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Video Game Review: ‘Trover Saves the Universe’

Director:
Justin Roiland, Tanya Watson
With:
Justin Roiland

Played 10 hours, most in PlayStation VR, about one hour on PS4 without VR.

Justin Roiland really wants to make people laugh.

He’s been doing it for years as the co-creator and lead voice actor of the hit Adult Swim animated show “Rick and Morty.” The bizarre series spawned thousands of catchphrases and impersonations in the three seasons it’s been on the air, or at least it feels that way. A lifelong gamer, Roiland’s latest vessel for comedy is “Trover Saves the Universe,” a part-puzzle, part-platformer, part-combat adventure set vaguely in the realms of outer space. It’s the first big release from Squanch Games, the studio Roiland co-founded with Microsoft and Epic Games alum Tanya Watson, and it sets a high bar for the duo and their team.

Trover’s” control scheme is a bit unusual in that you’re technically in the role of a chair-bound Chairorpian (from a planet whose denizens all reside in chairs) whose dogs have been stolen by Glorkon, a rogue monster with destructive, universe-ending plans. However, all movements and actions are taken by the title character, the foul-mouthed Trover, a purple, somewhat-humanoid alien whose species stuffs tiny creatures (power babies) into their eye sockets to gain new powers. Using an on-screen controller that looks suspiciously like the controller you’ll really hold in your hand, Trover will guide you as you guide him, using warp spots to move through each level and a teleporter to travel between worlds.

If “Trover Saves the Universe” sounds strange so far, you should know that description doesn’t even scratch the surface of its weirdness. It’s easy to compare “Trover” to “Rick and Morty,” as the game is often just as absurd in its humor. It’s at times gross, dirty, self-referential, and just plain bizarre, but it’s always hilarious. This is thanks in huge part to the amount of dialogue recorded for “Trover Saves the Universe,” much of it from Roiland himself. There’s a lot of improvisation, and dialogue will often continue while you wait, usually with Trover berating you for being so slow. Earlier this year, Roiland told Variety that he recorded twice as many hours of dialogue as the campaign required, and that extra dialogue is funny enough to make you want to stay in place around after a goal is completed just to hear what Trover and other supporting characters might say next.

Squanch Games set out to make a comedy game, but it had another goal in mind as well: to create an unforgettable VR experience. “Trover” is a rare game that’s actually better with a virtual reality headset on. It doesn’t rely on gimmicks or exaggerated motion controls, but it does make use of intuitive actions such as shaking your head yes or no. It works fine when displayed normally on a TV screen, but once you put that headset on, you’re part of that weird world in a whole new way.

It’s a world you’ll definitely want to be a part of. On your intergalactic adventure, you’ll see planets with green skies, scenery with giant eyeballs, and a ridiculous cast of characters with silly names like Doopy Doopers and Comedy Guy. It’s really beautiful, in its own way. No two aliens are quite the same, and they all have indistinguishable personalities you could only find in a game like this.

“Trover” is a linear experience, with each level taking place on a different world that limits your path based on the availability of warp pods. Without being explicit about it, each level gently leads you to where you’re supposed to go. There are some hidden collectibles in each world, but once you’ve left a planet you can’t go back unless you choose it from the main menu. Being able to revisit worlds without leaving the story (and with upgraded abilities) would have been nice. However, the story flows from world to world really well, so it’s an understandable design choice to just keep things moving forward.

The controls were designed with VR in mind, and it shows; not just in the fluidity of movement, but in how comfortable it is to explore. We didn’t experience any motion sickness or dizziness thanks to the precise movements required. Because the Chairorpian warps instead of walks, your first-person perspective never becomes muddled. The first-person/third-person view takes a little getting used to, just because it’s so unusual, but after a level you’ll be controlling Trover like a pro while also taking advantage of your own limited movement abilities, like turning and raising up your chair for a better view.

It’s hard to squeeze “Trover Saves the Universe” into an existing game genre, though it does most closely resemble the broad “adventure” description. A lot of it is spent in simple hack-and-slash combat with various foes, most of whom are more of an annoyance than any real threat. Trover fights on your behalf and has a shallow skill set when it comes to fighting, though those basic sword swings are enough to get the job done.

The in-game puzzles are a little harder, but “Trover” goes out of its way not to challenge the player too much. If you linger too long on a problem, your purple sidekick will start vocally objecting, soon taking the matter into his own hands (in a way that usually requires physical force). This is one area that could have used a little more depth; some trickier puzzles would have been a welcome addition, rather than yet another wave of easily beatable enemies.

There are some minor technical flaws, like Trover clipping through objects, but they really won’t get in your way. It’s easy to forgive those nitpicks when you’re having a good time, and “Trover Saves the Universe” is definitely a good time. It might be too easy to say that if you enjoy “Rick and Morty,” you’ll like “Trover,” but the parallels are unavoidable, right down to the voice acting. That said, if you aren’t amused by absurd, random, and often M-rated humor, then “Trover” is not for you. There is a censored version of the game for those with sensitive ears, but it’s clear that “Trover Saves the Universe” is meant to be an unfiltered experience.

As it turns out, “Trover Saves the Universe” is pretty special. It’s genuinely hilarious — I found myself laughing out loud quite a bit. It not only works in VR, but it’s actually better that way. It’s colorful in both art style and language, with a story that effortlessly balances complete silliness with deeper themes about intergalactic intolerance and the meaning of friendship. Overall, it was a joy to experience, and that feeling overrides any nitpicks that might come up along the way.

Popular on Variety

Video Game Review: ‘Trover Saves the Universe’

Cast: Justin Roiland

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