Squanch Games, the studio behind Accounting+ (2018) and brainchild of Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland, is coming out with a new Daydream exclusive that follows the exploits of the titular Dr. Splorchy, plopping you aboard a spaceship with dangerous bugs that you have to shoot for a reasons that seem strangely improvised.
Is it possible to create a game entirely by adlib? If the other titles attached to Roiland’s name can tell us anything, then yes, they very much can. In Roiland’s games, fourth walls don’t really get broken so much as they lay in heaps of rubble on the ground. The game knows you’re there to play it, and it doesn’t want to give you the standard formulas. Accounting, Squanch Games’ first title which was later expanded into the paid game Accounting+, is an absolute subversion of your expectations in the same way Monty Python’s Flying Circus challenged traditional comedy by being sketch-based instead of serial or plainly episodic.
While I only had a five-minute demo of Dr. Splorchy, I left Google’s booth with more questions than I had before going in, but with one very clear thought in my head. The joke was very clearly on me. Here’s the teaser in case you missed it:
Stepping into Google’s booth on the GDC expo floor, I popped on a Lenovo Mirage Daydream headset, and with little introduction, I found myself in the hold of a cartoony spaceship with a guy who was supposed to be my brother. Why were we there? There wasn’t time for explanations. I was aboard a ship for some reason, and I had to kill the bugs (for some reason).
To introduce the game’s locomotion system and prepare me for the wave of alien bugs, the guy produced a basket full of lemons. “Here’s a lemon! Dodge that lemon! Lemon! Lemon! Lemon! Lean to dodge that lemon! Lemon!” Physically leaning to the left and right resulted in an exaggerated shift of my point of view in the corresponding direction, giving me the latitude to dodge what would later become the slow-moving projectiles from the alien horde. It was easy and worked well, and not nearly jarring as the locomotion’s description suggests.
With the aliens dead, my brother, who was hiding behind me during the onslaught, popped in front of me again to alert me of a bomb that appeared behind me (for some reason). “Turn around. Turn all the way around with your body. The VR headset can do that, just turn your whole body around,” the guy told me.
The bomb had to be defused somehow. A single red button was highlighted, and pushing it only made things worse. Not worse in the sense that I now had a bomb crisis to manage, but that a little man’s face popped out of a side panel to inform me that it wasn’t indeed a neutron bomb about to blow, but a supermarket. A supermarket. The bomb was really a supermarket.
“It’s not a bomb. It’s really a supermarket. It’s a supermarket in here. I’m doing my shopping and it’s a supermarket in here!” Fade to black.
I reappear on the spaceship, the same cargo hold as before. Now, I was told, there was a space mayor here (for some reason). And that’s when the demo ended, which was clear because the guy told me to get up and leave the demo. “Let someone else have a turn. Leave already. You’re using the VR headset when someone else could be in here. Get up. Get up and leave. Leave the booth.”
What is this game about? Is it a wave shooter woven into the fabric of another more esoteric trip through the unhinged mind of a lifelong cartoonist, or only a slice of what’s to come. I wasn’t sure. In fact, no one else in the booth was either. The fresh batch of expo attendees streamed out of tiny booth with confused looks on their faces.
Even the press release is reluctant to bow to established conventions like telling you what the hell it’s about, as the game is “so beyond the capability of your understanding that if I were to try to explain them to your primitive earth mind I would have to rip out most of your brain and replace it with a computer so powerful it hasn’t even been invented yet, so no, I will not send you a blurb for your stupid press release.”
Touché, Squanch. Touché.