed chairorphian, a kind of alien species who spend their lives butt-affixed to a hovering armchair with their hands on a game controller. Incredibly convenient for VR-play, that. Trover, on the other hand, has full freedom of motion on the ground as well as a trusty laser sword to wail on enemies; squint your eyes and he’s something of a profanity-spewing muppet-like purple Link. Throughout their quest and travels, each of these characters will garner upgrades and additional abilities, with VR head-tracking enabling players to follow Trover’s movements and scope out secrets, reminiscent in this respect to last year’s stellar PS VR exclusive Astro Bot Rescue Mission.
In one of the game’s most surprising tricks, it can also be fully played without any VR at all. It’s a rare feature, but the entirety of Trover Saves the Universe can be completed free from the shackles of any headset. This produces mechanical (and even dialogue) differences which are slight but apparent, with firm X-axis turning required to keep Trover in view and a different approach to utilizing some specific physics-bending abilities. This is actually a fantastic bonus for those times when wearing a headset during extended sessions becomes tiring, but experiencing the game in VR does amplify immersion, which somehow makes the comedy hit more directly and intimately.
In stark contrast to Accounting+, Trover Saves the Universe is through-and-through an action-adventure game in the tradition of the The Legend of Zelda series or Psychonauts. The latter probably approaches the closest approximation to Trover, especially considering the visual character design and flourishes within each level/world the player travels to. The graphics are bright and bouncy, with each reasonably-sized level featuring unique wildlife, traversal challenges, and bizarre characters to poke at. Tucked into every single travel-point is a constantly-refilling cornucopia of jokes, scatological language, riffs on gaming, and improvised verbose insults. In one scene, two of Glorkon’s chatty clones — variations of whom make up the majority of enemies, mostly sounding like slightly-less-belligerently-drunk Rick Sanchezes — stand atop a rampart mocking the approaching heroes and their inability to penetrate these defenses. Stick around, though, and these two clones will just ramble, on and on, inviting unwarranted sexual advances, belittling the player, and just gleefully stomping the profanity meter with both feet.
While this form of content is the mucilaginous coin of Roiland’s realm, that marvelously breathless improvisation and vocal-booth chicanery that helps keep Rick and Morty so eminently rewatchable in marathon sessions, Trover Saves the Universe ramps it all up to a hypnotic degree. A patient playthrough may take up to eight hours, but there must be a dozen more hours’ worth of unique lines and barks from enemies and NPCs, or even just Trover himself. Waste time chopping up flora on Shleemy World and Trover will reference the pointlessness of gaming busywork. Refuse to hang up the phone when Trover’s boss is finished speaking and the awkward chitchat sautes into preposterous inanity. Bump into one of Trover’s old roommates and hear them kvetch about that one time Trover was a jerk; stick around and bear witness to new anecdotes, each more repugnant and hysterical than the last. Combine that with some binary choices that change small aspects throughout, and you’ve got a game that is capital-F Funny and even reasonably replayable. Again, the VR component and its trap-you-in-the-room quality synergizes with the magical humor of Trover Saves the Universe, managing to make it all somehow even more comical, a gamut-running circuit of laugh-out-loud shenanigans, gross-out nonsense, and meta-gaming gags sloshing around a well that seems bottomless.
It should be clearly stated that, sure, this humor is not for everyone. Squanch Games better get its customer service team in ship-shape for irate parents wondering why the cute colorful game they downloaded for their kids featuring a character describing anal-play in moaning detail, complaining that there are more F-bombs dropped in the first 30 minutes of Trover Saves the Universe than some Tarantino films. The comedy here might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s probably a massive amount of desirable tea all the same, taking the sizable Rick and Morty fanbase into account, and then some. Whereas Accounting+ presented aspects of that humor in a rather abstract VR venue, Trover has a pick-up-and-play smoothness that makes it even easier to enjoy. Abilities, discovering secrets, and the action gameplay basics feel great, combining expectant node-travel with third-person traversal keeps the game from venturing into esoteric VR movement difficulties, and the ability to play the game without a headset means that its humor isn’t reserved for the early-tech-adopting elite.
Had Trover Saves the Universe opted to remain VR-only, it might present a convincing reason to purchase a headset, only because there’s minimal competition on the shelf for such undiluted and singularly crass humor. Generally speaking, good comedy is harder to produce than good drama, and the all-time list of successfully funny video games — meaning games that actually prompt uncontrollable bouts of laughter, not just a smirk or knowing chuckle — is alarmingly short as a result. For these reasons alone, Trover is a rousing success, making it the new crown jewel in Squanch’s stable, as well as a showcase for incredible voice acting performances wrangled and carefully arranged in a playset, operating under Roiland’s inimitable handcrafted approach to the art. There are lengthier, more complex and challenging and expensive action-adventure games, none of which will make you cry-laugh in your stuffy headset like Trover Saves The Universe, easily the best use of PS VR since Astro Bot.
Trover Saves the Universe launches on May 31, 2019 on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR for $29.99, with PC versions releasing on June 4 via the Epic Game Store and Steam. A digital PS VR copy was provided to Screen Rant, for purposes of review.