Trover Saves the Universe is supposed to be a funny game. But in spite of its cartoonish and quirky goggle-eyed characters, and regardless of its colorful bits and pieces and splashes of rainbow hues, don’t be fooled by this game’s siren call of cartoon humor. This is not a “sweet” funny game, or a “nice” funny game, or a game that should be anywhere near any youthful tyke who might enjoy a sweet, nice funny game.
So, what exactly is it?
Trover Saves the Universe is an action platforming game from the mind of Justin Roiland, the creator of the animated Cartoon Network show Rick and Morty. Heard of that one? Plugged In had a lot to say about that not-for-kids cartoon comedy, including this:
“On any given episode, animated characters may have their arms ripped off or their heads smashed in or, perhaps, have their heads smashed in with their own ripped-off arms. Animated blood falls like rain in Seattle. And Rick and Morty is not above showing a little animated skin, either. Or a lot. Or even sexual interludes. In the second episode of season three, which I reviewed, Summer—remember, Morty’s live-at-home teen sister—gets into an apparently sexual, cohabitational relationship with a leather-wearing, buttocks-exposing dystopian gangland leader.”
That should give you a sense of what Roiland’s particular penchant for “humor” might entail. Of course, to get closer to this games content, you’ll need to take that show with its TV-14 rating and bleeped s- and f-words and turn its intensity up a thousand degrees or so, stripping away any modicum of network-mandated content restrictions in the process.
This game is designed for full immersion in a VR environment (though playable without that PlayStation headset), and it sticks you in the role of a Chairopian—a guy who sits perpetually in a teleporting lounge chair, clutching a PS4 controller. That avatar, in turn, controls the actions of Trover, a purple monster with babies for eyes (uh huh) who runs around killing things with a lightsaber while he solves platforming puzzles and spews a constant stream of machine-gun, profanity laden, abuses at you.
The story? Oh yeah, there is one. There’s this evil alien bird monster, known as a Glorkon, that has snatched up the Chairopian’s twin pet puppies and jammed them into its gaping eye sockets. These once cute pups then give the creature (which also screams streams of the foulest vulgarities) the power of a god. It’s your job, then, to get your chair into gear, grab ‘n’ gut the Glorkon, and save those pups.
Gameplay-wise, there are levels to unlock, platforms to jump, gazillions of foes to fricassee, babies to find and grind, pets to torture, feces to throw, etc., etc. It’s hard to adequately articulate the sorts of unhinged, terrible deeds you must complete here. All the while, a stammering spew of foul-upon-foul dialogue swirls around you as you play.
And it’s all done in the honor of, uh, being funny.
Folks who study why comedy is funny point to a number of ways that humor works effectively. One of those notions is something known as the benign violation theory. It says that we all have a general sense of how the world should correctly work; when that sense is surprisingly violated, we’re prompted to react with a chortle.
A sweet-looking grannie suddenly screaming obscenities at a child might be one example. But the violation must be “benign,” since a real-world terrorist act is also a violation, but not funny in the least.
Trover Saves the Universe is all “benign violation”: over and over, wave upon wave.
Frankly, there are some honest laughs in the mix. It’s intended to keep you bobbing along on a benign-violation sea, gaming lightly and chortling readily. Still, it’s far too easy to find yourself sinking beneath the waves of this game, as they wash over you and drench your brain with nastiness.
And that’s not so benign at all.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.