Hell is something that is always represented as the worst place you can end up after death. In movies, television, video games, and even music, Hell is a place of horrors. In Manual Samuel, our protagonist is given one shot at redemption after entering this place of fire and brimstone. The titular Samuel is a spoiled rich kid that hasn’t done anything for himself since birth. Having grown up with a rich family, Samuel is as lazy as can be. Even his girlfriend has had enough of Samuel’s antics and abruptly ends their relationship. While attempting to win her back after storming out of the coffee shop where they were on a date, Samuel is hit by a truck and ends up in Hell.
It’s here where he meets death, represented in the game as an entity who personifies the stereotypical 90’s skateboarder. Death is having a good day because he gives Samuel a chance to prove his worth. If our protagonist can go an entire day, doing everything for himself, Samuel can once again reclaim the life that was taken from him. This seems simple enough, but developer Perfectly Paranormal wonderfully used this plot point as the basis for the gameplay found in Manual Samuel. The player must do everything for the hero. From taking a step with the proper foot, to blinking, to breathing, and even keeping your spine straight, players must help Samuel survive the entire day.
From the first level, it’s easy to tell that Manual Samuel is a clever, whimsical, and uproarious experience. Within the opening minutes, you’re brushing his teeth, showering, peeing, getting dressed, walking down the stairs, eating, and drinking coffee. Doing these things incorrectly will put a damper on your progress. There are no game-overs, but recovering from an error can be frustrating because finding a rhythm in pressing the buttons can occasionally be difficult. If you don’t breath enough, Samuel will suffocate. Not blinking enough will make the screen blurrier, and not adjusting your spine will mess up your posture. Taking steps can be frustrating because failing to walk in a nice flow will cause Samuel to stumble. Even when you get into a groove, the game throws in a curveball such as having to carry an item while walking. The button layout is confusing enough since each button correlates to a different body function. Unfortunately, also having to hold down a button to carry an item all while making sure all of Samuel’s body movements are in working order adds to the difficulty.
This seems like the kind of game that would get repetitive, but luckily the developers put players in unique situations that often threw me for a loop. There is a level where Death turns your automatic car into a manual vehicle which forces Samuel to learn how to drive stick shift. As someone who doesn’t drive, I found it interesting to have to learn this way of driving. There are other instances of puzzle solving, and different types of combat that I won’t spoil here, but each level had its own distinct feel that made the experience pleasurable.
From a story standpoint, it’s a pretty simple affair that made me laugh although it was slightly predictable. That doesn’t mean the narrative doesn’t work, it’s just not something extraordinary. Samuel isn’t a likeable character, but it’s tough to not feel bad for all of the things he has to endure during the game’s 8 levels. Death is overly obnoxious because of the persona he embodies, but he has some standout moments. A horseman of the apocalypse named War absolutely shines during the mission where she is introduced. Rounding out the main characters is the narrator who gracefully helps the story progress. In fact, the narrator actually was a scene stealer at times.
After the story is done, players can tackle the grueling time trials mode which will test every player. Even after memorizing certain levels, I was still far away from the gold medal time. Fortunately, this particular mode extends the longevity of the game and it’s definitely a fun challenge. There is also a local co-op story mode, but I unfortunately was not able to test this mode out.
The visuals are very appealing and the cartoonish art-style is often cool to look at. The character models are done well and the environments pop. The audio aspect isn’t always the best, but it was never grating. Since the narrator spoke during most of the level runtimes, I often paid more attention to the story instead of the sound effects in the background.
My only negative is a term used in the script. Death often said “Holy Feces” or just the word “feces” during much of the game’s runtime. After a few uses, I quickly became bored of the novelty surrounding the word. As a substitution for a certain expletive, I would have actually preferred the word crap used over and over again.
Manual Samuel uses a gimmick to drive the story forward while providing a reason to adopt the gameplay that it uses. It’s a concept that absolutely shouldn’t work, but instead, Perfectly Paranormal has developed an intriguing game full of wacky characters, over-the-top situations, and hysterical gameplay. Samuel’s journey takes him to Hell and back while people who buy the game will have a hell of a time playing through it. One thing is for sure, I can’t wait to see what this team will come up with next.
Andrew Gonzalez is the Co-Editor-In-Chief of Xbox Enthusiast. When not writing about Xbox, he’s usually reading comics, talking about Taylor Swift, and dreaming of the perfect Jet Force Gemini Reboot. You can follow him on Twitter. @AJGVulture89