One of the best games from virtual reality’s first year is Job Simulator: The 2050 Archives, a sandbox of experimentation from Owlchemy Labs where players are tasked with performing present-day jobs as interpreted by robots in the near future. The game was a very tongue-in-cheek game whose goofy aesthetic seemed to match and in some ways forgive VR’s early technological foibles. It was the rarest type of video game: a comedy that actually made you laugh.
What Job Simulator lacked, however, was a narrative thread that tied everything together. Fortunately, Owlchemy Labs had a fan in Justin Roiland, the co-creator, writer, and voice actor responsible for one of the funniest, weirdest, and smartest shows on Adult Swim, Rick and Morty.
With Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality, which is now available for HTC Vive and Oculus Touch, Owlchemy has, with Roiland’s help, taken everything it learned from Job Simulator and created something more refined without losing its playful style. And most importantly, it has has one thing that Job Simulator lacked: a story you’ll care to finish.
You don’t need to know a lot about Rick and Morty to enjoy the game, although you do need to have an appreciation for an absurdist, sometimes meta, and oftentimes crude sense of humor. The game plays out like one extended episode, with constant appearances by the titular characters (both of which are voiced by showrunner Roiland). “When we made this game, we felt like we wouldn’t be doing a service to the fans if it didn’t feel like you were doing an episode of Rick and Morty, and part of that is having a stable narrative,” Owlchemy developer Andrew Eiche tells me. “If part of it was just another job and you never saw Rick and Morty, and it was all kind of in the background, it wouldn't’ be doing the property justice.”
The majority of Rick and Morty takes place in Rick’s garage-turned-laboratory. The space is divided up into four quadrants, three of which you can “teleport” to — similar to other VR games, it’s a trick used to minimize the real-life space needed to walk around — and one featuring a large whiteboard that reminds you of the current task at hand. Pretty much everything not bolted to the ground can be picked up, thrown, or interacted with in some way, and if you accidentally break or lose a key puzzle element, you can always re-order it from Rick’s computer (after you fix it, at least).
The story is divided into nine or so chapters that you can swap between at anytime, though finishing one seamlessly transitions you to the next. Each chapter builds off itself, teaching you a new trick that’ll come in handy later. In that sense, it’s ideal to play through the full game in one session if possible, lest you forget about the Meeseeks box from chapter two that’ll totally help you in a later puzzle. (The game will provide clues, by way of an angry Rick calling your watch, of what you’re supposed to do.)
For fans of the show, Rick and Morty is chock full of in-jokes and props from the show that don’t feel out of place in the pseudo-sandbox environment of a crowded garage, and the leap from 2D to 3D is impressively natural. “The Rick and Morty and Adult Swim teams have been incredible in terms of assets from the show,” said Eiche. “We’d ask them for character assets, for example, and they’d go ‘Oh, here’s every character sheet we ever made for the entire show in raw format.’”
Rick and Morty does such a great job of pushing you through this story from one inventive puzzle to the next, but once the two-to-three-hour ride is over, it’s hard to want to return. The game offers a free play mode where you can explore the garage, search for a few hidden collectables, and replay some of the minigames for a high score. Which is great, but the best part of Rick and Morty VR was how it brought everything together in one cohesive experience, and I didn’t feel particularly compelled to dive back into any single element, or to explore in the way Job Simulator encouraged freeform experimentation.
But Rick and Morty accomplishes something that Job Simulator never did, which is blend its absurdist gameplay with an equally absurdist, though surprisingly well-structured narrative. Rick and Morty is one of the most satisfying games I’ve played in VR, one that I couldn’t put down until I reached the end. It just also feels like an appetizer for a thing that hasn’t arrived yet.