Review: Manual Samuel

Manual Samuel. The name of the game tells you everything you need to know right in the title.   

Nothing Samuel does happens without the player putting in the manual effort to press a series of buttons. Sure, all game characters are basically digital mannequins without a player’s direction, but in this game Samuel can’t move, breath, blink, or even hold himself upright without input from the player. The left and right trigger buttons, alternately pressed, make Samuel walk. Up on the D-pad keeps him standing upright, or allows him to stand up when he inevitably falls on the ground. Holding Y makes Samuel breathe in, while holding A causes him to exhale. Samuel blinks with the press of the B button.

Why’s Samuel so dependent upon the player to get around? Well, Samuel is a rich, spoiled man who has never had to really work a day in his life. He has coasted by on the money his family has earned, which has made him lazy and full of himself. As the narrator gleefully points out, Sam is a douche, ignorant of the needs of others and unwilling to actually do anything for anyone but himself. Sam is such a douche that he forgets his girlfriend’s birthday for the third time, which sets in motion how the game mechanics work after Sam is struck across the face with a bottle, becomes concussed, and can’t walk without the player’s aid.

Manually walking Samuel through a coffee shop, players are introduced to the basic movements. Upon walking outside to meet up with his girlfriend, Sam’s awkward movement leaves him in the middle of the street unable to move out of the way of a truck, which strikes and kills him, revealing the game’s true plot. 

Death is a ridiculously annoying skater wannabe that sees Samuel’s life is worth 7 shreds of life (which is the currency used in the afterlife). Death makes a deal with Samuel that he will be returned to life, but only if he can survive a full 24 hours dealing with whatever punishment Death decides. In this case, returning to living and working while having to do everything manually.Thus the game begins in earnest.

Players begin the day by going to the bathroom, literally having to stand upright at the toilet, and quick time-like button press when a sliding meter fits within a small green section. Hitting the loo is followed by walking Samuel over to the shower and holding the soap and cleaning himself off, remembering to blink and breathe in and out as he goes. All the while a narrator, almost to the point of annoyance, repeatedly describes every action that Samuel is making, and indicates when things are done poorly. And if that isn’t enough, Death is constantly hanging out in the background attempting to learn how to land sick skateboard moves.

I won’t lie — Manual Samuel did not impress me right away. At first I was annoyed by the constant need to breathe and blink. I also found that I would end up making Samuel do the splits because my timing on button presses for walking would inevitably have me press either the right or left leg twice in a row, which would then cause him to do a sort of deviant floor humping skitter across the screen. The narrator’s tendency to repeat the same phrase over and over again as I tried to work through the correct button combos, in addition to having to master holding down several buttons at once, made for a frustrating first impression.

However, the situations that Samuel is presented with actually are pretty funny and after a while, I figured out a rhythm and was able to navigate through most areas without having to repeat too many steps. Once Samuel is showered and dressed, the game changes settings and has him reporting for work, but this time instead of doing nothing all day in his office, Samuel’s father requires him to actually start at the bottom within the company and perform manual labor. Samuel’s family has accumulated its wealth through the selling of robots throughout the world, and Samuel’s task for the day is to fill robots with a small amount of a substance that provides them with some semblance of self-awareness, but not to a dangerous degree.

Of course the ridiculous skater Death manages to screw things up, and causes a dose of the self-awareness substance to cover a large number of robots, which triggers them to escape and set about destroying things. And the only way to stop these killer robots is to utilize a robot that doesn’t have any self-awareness, but is rather manually controlled, perfect for Samuel to hop into and attempt to save the day.

The game then switches to more of a side-scrolling chaotic mess as Samuel must shoot machine guns or swap out with missiles, while still manually walking, or raising a shield, or even hurling Death to distract certain robots. Fortunately the game is very forgiving if Samuel takes damage from the enemy robots. Even though he is an annoying skater, Death seems to be a crack mechanic and quickly repairs any damage taken, allowing Samuel to continue destroying the menacing robots.

The game isn’t overly long, especially once that rhythm with the controls is picked up, but there is a time trial that is unlocked at the completion of each level for gamers who want to go back and try to complete specific challenges introduced in the story mode. While that isn’t exactly my sort of thing, I appreciate that the game offers a new way to play instead of simply starting the story mode over again. There’s a local co-op mode where two players can split control of Samuel’s body. Exclusive to the new Switch version, five mini comics exploring the various adventures of Death can also be read from the main menu.

Manual Samuel is a game that grew on me the longer I played. I was immediately struck by the visual style, and the concept was definitely intriguing enough to grab my immediate interest. It just took time to get over the almost tedious gameplay, the tendency for the narration to become a bit annoying, as well as just how badly Death kept screwing things up for Samuel. Even with the overuse of the word feces, the humor definitely tickled the younger teenager within me and literally made me laugh out loud in spots. The writing is smart and helps to carry the gameplay. I don’t know if there is a huge market for manual gameplay, but the memorable art and humor make the game worth playing.

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Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Switch, also on PC, PS4, and Xbox One
Publisher: Curve Digital
Developer: Perfectly Paranormal
Release Date: Switch – 8/16/2018, PS4 – 10/11/2016, PC/Xbox One – 10/14/2016
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-2 (local co-op mode)

Source: A Nintendo Switch code for Manual Samuel was provided to VGBlogger.com for review consideration by Curve Digital.

Buy From: Nintendo.com, PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, and Steam for $9.99.

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.