IntroductionManual Samuel, developed by Perfectly Paranormal and published by Curve Digital, is a structured physics-based game where you take on the role of Samuel, a rich guy since birth with little appreciation for anything in life. After a messy breakup with his girlfriend, and an unfortunate event that leads to his death, Samuel finds himself in Hell. Not wanting to work for Satan, he makes a deal with Death, he gets a second chance at life. The requirements though won't be easy; he must survive a full 24 hours performing every task in his life manually. You can buy the game on Steam or PlayStation Store or Xbox Marketplace for $9.99.
GameplayAs mentioned before, Samuel must survive a full 24 hours by performing every task manually. It's not vague or bland either; you literally control every aspect of him. The few things that remain constant throughout the game are keeping him inhaling and exhaling, blinking his eyes, keeping his back straight, and walking one step at a time. The most crucial being the breathing and blinking, which must be fairly consistently, and each has a mapped button to perform the task (one to inhale, one to exhale, and one to blink). If you fail to catch these, the game will give you a reminder by turning his face blue or yellow to signify the breathing, or the screen will become extremely washed out with light (and his eyes turn red) and will only return to normal when you mash the blinking action.
They don't just need to be performed right before death, but also whenever you remember as preventative maintenance. As much of game comes in the form of side-scrolling, you'll only ever need to move in one direction or the other. When facing the way you wish to go, you'll need to alternate his steps by pulling the triggers. If you take a step with the foot that is already forward, he will drop into splits and hop along until you pick him back up. Additionally, he will randomly loose the strength in his spine, so you'll need to press up on the directional pad to straighten it back out.
Now that we've covered the basics, on to the diversity of gameplay. Each environment, room, and interaction have a new puzzle or test of your controls. During the introduction, upon returning from hell, some of the things you'll have to overcome are peeing straight into the toilet by keeping Samuel balanced with the triggers, brushing his teeth as fast as possible without him getting oxygen deprivation (don't inhale, until you exhale, or you'll choke on toothpaste), showering, putting on clothes one arm at a time, and drinking a hot cup of coffee. Yes, these are some of the simplest things imaginable, but the struggle of controls while keeping him breathing, blinking, and balanced makes it so incredibly difficult at the time.
As you learn the general controls, things will become a little easier. The challenge remains constant though throughout the adventure; every new interaction or scene comes with something a little new. Initially learning the breathing and blinking at the same time will be a pain, and then mixing in the walking will make you feel overloaded, but after 10 minutes or so you'll be moving through these things quickly. It's almost an art form the way the game feels when everything is in sync. At times I felt like the game tried to throw in a few too many curveballs that ultimately felt like it slowed the game down with slight repetition, but as everything else is meant to keep you on your toes, it ultimately fit the agenda.
Sound and GraphicsThe focal point for both the story and sound is the narration and voice acting. Everything is narrated by a jolly middle-aged lad, who literally narrates everything. If Samuels face turning colors wasn't the indication you needed to breathe, hearing the narrator say "Samuel needs to breathe" in one form of a statement or another is a clear indicator. It fails to get old, though, everything he says, while obvious and a bit pointless, carries sarcasm and doubt regarding Samuel's chances of surviving the 24 hours that brings the whole game together. Voice acting is represented for all of the characters, but the one that stands out the most is the death symbolic character who is always tagging along. To describe the voice, he is an older guy trying to live as a teenage skateboarder slash thug life enthusiast. His vocabulary is an easily 90 percent "dude" and "bitchin." His character is hilarious, even if stupid at times, and arguably one of the best parts of the game. All the other characters have great voice acting though or at the very least acceptable.
The game has a unique art design regarding the graphics. It's like watching a classic cartoon show in action with its sharp, crisp, and colorful world. Because most of the game is in side-scrolling fashion, you'll go from left to right, yet the transition from one room or scene to another is seamless, and the interactions with challenges are no different. Depth to the environments doesn't mean depth in movements, which in a game like this is crucial, and simple to appreciate. Occasionally you'll switch to a completely different camera angle, ultimately breaking up the monotony of similar gameplay scenes, which to do a great job with overall presentation. Everything in motion is incredibly smooth and I experienced very little (essentially no...) issues with screen jump or glitching.
ConclusionYou can't ask for more from an indie title; Manual Samuel provides a very unique and original game for you to enjoy. Its mix of physics-based gameplay with actually structured controls makes for a greatly challenging experience where the constant quick reaction and thinking is less of a stress, and more of a hilarious take on life and death. The characters, especially death himself who partners with Samuel throughout his adventure, are memorable and a compelling piece to the overall presentation. I didn't get a chance to experience the co-op aspect of the game, but imagining sharing the goofy controls of Samuel with a friend sounds like an incredibly fun time and I sincerely hope I can convince a friend to buy it really soon so I can try it out. There's very little to complain about the title; with its relatively cheap price tag, it's one that many gamers should definitely give a try sooner or later.
|+ Fun and unique gameplay||+ Narrator feels repetitive in tone|
|+ Genuinely good story||+ Frustrating (although laugh-inducing)|
|+ Death character is funny and impressionable|
|+ Great value in regards to price|