One of my favorite things about indie games is that they (generally) don’t have much to lose. To avoid sounding too apathetic, what I mean by this is that they’re at liberty to see any insane ambition or idea through to the end, propped only by their own time and resources. Titles I’ve reviewed previously had this sort of mystical niche to them, like Mythic Ocean or The Other Half, which added to their charm. For the first time in 2021, I’ve come across another indie title that tries to appeal to that same volatile essence: Where’s Samantha?.
Trapped in a bizarre world combining Yoshi’s Woolly World and general household items, George is on a mission to find his love, Samantha. Through his travels, he’ll experience bizarre scenery, illogical situations, and Rufus Hound‘s voice. Presented as pages in a book, the game attempts to combine the magic of fictional tales and bizarre, self-aware tomfoolery. Try as it might to piece together a story worth reading, it may not be as effective as the visuals plead you to believe.
Where’s Samantha? is available to purchase on Steam for your regional pricing.
Story – All Fun and Clones
Not much is revealed about George and Samantha prior to the events of the game’s opening. In fact, upon opening the app itself, it simply begins! No menu, no “Get ready to be faced with an immediate cutscene”—like opening a book, you’re in it without warning.
Through unusual circumstances, George has been transported into a strange world in search of his beloved. Upon completing each level, a new page in the story is revealed, which further details the plot at hand, shown through a traditional hardcover novel. With a total of roughly 50 pages, it’s more of a novella, but pretty sizeable if comparing it to a children’s illustrated book. George will meet with bizarre circumstances such as clones, dangerous obstacles, and steam that erases color. What does it all mean?
Arguably, one could dissect the material provided from the story and check for some underlying theme. I, myself, had some working theories throughout, but much of it seemed like random nonsense for the sake of it. It wasn’t until the last few pages where things began to bluntly hint at something more, something potentially mind-bending. A psychological yearning of the mind, hidden within the recesses of an oppressed consciousness. It was certainly something that felt intriguing… on the surface.
With that said, while I will not spoil anything major, I do wish to note that I found the ending rather anticlimactic. Much like how story begins, it ends with very little warning. A shocking end leaving a definitive impact—only it hardly lasts. Trying to figure some meaning behind the notes and visual aesthetic of the game, it comes to a halt that leaves much to the imagination. Curious, I went in to see if that truly was the end, and from what I could discover, it was. If there is any such “secret” ending, I know not how to acquire it. A lot of build-up for a little payoff.
Whatever dismay the ending could leave, getting to that point has a more agreeable taste. The writing is fairly self-aware, mocking itself and the uncanniness of its scenario at regular intervals. My sole complaint with it is that it occasionally veers into a space where it feels lacking in substance. Meta commentary is good fun, but I believe it should be done with some measure of importance. I could make a remark about how pretentious my language has been throughout this review, though does that mean anything in this case? I’m just making fun of myself. Am I more relatable because of that? Or is it self-criticism for the sake of it? An occasional smudge on what’s typically pretty solid and jolly storytelling.
Gameplay – Hop and Avoid (Many) Lasers
Where’s Samantha? actually reminds me quite a bit of a game I reviewed many years ago—Take the Cake. In that game, the objective was to go from one end of the room to another by taking advantage of platforming and the player’s weight, which manipulated the stage’s structure. You could also collect things along the way that added to your completion percentage. In this game, the objective is to go from one end of the room to another by taking advantage of platforming and the player’s weight, which manipulated the stage’s structure—only in a more clever manner. You can also collect things along the way that added to your completion percentage.
Despite how copy-pasted I make it sound, Where’s Samantha? benefits from more creativity in its puzzles and implementation of said weight. One isn’t simply growing and shrinking; they’re absorbing clones they find within the level. Combining, splitting, and taking control of any such one provides a lot of versatility in puzzle design. Color plays a large role here, signaling the correct weight, and eventually character, that’s recommended in various sections. It’s far more involved than it seems, which works well in its favor… mostly.
Difficult as it may be to explain succinctly, I grew tired of the game’s unending, gauntlet-style manner of stage progression. Many look the absolute same; puzzles are different, but rely on the same core element of pressing buttons and using your weight; dodging lasers is always a big chore. These more tedious aspects begin to creep up on the mind as the pages turn. Stage after stage, puzzle after puzzle, I seeped into this circadian rhythm of “Beat stage → Read page.” By the late twenties in the page count, I was ready to be done with it. While progressively more varied, there wasn’t enough present to compel me to go forward outside of just finishing what was started.
Playing as George worked, albeit somewhat blandly. Per my playthrough, there was nothing about his control or movement I would consider wonky or ineffective. A clean, functional character to play as. Later on in the campaign, you can play as a character named Frank, who can double-jump. He was admittedly more fun to play as, which the story notes is supposedly canon. Alas, he’s only available about halfway through the game, and not consistently.
Physics, on the other hand, can be a little weird, particularly with platforming. There were some times where I would jump on just the point where a ledge inclines and I would be stuck there in physical purgatory. Other times had me moving a big yarn block and have it register me tipping it over when I just intended to jump on it. These aren’t substantial issues, but they represent noticeable cracks in the game’s coding.
To wrap up this section, collectibles via letters (and occasionally light bulb… things…) are present in each stage for one to find. I assume not collecting all of them leaves part of a page’s story incomplete, but I wouldn’t know because I collected them all 100%—rather easily at that. Assuming the narrative portion of the game is integral to one’s experience, I can understand laying them out to collect with relatively no effort necessary. Even so, it’s hard not to feel as though they’re thrown out there as nothing special. Like a strange, pseudo-hybrid of puzzle-platformer and collect-a-thon, because they could.
Graphics & Audio – What a Wool-derful World
By far the strongest aspect of Where’s Samantha? is its gorgeous creation of a soft, woolly setting. Characters are distinct and simplistically refreshing, and the key art/storybook art is nothing short of marvelous. Despite the sameness of the levels, I did like the way it incorporated and even defied the definitions of common objects like socks and pencils. If looks could kill, this would definitely leave one’s heart close to bursting.
To further elaborate on color, I really enjoyed how it was relayed in the gameplay. Subtle clues of how best to proceed and what to do were well-coordinated and easily identifiable. Each size is a different color; George and Samantha represent different colors. After playing this, I may just associate blue as being heavier than red, or purple being heavier than either—appropriate considering purple is a mix of red and blue. It was also fun to experiment and see if I could cross sections outside of the deemed recommended color. It worked occasionally (and led to many more deaths).
Unfortunately, the auditory quality doesn’t even compare. Sound effects aside, which were passable, there is barely any music present in this whatsoever. Stages look the same and sound the same. As of writing this, I can scantly recall much of anything outside of the storybook in-betweens. No adventurous tunes, no ominous tracks; even if they may have been there, they’re just so unnoticeable that it’s hard to let it register. Ambience more than anything, probably. Depending on one’s preferences, that could be a terrible detriment.
Hound was pretty good, though. Initially, I thought he may have been Jacksepticeye, but that’s besides the point. Putting his all into the performance, his spunk provides a lot of staying power to the words put to screen. Altering his voice to speak for certain characters and generally playing fun with the tone, it makes completing levels a little more rewarding. That ultimately didn’t stop me from reading ahead and going into stages quickly, though that was well past the point where I went into my circadian rhythm. Kudos to Rufus.
Where’s Samantha? was reviewed on PC via Steam. A review key was provided by Novy Unlimited.