Blink, Samuel, Blink!
Manual Samuel, from publishers Perfectly Paranormal and developers Curve Digital, is a game that challenges the player to do many of the things that, in real life, are automatic. Turns out that’s not as easy as you might think…
The game revolves around the main character, Samuel. Sam is a bit of a prat. He’s spoilt, rich and lazy. Also, after an altercation with his girlfriend in a coffee shop and a close encounter with a septic tank trunk, he happens to be dead. Upon discovering that in the afterlife he will be expected to get a job, Samuel is quick to make a deal with Death, who is a hoodie wearing skater. Death will send Samuel back to his life, but only if he can survive 24 hours manually.
In case you hadn’t worked it out yet, Manual Samuel is a very silly game. The humour in the game, which often comes at poor Samuel’s expense, is pretty good and fairly constant. Much of the humour comes from the narrator, who sounds like he has been pulled in straight from an over-enthusiastic kids cartoon. This matches up well with the cartoon-style visuals, which are very slick. I must admit that the Death character can be very irritating, but the rest of the supporting cast seem to hit the spot.
Despite some great humour and nice visuals, it is the actual gameplay that stands out in Manual Samuel as both the games’ greatest achievement and the most frustrating aspect. Gameplay revolves around having to control Samuel and get him through 24 hours of his life. The twist comes from the fact that this actually means controlling almost every little aspect in some way or another.
At it’s most basic, this means having to press a button to breath in, and another to breath out. Failure to do this on a regular basis will result in Samuel turning blue and then passing out. It also means having to press a button to make Samuel blink, otherwise his eyes will go red and blurry. Even simply moving around requires one trigger for the left leg and the other for the right, pressing them in sequence to prevent Samuel from awkwardly collapsing on the floor. But don’t get too carried away, as moving too fast will result in Samuel’s spine bending, which is another thing the player will have to fix.
These are just the basics, and may seem quite simple. But it is quite easy losing track of which leg to move next and ending up on the floor, and constantly having to remember to move and blink is not so simple when trying to do the other stuff in the game.
Take driving for example, one of the more complex minigames in Manual Samuel. Here, the player has to control the clutch, accelerator, and brake by moving Samuel’s feet to the correct pedals, while controlling the gear stick with Samuel’s arm, and switching lanes as necessary. All this while remembering to breath in and out, and blink. Many of the actions in the game will require the player to press the right buttons at the right time, so even something as simple as taking a shower, drinking a cup of coffee, or even taking a pee will often result in humourous consequences for Samuel. Oh, and don’t try to breath in before you spit after brushing your teeth… It’s the little things.
The constant barrage of controls can get frustrating after a time. But fortunately, Manual Samuel doesn’t out stay its welcome. The game will only last a couple of hours, but I think much more and players would get bored. Over the course of those two or so hours, the game moves along at quite a pace and doesn’t let up on the humour. Besides, for those that want more, there are both co-op and time attack modes. Time attack breaks the campaign up into bite-size chunks and serves it alongside timed challenges, whilst the co-op mode brings another player to share the controls of Samuel in the ultimate show of teamwork. Both modes are great ways to extend Manual Samuel’s unique gameplay for players who just can’t get enough.
Funny, involved and often frustrating are great ways to describe Perfectly Paranormal’s Manual Samuel. It’s a short game that will drive many players to distraction, but it will keep them chuckling and won’t be easily forgotten.