by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Warning: Must own a brain
In recent years we’ve seen several attempts by games to take aim at game design itself and the notion of player agency. Do players really have a choice when they’re playing games, or are they just being told what to do? Here we have Manipulated, a not-so-subtlety titled game which, according to the developer, “requires an ability to think.” This has a double meaning, as yes, a couple of the puzzles are fairly tricky. However it’s also hinting that you need to be able to think for yourself, rather than simply follow instructions.
Manipulated is a puzzle platformer with a few action elements. The platforming is fairly trivial, apart from the inaccurate and floaty controls. There aren’t any hard jumps you have to make, other than the ones which are made hard by the lack of precision you have with the jumps. Equally, there is some combat in the game which doesn’t particularly need to be there. Mindless robots will run at you, or guns will shoot at you, and they’re very easy to dodge and dispatch quickly. A handful of bosses also plague this game, taking the dodging and shooting to slightly higher levels of frustration. A couple of the bosses can only be shot during very short periods, and the rest of the time they seem to float around out of reach, not really posing much threat to you either. Manipulated would probably be served by simply being a puzzle game, but that would make it even shorter than it currently is.
Value for money?
You’ll finish the game in under two hours, but it costs a mere £4, so it’s up to you to decide whether that constitutes value for money. The puzzles are the best part of the game, although the “ability to think” that the game prides itself on isn’t required as much as Manipulated wants it to be. A slight amount of lateral thinking is required for a handful, but it’s mostly searching the available area you have for the right combination to a keypad which will open up the next part of the level. The young girl you play as can astral project, for some reason, and her spirit can jump farther and higher, allowing her to go and press buttons which are normally out of reach. She can’t press all the buttons though, again, for some reason, so you’ll have to bring your real life body along for those instances.
The game has a narrator, as games of this type often do. This one attempts to bring some humour to the situation by cracking jokes and making pop culture references. However, these references would’ve been outdated in 2002, let alone 2017. The jokes fall flat, and a couple of songs referenced in the narration include Barbie Girl, released in 1997, and Who Let the Dogs Out, released in 2000. If you fail a level and have to reload, you’ll get a slight amount of variety in the dialogue, but it gets repeated very quickly.
The game ran fine in general, however there was one serious bug which may have been more than a blessing than an annoyance. Normally if you die during a level, the menu comes up and you can choose to restart it from the last checkpoint. In a level towards the end of the game, I died, and I absentmindedly was pressing the A button in order to go back and try again. Instead, I was transported to the next level, without having completed the previous one. A confusing situation, but one which was appreciated.
The ending to the game has a real “gotcha!” moment, and the narrator appears to be very proud of himself. There wasn’t really anything in the game up until that point which hints at this ending though, so you’re left with a feeling of “oh,” rather than “aha!”. The ending dialogue also goes as far as to essentially tell you the answer to the overall puzzle of the game, which takes away some of the fun of actually figuring it out and experiencing it too. It’s a twist, but not a particularly clever one.
Overall then, Manipulated is only worth the small amount of money it costs if you’re willing to play through a couple of hours of puzzles for a slight twist and the small amount of payoff which comes from it. The puzzles aren’t particularly tricky, and the platforming and combat is completely unnecessary.
A handful of decent puzzles.
Bad platforming and combat. Outdated humour.