by Joe Matar0
MANOS: The Hands of Fate Review
The Master would… be kind of lukewarm about this.
For those unaware, Manos: The Hands of Fate is an abysmal piece of anti-budget “horror” that may be the most incompetent attempt at a film ever put to celluloid. However, in this snarky internet age, productions both truly amazing and colossally terrible can inspire followings of equal rabidity. I personally started a band (The Torgos) in high school named after the film’s most memorable character (Torgo) and Manos still means enough to me that only last year I watched former members of the TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000 mock it in a live, nationwide theatrical broadcast. So it was fated that this fan-created videogame version of Manos would find its way into my hands.
Any joy one might derive from such a creation should come from a disproportionate amount of sincere care and effort being put toward revering a poorly cobbled-together failure. Unfortunately, Manos the game ends up just being not very good in a really average way.
The story kind of follows the plot of the film, which is about a guy named Michael, his family, and their dog getting lost and taking refuge in a house. There they are trapped by the Master—a questionably immortal guy—and his huge-kneed assistant, Torgo. Some stuff happens. The dog dies. Michael runs around brandishing a handgun. All told, there are very few scenes yet they drag on endlessly.
Recognizing the silliness and scantiness of the film’s proceedings, the game takes some liberties, throwing in enemies from other bad movies (one boss is the giant bird from 1957’s The Giant Claw) and a shooter level where Michael is suddenly in a biplane for no reason. Still, it hits the film’s bullet points: you control Michael with his handgun, the dog dies, this couple in a car makes out a lot, and the Master’s undead wives rise up. Unless you’re familiar with the source material, these will come across as random, disconnected events. That’s effectively what they are in the film too, but if you know that you’ll at least get some chuckles out of it.
Beyond the scattered plot references, there’s little to separate this from any other retro action title. While the “story” attempts to honor a crappy movie, the gameplay homages old-school NES action gaming and, like many games of that era, it’s somewhat challenging and frequently infuriating. There are seven stages of precision platforming, danger avoidance, and enemy shooting. You grab gems and coins for points and hearts to restore your health bar. Glowing Hands of Fate permanently increase your health and you can pick up a shotgun with a 3-way shot, but you lose it as soon as you take damage. The only levels that vary things up are the aforementioned biplane scenario and two that scroll automatically, forcing you rightward and upward respectively. The gameplay changes so little of the formulas its emulating that if you played just about any 2D action title from the 8-bit or 16-bit eras, there’s nothing surprising in store for you here.
Sticking resolutely to its old-school roots, there’s no saving, so Manos effectively has to be completed in one sitting, which is counterintuitive to mobile gaming on the whole. You can’t always count on the game to remember where you were if you navigate away from the app, so getting a phone call or accidentally hitting the back button can mean starting over from the beginning. Most problematic is the control scheme, which is just a graphical overlay of a D-Pad and A and B buttons. This is the laziest solution to touch screen control and means your thumbs can get in the way of the action. Worse is that the actual responsive areas for each button are very small. They work okay most of the time, but in heated moments it’s not uncommon to tap right when you meant left, shoot when you meant jump, or to tap nothing at all.
Still, though Manos requires some pretty deft platforming, lives are generous, continues are infinite, and it’s quite short, ultimately making the game easy-ish. I died repeatedly and still finished it in about an hour. I did not manage to get the “good” ending by collecting all of the Hands of Fate, but I don’t see myself bothering to play again.
The graphics are cute, with little avatars depicting the entire cast and various other visual references. However, it looks like what it is: a game pretending to be 8-bit but with complex details exposing its modernity. It’s technically fine but this lazy nostalgic approach to visual design is all too common and a personal pet peeve. The environments, for example, draw from the well of generic spooky videogame locales as you eventually end up exploring underground caverns, which is neither inventive nor in line with the movie. The music follows suit, consisting largely of serviceable, fake-retro compositions, though some of it copies the film soundtrack and it is nice to hear the inclusion of a chiptune rendition of Torgo’s iconic, terrible theme music.
Manos ends up feeling like an accurate old-school movie tie-in. It’s got a few references to the film it’s based on, but mostly fills its landscapes with clichéd game collectibles, basic environments, and standard enemies like snakes and rats. It also sort of tries to follow the film’s plot (admittedly no easy task) but mostly devolves into aimless jumping and shooting. An homage to arguably the worst movie ever made seems like it should be something either especially horrible or disproportionately awesome. Unfortunately, this is just another generic movie game.
Is it hardcore?
Summary: Nostalgia and references to bad movies cannot mask average gameplay and frustrating controls.