Although it’s brevity and depth makes it little more than a proof of concept with experimental mechanics, Manual Samuel still manages to put a smile on your face and challenges you to approach everyday tasks – and a few more extreme ones – in a way you’ve seldom approached them before.
You are Samuel, a complete douchebag who’s rich, pampered, and arrogant. But after a fight with your girlfriend and a little accident with a chemical truck, you die and are whisked away to hell, where you meet the skateboarding, hoodie wearing Death. You strike a deal to return to the land of the living but in order to earn your second chance, you need to survive 24 hours doing everything manually. Mechanically this means every action requires manual control, from walking one leg at a time, to blinking and breathing.
Controlling Samuel is a matter of pressing the triggers to walk, left for your left leg and right for your right, pressing a button to blink, holding another button to breath, pressing yet another to breath out, straitening your spin if you walk too fast with the d-pad, and stopping a marker that’s quickly moving side to side along a gauge for context specific tasks like drinking coffee without burning yourself, or peeing. There’s no analogue stick walking or action button shortcuts here and it makes for a refreshing challenge.
Inevitable you’ll mess up a button input or forget to do something. Pressing the same leg trigger twice will cause Samuel to do the splits; meanwhile, not blinking turns the screen blurry and not breathing can cause Samuel to faint. It’s pretty amusing stuff but also treads over the line into frustrating quite often. No matter how long you play, you simple won’t fully adapt to these mechanics, and as tasks become more urgent, mistakes are more easily made.
But it is funny to see Samuel flail his legs around and collapse in a heap, or fail entirely to hit the toilet when taking a pee. And despite the urine mishaps and frequently snapping spine of your seriously disabled protagonist, it’s never visually crude or shocking, just funny. Some excellent, plinky plonky music accompanies your escapades that match the tone splendidly, meanwhile, the 2D cartoon aesthetic is charming and quirky, straight out of a Saturday morning show. Unfortunately, however, some of the humour stems from the same morning cartoons.
The hip take on Death is especially irritating, with his constant use of the word “faeces” quickly grating, and the rest of his dialogue feeling clichéd and like developers Perfectly Paranormal are trying too hard to be funny. However, the narrator, who joins you for the entirety of your 2-3 hour playthrough, is terrific. And indeed, the title is inherently funny. The silly concept, paired with the well-paced and amusing story, makes for an entertaining little adventure.
Manual Samuel channels the same quirkiness of titles such as Octodad and Stick it to the Man, with it’s neat take on controlling the protagonist, extraordinary slice of life narrative, and its cartoony visual aesthetic. It gets frustrating trying to manually control Samuel’s every move, but it’s clever and ultimately entertaining when you do manage to complete each task and make it through the day.
Thanks to Xbox and Curve Digital for supporting TiX