In the first two seasons of Dan Harmon's and Justin Roiland's animation series Rick & Morty, the action is repeatedly broken by Rick's interdimensional cable box and its feature that lets Rick receive signals from all dimensions and planets in the universe. This translates into a number of sketches which are usually both bizarre and improvisational - although not always equally successful. Why do we specifically mention the sketch sections of the show in our review of Roiland's new game? Well, Trover Saves the Universe feels way more akin to the loose sketches than the well-written and plot-sharp main narrative of Rick and Morty in many ways. There are some great jokes to be found (such as the saga of the Seinfeld clone edition), but sadly, neither these nor the overall plot of Trover Saves the Universe reaches a level that can save the game's mediocre gameplay.
The game starts off well enough though when the game's mighty villain Glorkon steals the player's adorable plush puppies and inserts them into his eye sockets, giving him virtually unlimited power to accomplish his destructive plan. Neither the plan nor the motivation behind the plan is in need of a reveal in this review (we don't want to spoil major plot points, after all), but the motivation focuses on one of the game's more hilarious jokes, which of course contains diamond-hard penises and a lot of bum craters (yes, that's PG for assholes). As a 'chairopean', you are chained to your chair, which obviously complicates things as you're hunting down the evil Glorkon to retrieve your beloved puppies. Fortunately, the purple "eye hole monster" Trover comes to your rescue, and unlike you, he can move freely.
As in, for example, Moss and Astro Bot, you play a double role as both Trover and the chairopean in Trover Saves the Universe. Trover is controlled with your DualShock controller while the chairopean is controlled by both motion controls and DualShock (if you play the 2D version, everything is handled with the controller). Trover has a classic selection of movements available. He can run, double jump, hover, roll and hit with his light shield while your chairopean can change the view by moving the chair up and down as well as collect and controlling objects through telekinesis. In addition, by nodding or shaking your head, you can answer questions and make choices that often alter the fate of an NPC. It's not something that fundamentally changes the outcome of the main plot, but the dialogue and some scenes get a different outcome, offering some replay value to the game. Several of the game's more successful jokes are also built around these choices and, in particular, the vignette about Vanilla Village's fate made us chuckle loudly.
It's in the humour that Trover Saves the Universe finds its primary justification because neither the platforming nor the puzzles rise above the level of mediocre. It's simple, yes, but as the excellent Astro Bot showed last year, this isn't necessarily a problem if the steering is sharp and the variation great. Trover Saves the Universe delivers poorly in both aspects. The game's platforming sequences make use of a coloured beam that shows where you are, but where there was no doubt in where you were going to land in Astro Bot, Trover's beam tends to stay in oxygen lakes and the like, which makes it difficult to see how close you are to the platform. The battles are frequent but unfortunately monotonous and the enemy variety is not great. Apart from that, almost all puzzles involve using telekinesis to move boxes around to make traversal easier for Trover.
As a double-edged joke/compensation sword, Trover often comments on the game's gameplay shortcomings. Sometimes it's fun when a tough puzzle in which a series of lights all have to display the colour green is bypassed with violence and power instead of intelligence or when a murderous act "destroys" the progression of the game. Other times it just feels like a way to cover lazy game design. It's no less monotonous to place some boxes in the right place for the 117th time just because Trover complains about it.
On the other hand, several of the worlds that the dynamic duo visit are well-designed from a visual point of view. For example, Flesh World is a jumble of body openings, which means it's rich in caves. Whatever acts as a gateway within this world you have to guess yourself. Shroomia World mixes giant sponges and castles masterfully and Tech World feels like somewhat of a parody of Ratchet & Clank's Aleero City. The character design also has its clear highlights. The villain Glorkon, with his cone-shaped, plump body, bird's beak and your two white plush puppies in his eye sockets is a glorious sight. The small, babbling creatures in Vanilla Village, which may or may not be occupied, are both cute and a bit disgusting, and Voodoo Persons are delightful to witness as well.
Trover Saves the Universe started as a VR project, but along the way, Squanch Games decided to also develop a 2D version. If you don't own a VR headset, this version is definitely an acceptable one to play. On PS4 the controls are only handled with a controller and work smoothly since the VR elements are modest at best. If you have the opportunity, we would recommend playing it in VR, though - the game's context, your chairopean, and the controls give the game more meaning in VR, but again, both versions are perfectly fine.
Although none of the gameplay elements rise above mediocre, Trover Saves the Universe could easily have become a fantastic experience. The narrative is definitely leaning towards bizarre with its improvisational dialogue and raving monologues. Unfortunately, Trover and the rest of the characters aren't quite funny enough to save the game, as it ends up feeling like an extended sketch from the interdimensional television channels from Rick & Morty with some standard platforming sections added. Fans of Roiland should definitely give the game a chance, but if you're not a fan of his humour, there are much better games out there for you to play, VR or otherwise.