Perfectly Paranormal’s Manual Samuel is billed as a “dexterity adventure” game, as the player takes control over the titular hero’s every move over the course of a single day of his life. The game first caught my eye earlier this year, with its blend of off the wall humour and truly unique gameplay physics.
The game first introduces us to Sam – a rich, spoilt brat who’s never had to do anything for himself – sat in a coffee shop with his long-suffering girlfriend. One break up and a broken nose and jaw bone later (thanks to a bottle of broccoli juice to the face), Sam stumbles blindly out onto the street and straight into the path an eighteen-wheeler. Sam is instantly killed, and as he hasn’t led a worthwhile and selfless existence, descends to Hell. Upon his arrival, Sam is met by Death – a hoodie wearing, gangsta talking skater boi obsessed with striking deals with hapless souls for their souls (and failing miserably to pull off kickflips).
Death takes a liking to Sam’s soul, which he sees as a shimmering diamond and cuts Sam a deal – head back to the land of the living and spend twenty four hours completing ever task manually, or spend eternity in some menial job in Hell. Not being a total idiot, Sam agrees and wakes the following morning having no control over even the smallest bodily function. It’s the player’s job to guide Sam through the course of the day, completing every move Sam would normally take for granted; with the overall goal being to ensure Sam makes it through the day, and gets his happily ever after (whilst learning a life lesson or two along the way).
Each of Sam’s main movements are assigned to a different button – blinking, breathing, walking and staying upright; mainly due to the lack of control over his spine. On paper this sounds easy, but forget to blink regularly and the screen begins to white out. Forget to breathe and Sam turns blue, before passing out due to lack of oxygen. Should Sam try to put the wrong foot forward, he’ll fall into the splits and bounce across the floor until you press the right button to pick him back up. Managing all Sam’s functions as well as navigating his environment is like trying to juggle wearing oven mitts, whilst simultaneously riding a pogo stick.
There’s a kind of rhythm to the basic actions, and as long as you remember to perform them regularly, the more “complicated” functions – like going to the bathroom, getting dressed and drinking a cup of coffee – become a little easier. Further into the game, Sam has to drive a car and do battle with sentient rogue robots. Puzzles are all based around manual motion, which can be a pain when you forget to breathe or which foot needs to take the next step, especially when time is of the essence.
Luckily Manual Samuel’s humour keeps the game from becoming annoying. A disembodied narrator helps the story along, as well as commenting on Sam’s mistakes (“for the hundredth time today, Sam performs the splits, failing to impress anyone”). Death’s nasally, slang-filled lines are a joy – with white rapper wannabe style vernacular that is so cringe-worthy it’s funny. Even one or two lines from background characters are worth paying attention to, as their lines are comedy gold.
The game’s visuals are just as strong as the story, with a European cartoon-style feel. There are no flaws, drops in frame rate or glitches – everything is super smooth in game. All of the characters are well realised, with Sam dressed in typical toff attire and Death dressed in an oversized hoodie and baggy jeans. Again, even the minor characters have an individual look, and there are plenty of sight gags to look out for both in the foreground and background. Each new environment you encounter looks distinctly different from the last – from home interiors to office building – each has its only feel to it.
Manual Samuel’s soundtrack is a fairly standard for what is essentially an adventure game – a jaunty, constantly looped track. Sound effects are comedic bangs, dongs and bleeps; which perfectly matches the game’s cartoony visual style. Vocal, music and SFX levels can be adjusted through the main and in-game pause menus. This shouldn’t be an issue, as the game’s subtitles are set to on as default (although I turned them off as soon as I could and didn’t have to make any adjustments).
I can safely say I’ve enjoyed Manual Samuel. The game will definitely appeal to fans of puzzle / adventure games, although those who struggle with the difference between left and right should give Manual Samuel a wide berth. Accidentally throwing a boiling hot cup of coffee in Sam’s face for the tenth time can induce bouts of teeth-gnashing rage. Fortunately, the game’s story and humour far outweigh the frustration of carrying out increasingly fiddly tasks; with Death and The Narrator helping the player to see the absurdity of the situation. Pefectly Paranormal have tried and, in my mind, achieved something unique here – I can’t think of any other game where successful taking a leak feels like a massive achievement!