Meet Sam, a rich brat who has never done and honest day’s work in his life, and is about to be broken up with by his long-suffering girlfriend for forgetting her birthday for the third time and will continue on to have the worst day of his life.
After being broken up with via a bottle to the face in the middle of a coffee shop you must learn how to control an unconscious Sam via a nicely put together tutorial, teaching you the basics of walking, blinking and interacting with things. Once you make your way out of the coffee shop you have a nasty encounter with a truck which lands you in hell. After chatting with Death, a skater punk obsessed with landing a kick-flip to impress War (his bad-ass gun-toting four horseman colleague) Sam decides to make a deal – he must survive 24 hours of living manually and he gets to live normally for the rest of his life; fail, and Sam must return to Hell.
Sam’s day then starts out by completing the tasks most people do – he must brush his teeth, go to the toilet and have a shower (he definitely needed one after the toilet debacle) all whilst remembering to breathe, blink, put one foot in front of the other and keep his spine in an upright position. Sam must then get dressed, eat breakfast, drink his morning coffee and go to work. The following story involves you driving a car, doing some manual…manual labour and getting in a mech suit to shoot some robots all culminating in a ultimate showdown with a hellish opponent.
Manual Samuel is the latest offering from Curve Digital and takes the format of a story-driven simulator which is essentially QWOP meets Octodad, with the language and humour of South Park thrown in for good measure; and follows the trend of games like Surgeon Simulator and I Am Bread in that every aspect of the game is controlled separately to hilarious and frustrating ends. The game has a vague point-and-click adventure feel to it, using miniature environments with interactive elements to progress the game.
The art work feels like the flash animation games of New Grounds fame and has an Archer-esque quality about it. The game rides on amusing and reactive dialogue a la Thomas Was Alone and The Stanley Parable, which mocks you for mistakes that you make, and reminds you to BLINK!! FOR GOD’S SAKE, BLINK!! It’s also worth noting that skipping dialogue still fills you in on the story you’re missing, just in a more succinct way, but also gets mock-angry at you for doing so. The majority of the dialogue is well written (with the odd grammatical error in the subtitles catching my attention), however the overuse of the words faeces (spelled, feces for some reason) and the term douchebag get extremely irritating, and the seemingly conscious effort to avoid swearing was undercut by the use of the word ‘shit’ and therefore seems redundant if they were attempting to aim at a lower age rating.
Collectables come in the form of hashtags for performing (or not performing) certain task, which is fitting for the hipster feel to the settings and characters. You also unlock time-attack mode for each section of the game as you complete it. The character of Sam is surprisingly well-formed considering he is essentially a marionette for the entire game and I went through a variety of emotions towards him during my initial playthrough.
Death, however, is not so engaging, mostly appearing to annoy you either by spouting inane drivel about how he doesn’t want to get in trouble – as if it’s somehow Sam’s fault or by yelling about kick-flips which seems to be the only skateboarding move he knows, all through a mock-gangster/stoner dialogue which ends up sounding more and more like Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel as the game goes on.
There are a couple of sections of the game which are dragged out to beyond being fun anymore, and feel like filler to try to stretch the gameplay time out a bit (I completed the single player mode in around 2 hours) using rinse-and-repeat actions (e.g. start driving, stop driving, start driving again, repeat). In fact, the drawn out sequences have the opposite effect of making the game feel even shorter, it would have been nice to add some more day-to-day menial tasks in instead, as this was actually more enjoyable and would have added a few more quick challenges without the mechanics getting stale.
The controls are sharp, but can sometimes be confusing, requiring you to hold down a button to hold an item but then press that button again to perform an action with the item which occasionally resulted in dropping the item and felt quite unfair, particularly as it could have easily just been assigned to another button. They are also prone to varying between sections which is usually fine as long as you have hints turned on, but is frustrating when something new is introduced during a battle with no explanation of how to combat it until you’ve failed a few times and hints kick in. Generally though, they work well together and the combinations for performing complex activities such as driving feel well thought out.
The addition of co-op gives you some extra play time, as does time-attack mode. Multiplayer allows you to assign which controls you want which player to have, which is a really nice feature, however it would be nice to be able to adjust this in-game too. Being able to turn hints and spine tingle on and off in the settings was a good idea in order to self-adjust difficulty, however spine-tingle (vibration of the controller before Sam’s spine is about to give way) should be turned on by default for beginner players as it makes that aspect of the controls a lot easier to deal with.
All in all, Manual Samuel is an enjoyable but short game which feels more like a party game than something you would go through on your own. The dialogue is funny and the gameplay is difficult enough to provide a challenge, but ridiculous enough to generate laughter over frustration when it all falls apart. A fun way to spend a couple of hours, but maybe turn the voices off unless you love the word ‘faeces’.