Television producer, writer, and director Justin Roiland’s mind is a peculiar place. His early animation series and television show Rick and Morty is filled with his signature pure id wrapped in the hilarious improv that keeps the whole thing from sounding like a disturbed cry for help. The team at Squanch Games has done well distilling that brand into their games and keeping his sense of humor intact. Trover Saves the Universe, their newly announced PS4 and PSVR title, is in that same line of experiences but much more of an actual game. My hands-on demo at E3 2018 not only showed me that this was another hilarious adventure, but also something much more in line with a traditional video game.
Before I could even get my VR bearings, Trover, the main character was already verbally chastising me and shattering the fourth wall by calling out E3 and the fact that I’m a part of the press. I realize that clinically explaining a joke in a preview is an easy to way to kill it, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity and timing of the humor.
Trover Saves the Universe Preview: Stick to the Script… Or Don’t
And this happened quite a bit. For the aforementioned reasons, I won’t explain the jokes in Trover Saves the Universe, but their focus on event-specific fourth wall breaks, irreverent humor, and sheer absurdity tickled me in a way similar to the Interdimensional Cable episodes of Rick and Morty. Like those episodes, some of the lines were improvised, which is something Narrative Editor Anthony Bosco has to wrangle with and tame for the game so it’s at least semi-coherent.
“Once [Roiland] gets in the booth, even though we have something written, his brain just starts churning,” he said. “From there, he’ll get better ideas and we’ll change the gameplay based on that. When he’s jamming ideas, we’ll mark it and write it down so when I come back to the editor system, I know what we’re doing and I have to put it together.”
Bosco’s job sounds like a rough amalgamation of the creation process the writing staff goes through on any given episode of Rick and Morty. Roiland will stick to the script but splinter off in unexpected ways that make the project harder, but ultimately better. Or at least more bizarre. Bosco even picked apart what sections from the demo were examples of that and how he’ll splice together takes to get a better cut. Even the E3-specific lines were improvised.
Trover Saves the Universe Preview: A Story as Old as Time
The story in Trover Saves the Universe even sounds like it was made up on the fly. That sounds like a brutal burn (it’s not), but finish this paragraph and tell me I’m wrong. Your character cares deeply about their dogs in a universe where everyone loves their chairs instead. Ostracized by your peers, an evil eyehole monster appears, steals your dogs, and puts them in its eye sockets to conquer the universe. The titular Trover, who is also an eyehole monster, shows up, gives you one of the powerbabies in his eyes so you can control him, and recruits you to help him save the universe and get your dogs back. See what I mean?
The game’s odd story is built like a season of a television series. Squanch is building each world as its own little universe complete with its own characters and small story like an episode of a show. And all of these worlds/episodes combine and help tell the larger, encompassing narrative sort of like a season of TV. Lead Game Designer at Squanch Games Erich Meyr said that the game’s unorthodox setting allows for having random moments that work independently as well as working as pieces of a whole.
“We just wanted to have this sort of like open way of being “Hey we want to do this in the game, we want to do that in the game,” said Meyr. “Let’s not get too serious about how it all has to fit together. We can have a little moment that’s just totally crazy and it’ll still fit in the whole overarching picture.”
Trover Saves the Universe Preview: Squanchception
Squanch Games has usually relied on these goofy but hilarious narratives to keep players invested but Trover Saves the Universe actually has gameplay to pair with its story. You play as yourself in your chair (your people love chairs, remember?) and you control Trover. Essentially, you control your avatar who is controlling Trover.
Trover controls like your typical platforming hero with powerbabies in his eyes. In the demo, he could jump and swing his beam sword. Your avatar can’t move so the trick is getting Trover on the different warp nodes by using the left analog stick. Once he steps on the node, you can warp there to get a better vantage point to collect doodads and get to the next warp node.
This unusual solo cooperative core gameplay was incredibly unique and took advantage of VR quite well, even though it’ll also be available for the standard PS4. Moving Trover to move yourself to progress and collect upgrades is an interesting gameplay concept and was novel enough to make want to see more, even if its depth didn’t quite match its originality. I didn’t get to try it outside of virtual reality but I didn’t want to. It felt made for the headset and didn’t make me want to puke; a win for any VR game.
Roiland’s humor isn’t for everyone and you probably already know whether or not you like it. Given how pervasive the game’s comedy is, it would probably be pretty hard to enjoy the game if you hate the humor. But as someone who enjoys most of Roiland’s adventures, I was incredibly pleased with not only the jokes but also the inventive gameplay that worked in tandem with those jokes. The game’s length will dictate how long it stays fresh but it was all initially innovative enough to hook me. I’m eager and curious to find out how much this will extend to the final game when it squanches some time on PS4 and PSVR in early 2019.