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After the maniacal Abstainer Glorkon steals your dogs and uses them as eyeballs, it gives him universe destroying powers. An eyehole monster, Trover, is sent to retrieve you, a Chairopian. He gives you one of the power babies stored in his eyeball socket so that you can control him, and together you set out to find crystal babies to stuff in Glorkon’s eyeholes and stop him from destroying the universe. Yes, that’s the plot of Trover Saves the Universe, and it’s amazing.
If you’re not a fan of Justin Roiland’s other bonkers space series, Rick and Morty, then you definitely won’t be a fan of Trover Saves the Universe. The voices of Rick and Morty are present throughout the game, there are references to the show littered around, but most prominently the game’s humour is so similar to the show’s.
There’s surface level familiarities like a lot of burping, the fact that they’re both high-concept space adventures and both include a lot of swearing (though there is a censor setting in Trover). But the comedic influence that Rick and Morty have on Trover is entrenched on a much deeper level.
The game constantly makes self-aware jokes about video games – as do the achievements. 4th wall breaking jokes are abundant but don’t get repetitive. This is in line with the self-depreciating humour of Rick and Morty and the game uses this element to alleviate some of its gameplay problems, such as taking the mick out of boring puzzle design.
Characters frequently deliver statements as if they’re questions, highlighting the absurdity of the story. Sometimes they even pause for fractions of seconds mid-line, as if the voice actor had to compose themselves in the middle of recording. It all adds to the charm and continual humour of the game, even when nobody’s making jokes.
The most impressive thing about Trover Saves the Universe is the fact that it has no regard for the social taboo that can often restrict comedy. The story can go to some incredibly dark places in service of jokes. At times it often puts the player in the centre of events that could be perceived as insensitive or ‘too far’, but the game doesn’t shy away from making those jokes all the same. To the game’s credit, many of the darker lines and comedic set-pieces do have ridiculous sci-fi twists that make these moments more digestible and just as absurd as they’re meant to be. Trover’s universe is one without a filter.
His universe is also a joy to exist in. The worlds you visit aren’t incredibly visually distinct; many of them are quite generic, with grassy, floating islands to jump up. But there’s a bunch of little touches that make this universe unique, like a recurring, hilarious fixation on eyeball holes. All the little alien critters as well as the major characters also have phenomenal designs, from the adorable power babies to the grotesque, giant Abstainers.
Despite all the whacky designs, cynical writing and outlandish plot, Trover Saves the Universe has a lot of heart. Most of this comes from Trover himself. Initially he’s stubborn, salty and reluctant to even go on an adventure with a Chairopian like yourself. Over time he grows into a much more sentimental character – by the way, Trover even cynically jokes about his own character arc.
The incredible writing is most of what holds the game together though. That’s not to say that Trover’s gameplay is bad per se… it’s just not great.
The combat, in particular, is Trover’s most bland effort. Trover himself wields a sword that primarily has a three attack combo. There’s also a ground pound useful for when you’re overwhelmed by crowds and a heavy attack mainly used for puzzles. But most of the combat scenarios just consist of pressing X three times, rolling out of the way of an attack and repeating. The game does try to keep things fresh by introducing new enemy variants, but these fail to redeem the problems. Ranged attack enemies and enemies with shields don’t add any strategy or extra thinking to combat; they just add additional things to deal with. Again, it’s not bad, it’s just serviceable at best.
Puzzles and platforming aren’t much better off either. Most of the puzzles are made up of moving blocks to get Trover over tall walls – and again, it does make fun of this which makes it kind of okay. Block-based puzzles have pretty much been milked at this point and they’ve got to be the simplest thing a game developer can throw at a player in 2019.
The platforming just isn’t always very precise. Players control the Chairopian controlling Trover so the camera doesn’t follow Trover from a third or first person perspective. It’s always at a fixed camera angle which can make it hard to tell if he’ll be able to make jumps all the time, or whether Trover is hovering over a platform.
To be fair to the game, it did initially release as a VR experience, and since VR isn’t compatible with Xbox it’s impossible to tell if these problems are just a side effect of the conversion. Either way, these nuisances plague the Xbox version.
Overall though, these minor problems aren’t enough to hold Trover back. The game doesn’t outstay its welcome: the dull gameplay never gets annoying because the experience isn’t long enough to allow that. At around 5 hours Trover Saves the Universe on Xbox One lasts long enough to satisfy. Trover’s one of a kind humour, acting, writing and overall personality are more than enough to justify a trip down this surreal space adventure.