I’ve got a soft spot for games that try to do something a little bit different. The likes of Surgeon Simulator and Octodad are some of the most fun I’ve had this gen and also have some of the most awkward controls I’ve ever come across. Manual Samuel is a silly simulator which tasks players with taking complete control of over the titular Samuel. Not only do you have to control each of his limbs independently, but also remember to blink or your eyes crust over and make it difficult to see and breath lest same turn blue and pass out on the floor.
The rub your belly, pat your head, stamp your feet, controls mean that the game is an uphill struggle from the off. To the point where some will most likely be ready toss the controller on the floor and never return after the first ten minutes. But once you get into the swing of things, and remember to breathe, you’ll find a fun adventure game with some genuinely laugh out loud moments, even if you don’t root for the protagonist at all.
You see, Samuel is a twat – a rich, arrogant, lazy arsehole who has never done a day’s work in his pampered, entitled life. After getting dumped by his girlfriend, hit by a septic tank truck and sent to hell. Death shows up to welcome him to the afterlife. This is not the robed reaper of souls that he’s usually portrayed as though, sporting a baseball cap, hoodie and trying to desperately to perform a kick flip on his skateboard, Manual Samuel’s version of the grim reaper is as much of an unlikeable slacker as its star.
Death gives Samuel another chance at life, on one condition: he has to live ‘manually’ for 24 hours. Every single action no matter how minute is performed manually, via a button on the controller. This means you need to control each leg separately rather than simply pushing forward on the analogue stick as well as the aforementioned breathing, controlled by two separate facr buttons, in two-three, out two-three.
Manual Samuel, is full of droll one-liners and successfully turns the mundane into the ridiculous to brilliant comic effect. The one thing that brings it down though is the game’s insistence of using the word “faeces” instead of ‘shit’ or ‘crap’. I know there’s no way the game would have got a 12 rating if it had stronger language, but the self-censoring fast becomes irritating.
There are also times where it feels like Perfectly Paranormal are trying too hard to force a laugh when it’s completely unnecessary. The game is at its best in the humour stakes when Samuel is struggling to perform simple everyday tasks like drinking coffee, walking down stairs or having a slash. Made all the more amusing when you not don’t hit the button prompts at the right time. Despite the surprisingly dark subject matter, It never feels vulgar or excessive, and doesn’t attempt to offend for the sake of it.
The presentation is top notch too, the art style is bright, colourful and reminiscent of an Adult Swim cartoon. While the music is upbeat and the voice acting on point, especially the game’s narrator who comments on Samuel’s struggles who a droll delivery reminiscent of the marvellous Stanley Parable.
Manual Samuel is at its best during its early stages, when Sam is tasked with getting up and leaving the house, then driving to work. He also has to do this in Manual car. In what is the cleverest section, you need to separately put your foot on the clutch, switch gears and then accelerate to move the car. Like you would in an actual car (Well if you were in the UK anyway, we don’t do automatics as a rule), you then need to watch out for hazards on the road and successfully speed up and slow down due to Deaths whims. It’s a surprisingly accurate recreation, and a good way to show the basics of driving stick to a learner driver.
Just after it’s mid-point though Manual Samuel somehow manages to jump the figurative shark and have Samuel piloting a mech to hunt down killer robots. The mech controls are incredibly awkward and the entire section kills all sense of pacing. A later return trip to hell also culminates in more mech-like shenanigans and an incredibly infuriating boss battle. Despite the second-half tailing off somewhat, it’s worth a play for the jokes and the superb opening.
Manual Samuel takes a lot of it’s cues from fellow silly sims like Octodad and I am Bread, Manual Samuel outdoes both in some respects, by simply taking the bizarre subgenre to its logical conclusion, creating mechanics that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else.
it’s a relatively brief game, the different tasks, situations and controls feel more like a series of skits and ideas tossed up against a wall than a particularly cohesive whole. Despite occasional frustrations, the game is still crammed with great moments, and when it all comes together Manuel Samuel is an absolute riot.