Strap on your rocket launchers and braid your adorable pigtails.
We are about to dive into an underground robotic lair of platform puzzles and silliness in Wolfray Entertainment’s debut game, Manipulated. Though set in a future in which humanity is all but wiped out by our robot overlords, the game keeps a light, comedic air throughout. Manipulated is chock-full of sarcastic quips and pop-culture references, but for a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s seriously challenging.
The player’s character is a cute little blonde girl with two fishtail-braids perched high on her head, a rocket launcher that is the length of her entire body, and a look on her face which exudes absolute chaos. I’m talking white, soulless, pupil-less eyes and a crazy, Joker-like grin: basically, everything I want in a future daughter. She’s presented as the great-great granddaughter of Alfred Gobbs, the inventor of robots in the universe of Manipulated. He apparently foresaw the robot take-over, like any good robotics engineer should, and spliced his descendants’ genetics with superhuman abilities — like astral projection — in order to ensure that humanity doesn’t go down without a fight. The premise is that the girl, aptly named “Girl,” has to make it through a robotics lab by solving various puzzles and blasting security droids to smithereens. Girl is accompanied by a disembodied and snarky robotic voice that narrates the entire game. If Wheatley and GLaDOS from the Portal franchise had an overenthusiastic baby robot, it would be this disembodied voice heard over the intercom of Manipulated.
While the writing can sometimes feel over-the-top, like it’s trying a bit too hard to be comical, it doesn’t take away from the gameplay.
In fact, the entire premise and characterization are given to the player in very few words here and there. Instead of relying on a long prologue that introduces the player to the backstory, the narrative is made clear with just a few lines of humorous dialogue from the disembodied robot voice. On top of that, the entire game — the explosions, the mechanics, the animations — is over the top. It seems only fitting that the slapstick writing style should be, too.
The real meat of Manipulated is the series of complicated puzzles; I had to access parts of my brain which have gathered dust since I took the LSAT.. And the player must switch to different reasoning skills for every puzzle, because, from what I can tell, Manipulated doesn’t have an overall structure for how the puzzles are constructed. One level might require logic and lateral thinking, another will just literally be a geometry problem. One level even requires tone-matching and musical skills. I am a big enough person to admit that I found myself getting stuck on puzzles more than once.
One of the main mechanics that the player can use is the girl’s ability to astral project, or “go ghost.”
Girl will leave her empty husk of a body behind, and her ghost, replete with its own abilities, will emerge. You’re then invisible to security drones and can jump about three times the height of what you can reach when you’re a meat sack. The ghost doesn’t have a health bar, and if she gets hit once while in this state, she immediately returns to her body. I used this mechanic to explore a level before stepping into the body, which helped to avoid dying and having to start the level all over. The ghost also can’t activate certain levers and buttons, so some of the puzzles include figuring out ways to get your flesh-and-bones body where seemingly only your ghost persona can go.
While the puzzles and the concepts for levels can get quite complicated, the art and animation is relatively simple and very cartoonish. The simplistic art style matches the surreal and slapstick comedy style, but still shows evidence of detail. The girl in particular has some vibrant character design, as mentioned earlier, and her facial expression is only made to look more manic with a glow effect around her vacant eyes. The animations of the comically big rocket launcher also have an ACME quality about them, lending even more to this cartoon aesthetic.
The overall commentary of the game is hard to miss, something like, “Trust common sense and logic. Don’t trust robots.” This theme is touched upon many times throughout the game, whether in the narration dialogue or in the actual gameplay. Without giving too much away, the theme is an integral part of the narrative, and comes into play with the player’s personal experience in-game.
Manipulated creates a unique experience with a simple structure by implementing multiple different types of puzzles and challenges throughout the various levels. The art style is cartoonish and elementary, and the humor and voice-acting can be overdone, but it fits with the overall silly feel of the game. If you are looking for a whimsical side-scroller that will test your brain power, Manipulated is the game to buy. If slapstick comedy is not your cup of tea, the narration might come off as excessive, but the puzzles are sure to rope you back in.