There’s a good reason many of my favourite titles are the creations of talented indie developers. Sure, the big budget blockbusters can offer those great set pieces, engaging stories and frantic multiplayers, but if you’re looking for something truly unique and memorable, then the smaller indie titles offer some of the best experiences on the market. Manual Samuel is another perfect example of this.
Manual Samuel is one of the few games on the market that may not actually have a genre – unless of course you count manual-action/adventure as a genre of its own. Manual Samuel sees players take on the role of Sam, a wealthy young man whose biggest concerns and responsibilities are arriving at work on time and paying any form of attention to the girlfriend he’s been neglecting. But after a head-on meeting with an oncoming waste disposal truck, Sam’s easy life is quickly taken away. However, after an interesting encounter with the rather hipster Death himself, Sam is granted one of Death’s annual rare chances to get his life back as he knew it. The catch? Sam must live through an entire 24 hours doing everything, yes EVERYTHING, manually.
Whilst a simple 24 hours may not seem like much for someone with so little responsibility, when every day bodily functions need to be maintained manually every five seconds, just to ensure the avoidance of a slow and painful death, things can start to get tricky quickly.
After Sam’s encounter with Death, players are taken back to Sam’s home, to find him in a crumpled heap on the floor, his face starting to pale in colour, and his eyes turning a blistering red. It’s at this point you are told you will be in full control of Sam’s blinking and breathing – yes both in and out – as well as needing to stand him up and keep his back from flopping around like a fish out of water. Oh , and of course his walking…every single step!
From here on out, players must take Sam through eight distinct and unique levels, completing his various day to day tasks all whilst keeping control of each of his bodily functions in the process. Washing, cleaning his teeth, putting his clothes on, walking down the stairs, eating, choking, drinking and even taking a whizz. These are all things you must manually control whilst blinking, breathing and walking. If that sounds easy enough then be warned, that’s just the first level. Later levels include tasks such as driving, working, fighting in a giant robot, and even beating up some of hell’s ever so friendly guards!
Whilst the story sounds great, one thing that must be praised more than anything else is just how well this game works. In a game that requires players to have super-fast reactions and exceptionally dextrous fingers in order to carry out the simplest of tasks, the guys over at Perfectly Paranormal have done a fantastic job of ensuring each button press is instant and smooth. Whilst this is something that we expect from every game we play, not every game relies so heavily on these gameplay mechanics in order to progress – with tasks often requiring you start again should you fumble the controls, this is one title in which perfectly smooth gameplay throughout is a must; if only to ensure an engaging and enjoyable experience. Perfectly Paranormal have definitely delivered on that front.
Whilst the controls are certainly responsive, it doesn’t go without saying that things do get a bit hectic at times. Left and right triggers control walking , X and B sort Sam’s breathing and A is tied to blinking. The early levels are just about manageable, but for the later levels requiring you to block, attack and other things with different movements controlling the arms, pressing the right button at the right time can often end in a big fail. However, whilst this can prove frustrating in later levels, in no way does it remove the accessibility and fun from the game. If anything it adds to the experience.
Finishing the story mode isn’t the end of the road either, for those of you who like to feel truly challenged, the Time Attack mode will be just what you are looking for. Time Attack takes you through each of the story levels once more, but with the added challenge of a timer. Naturally the lower the time, the better the score, and whilst the bronze on each level was just about achievable for me, those wanting to master the more desirable Silver and Gold trophies for each level will certainly have a big test on their hands.
If that’s not enough for you, then fear not. There is still one more treat in store for players and that comes in the form of co-op.
Players start by choosing which of the bodily functions they wish to control. My chosen method being to split responsibilities fairly, I controlled the top half of Sam – breathing, blinking and arm movement – whilst my co-op buddy took to the walking and keeping Sam upright. Having just about managed to get Sam through his day alive in solo, I fully expected co-op to be a breeze, however the difficulty taken away by sharing the controls is quickly added back with the need for perfect communication at all times. After many hours of shouting things such as ‘Move the legs!’ and ‘His back, dear god fix his back’, I can rightfully say that those who have mastered solo and Time Attack may just be bested by one of the best co-op offerings available.
Overall, Manual Samuel is a fantastic game, that offers a truly challenging experience, a well-paced story along with some of the most enjoyable and satisfying gameplay this year. Whether you’re looking for a break from the big triple-A set pieces, or another great indie gem to add to your collection, Manual Samuel is definitely one to watch for.