Game Review: Manual Samuel (Xbox One)

Video game developers have a tough job. Gamers want innovation. They want to play something unlike anything that they have played before, at least I do. At this point in time, it can’t be easy to achieve this. In recent years, we have seen plenty of innovation. However, it has rarely come from the bigger development studios. Instead, it has been the independent market that has consistently delivered. Manual Samuel is a perfect example of something that is unlike anything I have ever played before.

Sam, the son of a wealthy CEO, is hit by a septic truck while chasing after his distraught girlfriend. Finding himself in Hell (where all residents must get jobs), Sam makes a deal with the skateboard-loving Death to return to life under the conditions that he must survive 24 hours performing all bodily functions manually.

Manual Samuel is a 2D animated adventure side-scroller. In the game, players control all of the bodily functions of main protagonist Sam. Sam needs help manually doing the everyday functions that we all take for granted. Players control Samuel by taking individual steps using alternating buttons to move each foot. As well as helping him blink, otherwise the screen will become blurred. Poor Sam cannot even breathe unless you help him to do so. You’ll need to inhale and exhale properly or he’ll turn blue and faint. These are just a couple of examples but there are many more things he needs help with. The goal of the game is to help Sam make it through the day in this manual fashion.

As I mentioned above, Manual Samuel is truly unlike anything that I have ever played before. That feat alone is extremely impressive. Controlling Samuel is as cumbersome as you would imagine it to be but that’s the point. Samuel has to do everyday tasks like use the toilet, shower and get dressed. You’re required to help him get through these tasks. Completing Sam’s daily routine leads to some genuinely hilarious scenarios. You have to complete them while keeping Sam upright, blinking and breathing. I’m sure you can picture the kinds of things that might happen.

At the start, you’ll probably feel as hopeless as Sam does. It can be quite frustrating at first but it gets easier with repetition. Other than the gameplay, Manual Samuel has a very appealing artsyle. The visuals are bright, colourful and imaginative.

Throughout the game is narration that delightfully sets the scene for each new section of the game, it is very amusing. Talking of things that are funny, Death has his moments. His relentless desire to hit the perfect kick-flip on a skateboard leads to some humorous junctures.

There are a couple of boss-battles in the game that end up feel rather repetitive and formulaic. Manual Samuel is a very forgiving game but it might not feel that way at times.

Also, the game comes with a two player co-op mode. In this, two players can divide up the responsibility of controlling Sam. This can lead to some pretty funny moments, especially when you have to remind your partner to make Sam breathe and blink.

Finally, there is a speed-run mode. In this you’ll have to completely master manually controlling Sam. There is some serious trial and error involved this mode but it is highly satisfying to complete.

Most indie games suffer from short runtimes and Manual Samuel isn’t any different. You can easily complete it in a couple of hours even if you struggle with the controls. If you quickly master the controls then this likely won’t be a long experience for you. Thankfully, the game usually comes cheap so it’s hard to feel too short changed.

Overall, Manual Samuel is a fun game. It certainly isn’t for everybody but I appreciate it for giving me something a little bit different.

Manual Samuel
  • The Final Score - 7/10
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