Virtual reality games usually require that players suspend their disbelief a little more than normal. Normal concepts don’t often graft as easily onto VR stories, which means some sort of conceit has to be made in order to excuse the main character’s limited mobility. TROVER SAVES THE UNIVERSE isn’t one of those games as it was entirely conceived from Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland’s twisted mind to completely take advantage of the medium from its bizarre premise to its unorthodox gameplay. Intuitive mechanics and quirky charm are the game’s defining characteristics but also end up holding the whole experience back from true greatness.
Trover Saves the Universe’s ludicrous universe sounds like it was fabricated by someone taking shrooms while writing the script in a Mad Libs and Final Draft hybrid program. You play as a dog-loving Chairorpian, a race of beings bound to chairs that only move via the controllers in their laps. Chairorpian life was good until the evil “chicken nugget” Glorkon kidnapped your beloved canines and shoved them into his eyes, which gave him the power and lust to unleash his wrath onto the universe. Trover, a purple, Chairorpian-hating Eyehole Monster, is sent to bring you back to his fixer to remedy the problem, but then gets reluctantly tangled up in this mess along with you.
On paper, its loony nonsense only seems like random jabber meant to make stoners chuckle but it intelligently lays the foundation for its gameplay. Although you, the Chairorpian, are the playable character, you control Trover through the power baby he takes from his eyes and plugs into your Chairorpian-designated controller. This means that the controller your character uses to control their chair now controls Trover, making it one of those elusive second-person platformers.
It turns the game into a diorama-like viewpoint that fits VR incredibly well as you look down upon Trover and guide him to the nodes that you, the Chairorpian, need to teleport to in order to see the purple Eyehole Monster. While weird as hell, this in-universe justification shows the dedication the game as a whole has for the VR medium.
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However, the combat isn’t as tailored for VR and it isn’t as smooth because of it. Fighting is incredibly simplistic as you have only have one attack for most of the game along with weak, stupid enemies. Mashing can easily carry you through almost every fight and dodging or any sort of thoughtful play is never encouraged.
Trover doesn’t have to be as nimble or as complex with his laser sword as Dante is with his Rebellion, but a bigger array of options and moves would have made combat less tedious and more mentally involving. The distanced viewpoint can also sometimes make Trover a bit difficult to see among a crowd but that rarely matter since your combat skills are never tested.
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The distanced viewpoint does make for some decent puzzle mechanics though. Different upgrades give the player control over the game in a way that intuitively gels with the VR medium. Players can pick up certain objects and fling others just by looking and pressing the appropriate button. Moving and stacking objects helps Trover traverse the levels and is even sparingly used for light puzzle solving. Throwing debris during combat is also useful as you can mash as Trover and use your physical head to aim at other enemies at the same time.
Both deepen the game’s admittedly shallow mechanics but despite their undeniable utility, they aren’t as ubiquitous as they should be. Puzzles hardly require much brainpower as most seem to just ask the player to simply make a bridge or place boxes on switches. Fights are also not hard or complicated enough to encourage the player to throw hazards at the enemies.
Almost all of Glorkon’s forces can just be repeatedly clubbed without requiring much or any input from the player’s telekinetic head. It’s a big missed opportunity given that different foes could have had different weaknesses that required certain cooperative actions between Trover and the player.
There are a few instances where the game does ask the player to both use their head to move something while also doing something with Trover. Sometimes you’ll have to hit a thing as Trover in order to chuck it at a specific enemy or fight grunts as you have to make a certain object float near Trover as he kills his foes. Simultaneously doing one thing as yourself while also controlling Trover gives small glimpses of what could have been. Trover Saves the Universe is already a little mechanically sparse and more creative uses of its systems could have helped address its fundamental shortcomings.
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These weaknesses are even more pronounced when not in virtual reality, which unfortunately has the chance to be the way most people experience Trover Saves the Universe. Playing on a flat screen sucks most of the allure out of the game from the start since it overwrites how the whole concept was custom-made for virtual reality. Peeking at Trover through a second-person perspective makes less sense out of VR and results in a game that’s both harder and not as interesting to play.
Despite being able to lock the camera to him, platforming is trickier because of the lack of depth perception and added distance between you and the purple guy. He’s more of a pain to keep track of in the simple, yet vibrant colors and the added layer of controlling someone who is controlling someone is an arbitrary step when playing traditionally. Virtual reality is the special sauce that holds almost all of the appeal for Trover Saves the Universe and not requiring VR opens it up for more people, but it also robs it of its one-of-a-kind soul.
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Roiland is also responsible for most of the game’s soul because of how many characters he voices and how a lot of concepts seem bred from his style of bizarre, Rick and Morty-esque humor. But Rick and Morty seems to comparatively leash Roiland from going as off the rails and focuses his ideas into a singular vision. Trover Saves the Universe is a bit looser and not as strong as a result.
Improvisation defines the game as almost all of its dialogue seems like Roiland’s stream of consciousness ramblings. He’s fairly quick-witted and weird enough to spout a good chunk of funny one-liners or ridiculous anecdotes to warrant a few laughs here and there. Most levels even have a clever specific gag or two.
But the improvisation comes back to bite the game in the ass since almost all the dialogue follows the same formula. Roiland regularly stutters and swears through whatever random sentences are flying through his brain and past his lips and it’s too obvious that’s making everything up as he goes along. Rambling has its place but it is best in moderation, which this game doesn’t have. He voices almost every character as well, meaning almost all of them have similar voices while they are saying similar things in a similar cadence for the entire game. It would be like if every episode of Rick and Morty was an Interdimensional Cable episode.
And those are good episodes but they prove that Roiland has an outlandishly creative mind that has to be reigned in, edited, and wrapped around a more cohesive structure for his ideas to hit with maximum impact. Without a leash and more scripted writing, his constant impromptu delivery dilutes his spontaneous good jokes especially since there’s not enough variety to break it all up.
This “almost but not quite” issue is symbolic of Trover Saves the Universe as a whole. It’s a funny enough game but its one-note dialogue slightly outweighs its instances of decent humor. The mechanics work well at first, but they are too simplistic and don’t take as much advantage of the VR medium as they could. But despite their flaws, all of these parts are good enough to make Trover Saves the Universe one of the more memorable VR experiences. While it’s a bummer for those without VR, the game’s commitment to virtual reality is something the medium could always use more of, even if it comes alongside a foul-mouthed Eyehole Monster who once fucked shrinkle when he thought it was a dinkle.
GameRevolution reviewed Trover Saves the Universe on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher.