I somehow went into my demo of Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality last week without realizing that the studio behind the game, Owlchemy Labs, is the same company that made Job Simulator, the standout HTC Vive launch title. In retrospect, it all makes sense: The explore-everything ethos of Job Simulator — augmented with some intergalactic travel and whiz-bang gadgetry — offers the perfect vehicle for the delivery of Rick and Morty’s absurd, puerile humor.
While I’ve only played 20 minutes of Virtual Rick-ality so far, it seems reductive to say it’s just Job Simulator with a Rick and Morty skin. There’s a story in the game that unfolds over multiple adventures — similarly to navigating between jobs in Owlchemy’s previous game, you pop discs into a DVD player in Morty’s living room — with full voice acting from series co-creator Justin Roiland for the titular grandfather/grandson duo.
Virtual Rick-ality takes place in Rick’s garage laboratory, with the player stepping into the sneakers of a Morty clone. Rick and Morty soon disappear, leaving you free to mess around with the various sci-fi gizmos scattered around the workbenches and shelves of the lab. As a fan of adventure games, I loved being able to explore at my own pace, slowly getting my bearings in VR by messing with anything and everything that I could.
That level of interactivity is a hallmark of Owlchemy’s games, but Virtual Rick-ality didn’t always have this kind of pause in the story, according to project lead Andrew Eiche. The developers eventually realized they had to give the player agency over the progression of the story.
“We have these very specific points where Rick and Morty stop and say, like, ‘Whenever you’re ready, you know, continue!’ And you can do whatever,” Eiche told me after my demo.
That’s catnip for me — my philosophy with adventure games is that if you give me a drawer, I will open it. To be clear, there is a sequence of events in the free-form demo I played; I could look at my wristwatch to move the story forward by chatting with Rick.
But I didn’t get very far in that respect, since I spent the vast majority of my 20 minutes with Virtual Rick-ality doing things like opening every cabinet I could find and putting a crown on my head.
Nearly everything in the game world is interactive, even if it’s just as an object that you can pick up and examine in your hands. And many of the interactions have jokes attached to them, like a well-hidden audio cassette featuring Rick and Morty slavering over a certain dessert. I was having enough of a blast playing with all the trinkets in Rick’s garage, and then things got weird: I opened up a portal to a satellite floating in space, where I grabbed a fuse that I needed to power a computer back in the lab.
I’ve gone through plenty of portals in video games, Portal and Portal 2 among them. But as with so much else, there’s something unique about doing the same thing in VR — seeing the environment around you transform from a dingy garage into the void of space. More importantly, objects behave as you would expect them to in zero gravity: I saw a wine bottle floating past me, and was impressed to find that I could grab it and fling it toward Earth.
Virtual Rick-ality shares that level of immersion with Job Simulator, and Eiche explained that the nature of Rick and Morty forced Owlchemy to develop new kinds of interactions to ensure that the game world continues to be believable.
“The world of Job Simulator is a computerized, very hard-edged, static, like, physical-object world,” said Eiche. “And the world of Rick and Morty is a very gooey, squishy, organic, disgusting world. And so one of the big things that we had to learn how to do on this game is, we had to learn how to make things, like, squish and flop.”
Eiche quickly noted that Owlchemy had to be careful, though.
“The show Rick and Morty — some of the jokes they put in there that are gross, if we put you in there, in VR, it’s so visceral that you would feel very disgusted.”
Again, since I haven’t seen the story, I can’t say whether Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality will end up being more than the terrific introduction to VR that Job Simulator was. But as a fan of Rick and Morty and a relative newbie to VR, I had a blast in my demo and I want to see more.
Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality launches today on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift for $29.99.