Manual Samuel (Switch) Review
Comic book inspired art style
Hilarious writing and dialogue
Oozing with creativity
Frustrating controls at times
Obtuse solutions to puzzles
A Delightful Death
Few games have ever made me laugh out loud. By the time I finished my first playthrough of Manuel Samuel, the latest offering from developer Perfectly Paranormal, I had laughed, chuckled, guffawed, and even cackled once or twice. This is thanks to smart writing, engaging performances from skilled voice actors, and a vibrant art style that ties it all together, but does the gameplay stack up?
The story of our hero Samuel begins with a date. The spoiled-rotten Samuel, born into immense wealth, cares little about anyone else but himself, as told by the excitable narrator. He has forgotten his girlfriend’s birthday, and she is so hurt, so through with his selfishness that she grabs a bottle and strikes Samuel on the head, knocking him unconscious. As she leaves, Samuel attempts to get his bearings, but he has forgotten how to walk, and the player is introduced to the unique means of controlling our protagonist.
After the brief walking tutorial, Samuel hobbles outside, where he is promptly struck by a vehicle and dies. One (hilarious) interaction later, with the skateboardin’, hat-rockin’ Death no less, Samuel has been given a second chance at life. But there’s a catch: he must control his entire body manually for a full 24 hours, though Death is there to keep him company at least. See, Samuel is not a typical video game hero, with traditional means of being controlled. Quite the contrary, in fact, and I would argue that simply controlling Samuel is the most challenging part of the experience.
There is a button to move the left leg, the right leg, to breathe in, breathe out, to blink, and to straighten ol’ Samuel’s spine. Forget to do any of these things, and Samuel’s in for a world of hurt. Throughout my playthrough, Samuel tripped, fell, passed out from lack of oxygen, and even had his world blurred out because I forgot to mash the blink button. This mechanic, the, ahem, backbone of Manual Samuel‘s gameplay, was at times totally engrossing, and yet became frustrating during a few tasks, out of the many that Samuel must do on this fateful day.
One chapter has him driving, with car-specific controls thrown in for good measure, and another might have him attempting to spit water on an electronic console in order to short-circuit it. The creativity on display is impressive, though some of the solutions to problems Samuel faces are a tad confusing. Part of this problem was just trying to remember what button did what, which wasn’t made any easier if a certain task had a time limit. Thankfully, the presentation more than makes up for those slights, with special mention to the narrator dutifully reciting nearly every action that Samuel does, and the art style perfectly straddling the line between comic book and Saturday morning cartoon.
Outside of the main adventure, there is also a time attack mode, where any of the stages of the main adventure can be played for the fastest times, earning one of three trophies per level, depending on the time it takes to complete the level. Perhaps more interestingly, there is a selection of short comics on offer, delving a bit more into the personalities of the characters. Obviously the comic book influence on the art style was no accident, then. Wrapping it all up in a neat little bow is the achievements section, which gives specific goals to accomplish and give the admittedly short game that much more replay value.
Though the original game has been on XBOX One, PS4, and PC for a couple years now, the Switch port brings a few new additions to the table. First off, there are motion controls available, to help with things like lifting Samuel up and grabbing items. I didn’t particularly care for this function, but it’s nice to know that there was extra thought put into this version of the game. In addition to this, single joy-con play is supported for a local co-op mode. This allows two players to split control of Samuel’s bodily functions and really encourages teamwork. These may be small addendums to an already fabulous experience, but having more options available to the player is rarely a bad thing, in this reviewer’s opinion.
I’ll be thinking about Manual Samuel for a long time. I found myself roundly surprised by the sharp wit displayed in the dialogue and writing, which of course means nothing if not delivered by talented voice actors. No worries there, thankfully. The art style was at once inviting and very well suited to the zaniness involved in Samuel’s adventure, and though there were a few moments of frustration stemming from the purposefully cumbersome controls, and also from unclear puzzles, there is still a ton of fun to be had. Raise Samuel from the dead and pick up the game on Nintendo Switch, PS4, XBOX One, and Steam for $9.99.