I think we often neglect the fact that we do some things in life with minimal to zero thought. Breathing, blinking, walking – it’s all done naturally and half of the time you don’t even realise you’re doing it. That being said, I’ve just become awfully aware that I’m breathing and blinking, but not as aware as I was when I was doing it in Manual Samuel.
I’ve never played a video game quite like Manual Samuel before, a game that literally makes you perform each and every action… well… manually. Sure, ‘Octodad’ made us do it to an extent, but the execution was quite different. Plus you were an octopus. Completely different.
There’s a genuine reason why you’re doing everything manually in Manual Samuel; Samuel, the titular hero, has been hit by a car and met his demise. Whilst in the pits of Hell (because Samuel is a spoilt, arrogant, selfish and self-absorbed cretin) he meets Death who makes a deal with him – live his life completely manually for twenty four hours and he can come back to life. It’s a pretty sweet deal, though it isn’t easy seeing as a day in the life of Samuel isn’t exactly normal…
The game’s aesthetic has a fantastic cartoon-like style, with characters that wouldn’t look out of place on some zany Cartoon Network show. The whole world and its inhabitants just look bizarre – believable, but bizarre. I loved seeing where the game would take me next though and no location was devoid of detail or character; everything always seemed to live up to the insane nature of the experience as a whole. The voice acting and sound design was on point too. The music was quirky and fun, whilst the voice acting was superb, be it the well-spoken narrator who provides a unique commentary on everything Samuel does or Death constantly grating on about his obsession with pulling off a kick flip on his skateboard.
The manual control of everything in Manual Samuel is fairly straight forward. Each part of Samuel’s body is allocated a button on the controller – the front triggers control Samuel’s hands, the back triggers control his feet, square and circle allow him to breathe in and out, whilst X is used to blink. There are other actions to take care of on the controller too, but those are the most commonly used throughout the game.
Each action is extremely important – if you don’t breathe in and out regularly then Samuel’s face will quickly turn blue and he’ll faint. On the other hand, if you don’t blink often enough then his vision will distort and the screen will slowly turn to white. It’s quirky and clever and something I could appreciate from start to finish. Of course, whilst these actions might seem pretty straight forward, actually doing them in-game whilst trying to perform a multitude of other tasks can be incredibly difficult. The amount of times I’d make Samuel collapse in a heap because I couldn’t manage to walk, blink and breathe at the same time was ridiculous. Oh, and breathing in whilst drinking coffee or brushing your teeth is never a good idea either – I found that out the hard way. Manual Samuel will constantly remind you that it isn’t easy to multi-task, though it never punishes you too harshly for your mistakes. I didn’t see a single game over during my time playing the game and in honesty I’m not even sure if it’s possible to die… again.
Of course, I’ve only mentioned the most basic of actions you’ll have Samuel performing. He’ll also need to get dressed, take a leak, drive a car, go to work, save an orphanage from a horde of out of control robots, battle demons… you know, the usual. Manually performing all of these actions is always fun though and the game introduces some cool minigame-like QTE events to keep the gameplay varied. Sure, the game features enough QTE events to rival a David Cage video game, but they’re always enjoyable to perform and each action feels consistently different. There’s a real ingenuity to be found with performing each action too. Take driving the car for example: you had to hit down on the clutch, then the accelerator, then release the clutch, then move your hand to the gear stick to change gear whilst using the clutch again, then move your hand back to the steering wheel to control the car… anyone who knows how to drive will see where this is going, but the fact that you have to perform each and every action manually was ingenious, even if it is something that might be a simple everyday action in the real world. When I normally drive a car in video game it’s typically all done with one or two buttons – Manual Samuel takes that concept and flips it upside down with its own unique take on what’s typically simplistic gameplay.
It’s all good fun, but that’s not to say there weren’t moments of frustration. Despite enjoying Manual Samuel and its absurdities, it brought plenty of rage out of me when I’d completely mess something up for what felt like the hundredth time. You need patience and perseverance to get through the whole of the game, something which isn’t easy to come by when you’ve got to make sure to blink and breathe every few seconds. And there it is – the second moment of awareness that I’m breathing and blinking in real life. Damn it…
In honesty though, the moments of frustration are only brought upon by the player’s inability to simply press buttons and multi-task. Some people may fly through Manual Samuel with minimal fuss, whilst others may find themselves in a similar situation to me and keep leaving Samuel in an unattractive heap on the floor over and over again. Either way, the game is never to blame for your inadequacies at attempting to make Samuel a normal, functioning human being.
The only real thing that was a shame in Manual Samuel was how quickly it was all over. It took less than two hours to complete the game and then with only ‘time trials’ to come back to doesn’t offer lot of incentive to return other than just to play the same scenes again and again. Whilst I enjoyed playing through the game, there was nothing about it that really made me think that I wanted to come back and do it all over again. That’s not a discredit to the game though; it’s a novel idea that was so much fun to play through, but I don’t know if the same charm would be there a second time through.
Manual Samuel takes something that is quite relatable to real life and makes an utterly bizarre and fun video game out of it thanks to its unique, zany approach to performing simple actions. I haven’t played anything quite like it before and I don’t think I ever will again.
If you enjoy unique and quirky games then you really need to give it a try, if only to appreciate how we neglect the fact that every day actions aren’t really brought to light in the world of video games. It’s clever, it’s bizarre, but most importantly it’s fun – just don’t expect the experience to last too long.
Developer: Perfectly Paranormal
Publisher: Curve Digital
Release Date: 11/10/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC