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Manual Samuel Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . Manual Samuel has one of those promising setups that could never fail. But never say never, because Curve's newest game bungles the killer conceit every step of the way. The purposely difficult controls don't make the game funnier, it just makes every situation more frustrating. This would have been a little easier to swallow if the jokes weren't corny and they actually gave us likable characters. But this is an adventure where the two worst people in the underworld are forced to hang out. By the end, I hoped Samuel would stay dead. Rating: 30%
Manual Samuel
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  • Review Score:

  • D+
Between D-pads, shoulder buttons, analog sticks and even motion devices, hardware designers have gone out of their way to give players as much control as possible. So I find it funny that one of the recent gaming trends is to go in the complete opposite direction and make the characters purposely difficult to handle. It's not something I expected to catch on, but there's certainly something to be said about watching the hero flop around like a drunk seal.

Manual Samuel is the newest example of this phenomenon, putting you in less-than-firm control of a man who can't seem to walk, talk, breathe or even blink on his own. You play Samuel, a narcissistic douche bag with more money than sense. He's the kind of guy who has a fancy office at his father's robot company, affording him a chance to slack off and play video games all day. He also has a girlfriend ... or rather, used to have a girlfriend. After pissing her off for the last time, the frustrated woman smacked Samuel with a bottle, leaving him injured and despondent. And just to make a bad day even worse, our concussed hero stumbles right in front of a truck, killing him on the spot.


This is the setup for what should have been one of the year's most twisted adventure games, but instead we're given a bite-sized journey that thinks it's a lot funnier than it actually is. Things go immediately off the rails the moment we're introduced to Death, an obnoxious wannabe gangbanger who spends the entire game trying to pull off a kick flip on his skateboard. Death gives the unlucky trust fund brat an offer he can't refuse: If Samuel can live a normal life for a full day, he will be resurrected and go on as if he was never hit by a truck.

Of course, it's not going to be that simple. What Samuel is slow to realize is that he no longer has complete control over his faculties. The idea is to keep the poor guy going by manually moving each part of his body. It's not just the walking (which involves alternating between the left and right trigger buttons), but also holding a button to breathe in and pushing another to exhale. There's even a button to blink, because the last thing we want is for Samuel's eyes to dry up.

This silly scenario allows the developers to toss our hero into a bunch of reckless situations. In one stage you'll be asked to drive to work using a manual transmission, while another has you transferring highly sensitive toxic chemicals from one room to another. And if that isn't enough, Samuel will be tossed into a mech suit and forced to protect a kindergarten full of kids from a robot uprising. It's safe to say that he's having a bad day.

This is the kind of game that lives or dies based on the humor, and I found most of Manuel Samuel to be borderline cringe-worthy. It's not that there are no good jokes, but the few genuinely clever bits are surrounded by some of the most obnoxious characters I've met this year. And just when you think they are at their absolute worst, they somehow find new ways to annoy you. My least favorite bit is when Death decides to repeat the same exact phrase every ten seconds while our hero deals with some of the most frustrating puzzles.

Manual Samuel (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

When I saw how difficult it was to control, I expected Manual Samuel to toss me into a lot of sticky situations. And while that did happen, what surprised me the most is how limiting these scenarios felt. I kept thinking back to Octodad, a similar game where it was nearly impossible to move the out-of-water hero around the stage. But instead of leaving me frustrated, I loved all of the chaos that came from swatting the 3D environment with my unruly arms. There's nothing like that in this game, and I suspect the largely non-interactive 2D stages are to blame.

These problems don't subside over time, but rather get progressively worse as the brief story unfolds. When the action stages aren't going on for far too long, they are plagued with cheap hits and repetitive enemies. It all culminates into one of the worst boss fights of the year, which involves little more than trial and error memorization. And much like Death earlier in the game, the boss has a bad habit of repeating the same line until you can't take it anymore and have to mute everything.

Manual Samuel has one of those promising setups that could never fail. But never say never, because Curve's newest game bungles the killer conceit every step of the way. The purposely difficult controls don't make the game funnier, it just makes every situation more frustrating. This would have been a little easier to swallow if the jokes weren't corny and they actually gave us likable characters. But this is an adventure where the two worst people in the underworld are forced to hang out. By the end, I hoped Samuel would stay dead.
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