Not very long ago, I had a thought while I was gaming: “All the games are starting to feel the same.” It seemed to me that originality had taken a back seat to big-budget spectacles and that most developers were keeping things in a relatively safe zone. Each genre had its own template that most games were starting to stick to. Maybe a few games stepped outside the lines or pushed a few boundaries, but it didn’t seem that often anymore. Then, quite a few indie games came across my desk. I have quickly realized that you don’t have to look very far for originality if you are looking through the indie bin. Manual Samuel, by Perfectly Paranormal, is one of those titles. It gave me an experience that was unexpected and utterly unique. It was a total delight that I didn’t see coming.
Sam, I am! You, be Sam!
Manual Samuel stars, you guessed it, a man named Sam. Sam is the son of a wealthy CEO and after dealing with his agitated girlfriend, Sam ends up on the wrong end of a septic truck. He then winds up in the depths of Hell. In the Underworld, he comes across Death, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. This isn’t Death how I had ever seen him portrayed before. Death is shown to be an inept skater with an unhealthy fixation on the word feces. Death makes a deal with Sam. If Sam can survive a full 24 hours operating all of his bodily functions manually, then he will be given another chance at life. It’s highly debatable whether or not that’s a good deal or if it makes any sense, but it proved to make a wonderful premise for a video game.
The imprecise nature of manual actions.
The actions that you will have to control manually range from making Sam walk with the controller’s trigger buttons to making sure Sam breathes and blinks by using the face buttons. Sam will also occasionally slump down and require you to press up on the d-pad to make him regain his posture. You will constantly be performing these actions throughout the entire game. While doing this you will also have to perform Sam’s daily tasks, such as drinking coffee, getting ready for work, and helping him drive his morning commute. These tasks will put your dexterity, as well as your memory, to the test. One wrong move while walking will send Sam to the floor in a hilarious display of the splits. If you forget to blow on the coffee, you’ll scald poor Sam’s innards. Don’t get me started on the driving section; that will truly test your skills with your controller of choice. It was very fun and challenging, even if it could become a bit frustrating at times.
In a game like Manual Samuel, the controls need to be implemented perfectly and Sam stumbled, literally, in this department occasionally. Sometimes it felt like I would execute a command, such as walking, flawlessly, yet Sam would still manage to trip and fall down the stairs much to my dismay. This didn’t happen very often but was noticeable and sometimes frustrating. This isn’t much of an issue during your first run through the story mode. There isn’t any true consequence for failing and you can just keep trying until you clear any particular hurdle. It’s after the campaign when you open up the game’s time attack mode, where this really starts to become a problem. Manual Samuel is a game that seems built with speedrunning in mind. Learning to perfect Sam’s actions and clear the stages in record time can become addicting and it adds a bit of much-needed replayability to a game that is very brief. These minor control issues can, and most likely will, cause you a few headaches while going for the best times. Casual players may not mind this too much but the competitive crowd may let loose an audible sigh. I don’t think it’s a game breaker, so if you’re eyeballing the title don’t let it prevent your purchase.
It’s great fun with a friend.
If you’re lucky enough to have a willing partner, the game offers a great two player couch co-op experience. The bodily functions you control and their accompanying button presses become split between the two players. It takes a hefty amount of communication and coordination to get Sam through his day unscathed in this mode. I think that this was the stand out feature of the game and, if you’re playing on the Nintendo Switch, one set of joy-cons will suffice for both players. There are even some motion controls thrown into the Switch version for good measure. I laughed to the point of crying in this mode several times as my partner and I struggled in the best of ways to get Sam out of his house and on with his day. Grab your best friend, your kid, or your partner and have them try this game with you.
Buy it for the unique mechanics.
While I found Manual Samuel to be a great package overall, the gameplay was the true star of the show (which is what matters most). I found the story and premise were simply a means to an end; a reason to have you control this poor schmuck’s breathing and have you possibly run down old ladies while driving terribly. The writing wasn’t exactly riveting and the humour tended to fall flat for me. I laughed my hardest during those times where my partner or I fumbled with the controls usually causing some sort of lamentable action to poor Sam. The art style is adequate and not at all ugly but doesn’t stand out as anything special either. The soundtrack doesn’t leave an impression on me either, but I will admit that the tale’s narrator is handled expertly well as he humorously calls out each action and misstep that Sam makes. It adds another great layer to the game and it really stood out in my mind.
If you do decide to take the plunge, be aware that there is a rather large difficulty spike during the final level. Here, the game truly decides to put your reflexes, memory, and patience to the test. Manual Samuel is a very self-aware title that is a joy to play and I think it is the perfect length, not to mention price, for what it is. Achievement hunters and speed runners will get the most out of the game, but I truly believe that this title should be experienced by anyone that considers themselves a gamer. It is amusing, fun, and, above all else, unique. If you are reading this review, then I think you should give it a shot. You won’t get this experience in any other game.
Note: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
- Engaging gameplay.
- It’ll make you laugh one way or another.
- Great co-op.
- Controls aren’t perfect.