STAFF REVIEW of Manual Samuel (Xbox One)

Thursday, November 17, 2016.
by Jennifer Dingle

Manual Samuel Box art Imagine if you lost complete control of your body for 24 hours and could only move manually with the aid of some sort of input device. Every single step you take is deliberate and slow. Your spine seemingly has a mind of its own and your eyes can’t blink, so they become red and irritated. You forget how to breathe, and pass out unless reminded to inhale and exhale. Simple everyday tasks, such as feeding yourself, or even urinating, are now nearly impossible. Developer Perfectly Paranormal has taken this premise and crafted Manual Samuel, an adventure game with a very unique twist, forcing you to control the protagonists every move with hilarious results.

Samuel is arrogant, rich, and a huge jerk to everyone around him. He has a girlfriend, but she’s sick and tired of his selfish and childish ways. After fighting with her over forgetting her birthday, he meets an untimely end after being hit by a truck while dizzily chasing after her as she knocks him over the head with a bottle. He finds himself in the depths of Hell and comes face to face with Death, who just happens to not be your typical Grim Reaper image, as he wears baggy clothes, a backwards hat, speaks in horrible 90’s slang, and is really focused on trying land the perfect kickflip. Left with the choice of getting a menial job, which to Sam is truly hellish, he makes a deal with Death, who gives him one last chance to live, but only if he can survive the next 24 hours enduring something truly torturous.

Thanks to Death’s mischievous deal, such things as breathing, driving, and blinking for the next 24 hours is a test, as every movement Samuel makes is, well, manual. Nearly every part of Sam’s body is controlled with a button on the controller. Walking is not as simple as you might think, as each step is controlled by the trigger buttons. Walk too fast and Sam’s legs will abruptly do the splits, causing him to hilariously shuffles across the floor or tumble down the stairs. His spine is not very stable either, and often out of nowhere he will awkwardly bend over backwards and you are forced to position him upright with the D Pad.

These movements alone are challenging, but developer Perfectly Paranormal takes it a step further, having you control Sam’s breathing and blinking as well. Forgetting to press the right buttons to inhale and exhale leaves Sam turning blue and passing out on the floor, or his poor eyes turning red and seeing the world in a painful haze. Such things as eating, drinking coffee, urinating, taking a shower, which are simple everyday tasks, have become extremely difficult for Sam, and combining all of these movements takes great dexterity as you try desperately to keep Sam alive for the next 24 hours without harming himself and creating chaos in his wake.

Sam must painfully survive through the scenarios that Death throws at him. As you can imagine, driving a car would be difficult, considering that you need to control each leg’s movement. Now, imagine if you had to drive it in manual! During a sequence that went on much too long, you are forced to drive Death through a series of roads while using the clutch and stick, while swerving to avoid numerous old ladies and picking up a hitchhiker who has you stop periodically as they all need complete a very gruesome task. In one sequence, you are forced to go work, assembling robots, and are required to push a button to open a door and hurriedly bring an item to another room before the door closes. This was super tough, and to be honest I felt it was unnecessary and didn’t add anything to the game.

The novelty of controlling Sam’s every movement wears out fast, and Manual Samuel quickly becomes tedious and repetitive to play through. It was mildly amusing at best. I started the game thinking it was hilarious and it showed some promise of being very entertaining, but the story’s comedy got old quite fast, and at times the script was downright cringe worthy. There were times that it felt like they were trying too hard to be funny. The most comedic moments were in my own screw-ups, like when I accidentally splashed hot coffee in Sam’s eyes after I missed hitting a button or I sent him crashing down a flight of stairs when I hit the trigger too quickly.

The 2D visuals are colourful and cartoonish, and fit in quite well with the silliness and the premise of the game. I thought the narrator was great with his smart and sarcastic quips, but Death’s voice, in his attempt to sound young and hip, grew to be extremely irritating. Perhaps it was intended to be comical, but his repeated exclamations that he was attempting to do a kickflip quickly got on my nerves.

Thankfully short, Manual Samuel only take 2-3 hours max to play. Should you wish to play again, completing each level unlocks a time trial that adds a whole new level of frustration to the already challenging gameplay. And once you finish the story mode, a co-op mode unlocks and you and a friend can control Sam’s movements between two controllers. I didn’t have the opportunity to play this mode, but I can only imagine how maddening it could be! I should note it’s a fantastic game for achievement hunters, with unlocks popping at a surprisingly fast rate for very easy tasks.

Developer Perfectly Paranormal should be commended for creating a unique game that stands out among the numerous remakes and nostalgic 8-bit indie titles. While the game does suffer at times from repetitive, frustrating gameplay, and the comedy wears thin very quickly, there is still some fun to be had as you hilariously and manually take control of Sam and his bodily functions. Priced right at $9.99, gamers looking for something completely different should at least consider adding Manual Samuel to their ID@Xbox collection.

Overall: 6.7 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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