Manos - The Hands of Fate [$1.99] is a retro adaptation of the 1966 film that involves a family that accidentally stumbles upon a lodge run by a mind-controlling, polygamous pagan cult.
Confused? Stick with me, my story gets better.
Upon loading Manos - The Hands of Fate, you are greeted with a splash screen that is reminiscent of NES box art. Dig deeper and you’ll find an aesthetic that screams “Bad Movie Tie-In Game From The Late 80s”. But that is all part of the plan.
Indeed, when I consulted the scrolls after my first play through, it turned out that Manos was inspired by games like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. A solid horror movie foundation for sure. Unfortunately, those two games were awful, absolutely awful- And any feeling of nostalgia is quickly washed away by the sins of their gameplay.
So, for those of you keeping score, we have a platforming game:
- Done in the NES style.
- Based on a movie that only a few people have seen.
- Inspired by some of the worst NES games.
How is it, you ask? How do you think it is?
Wait, that’s not fair, let's see if we can’t clear up some of the storyline confusion.
As far as I can tell, there is no untouched version of Manos - The Hands of Fate available for streaming. There is also no video rental location within 20 miles of my house, and I am incredibly lazy. Was I doomed to be confused forever? Luckily, no.
Amazon Prime does have the MST3K version of Manos - The Hands of Fate, so I was able to settle in and get a little knowledge on the game’s source material. One might worry that the MST3King process might sully the experience, on the contrary, it may be the only thing that kept me sane.
There is no way to sugarcoat it, the movie is awful. Shots go on for minutes longer than they should. Not because they serve a purpose, but because the script was only 8 pages long and something had to be on screen for the other 45 minutes. One wonders if they even bothered with a script, deciding instead to just ad-lib the story based on a premise. “Happy family of three stumble across cult in the middle of no where. Manos ensues.” Who is Manos? What are the hands of fate? The movie doesn’t bother to answer those questions; instead choosing to pose more. In the end, the movie managed to give me only a vague understanding of the game’s fiction, but that’s when things started to click.
It’s a funny sensation when the game’s non-sequiturs start making sense, and that sensation’s intensity grows with every passing level. The level doesn’t make sense, but recognizing things from the movie (the couple in the car, the statue, Torgo’s hand) lend a somewhat dreamlike understanding to them. I wish I could say that this second vision trip was enough to make the game enjoyable, but it is not. Understanding the fiction is not the only thing preventing one from enjoying this game.
It’s become passé to complain about virtual controls, but Manos’ gets special mention. I’d forgive a little looseness (not everyone can be League of Evil 2 [$1.99]) but they are overlaid right onto the gameplay area, and that is unforgivable. Things are fine if you are moving to the right, but forget about it if you have to go to the left. Your thumb sits right on top of the movement plane, meaning you have no time to react to anything that appears from underneath it. This problem is mitigated somewhat by playing on the iPad, but the other problems with virtual controls are only magnified by the larger screen- And the problems don’t stop there.
Nostalgia is a quick burning fuel. It can get you moving, but you then have to either keep the tank topped off, or introduce another fuel before your motor seizes. Some games, like Saturday Morning RPG [Free], have such an excess of nostalgia that it doesn’t matter how ho-hum the gameplay is, the tank stays full. Manos doesn’t just burn through it’s fuel, it does so with incredible speed.
It’s not hard to figure out why: the nostalgia fostered by the game is more pain than enjoyment. Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street were not good games. Unlike some of the classic NES titles (Mario, Zelda, Metroid, do I really need to name these?) you don’t go back to Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street to enjoy yourself, you go back to those games to remember how awful they were. It’s kind of like taking ipecac because you want to remember what it’s like to vomit.
Sure, there were moments when I would master a particularly difficult spot in Manos and feel a sense of accomplishment, but the only reason I had any motivation to master it was because I had to review the game. Had I come to that spot without that motivation, I would have swore at the game and deleted it off my phone. It’s a frustrating title, not in a good way, and certainly not in a “this is worth my time” way.
Now, I should note that if you are the type of gamer who plays hard games because they tap into the untouched portions of your advanced intelligence (or you just like telling people “Oh, it’s not that hard, you must not be good at games."), this game is right up your alley. But do not misunderstand, hard and well designed are not mutually exclusive. Manos - The Hands of Fate suffers not because it is hard, but because it isn’t well designed.
If you have Amazon Prime, you should check out the movie. The MST3K version is pretty entertaining. The game, however, is not.
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