Back in November of 2012, a singular oddity hit the iOS app store. Developed by an unknown FreakZone Games (now a little better known for Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures), the game was called MANOS: The Hands of Fate. It was a retro action platformer based on the notoriously terrible film of the same name. I was in love. I bought it as soon as it was released and although I’d like to say I handily beat the game, I only played through the first level before losing interest, mostly because I’m not very into playing games on my phone.
Imagine my surprise when I find out that MANOS is being released in a “Director’s Cut” version on Steam. It’s three years later. I’m older, but my collective love for terrible films and video games hasn’t waned a bit. Hit me with your best shot, MANOS. I’m ready to be amazed.
I could wax poetic for all eternity about the film version of MANOS, but I’ll limit myself to a small bit of info for those unaware. In 1966, a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, Texas named Harold P. Warren produced a horror film on a bet, using only $19,000 and a cast and crew of either complete amateurs or people with no experience at all. The film immediately gained notoriety, but it didn’t truly become (in)famous until 1993, when it was mercilessly mocked on the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000.
That’s the thing about MANOS (the game). It appeals pretty specifically to fans of MST3K and horrible movies in general, and it assumes anyone playing has a pretty thorough familiarity with all the references it manages to pack in. MANOS follows the plot (if you can call it a plot) of the film, but enemies, levels, and bosses are brought in from other infamous film flops. Standard enemies include the killer shrews from, yes, The Killer Shrews and even the goblins from Troll 2.
One of my favorite portions of the game was stage seven – starting out in a black and white graveyard, Michael states “My dog is dead…and somebody’s responsible!” My heart skipped a beat. Could it be? It was. An entire level devoted to dodging cheap UFOs and traversing the cardboard graveyards of Plan 9 From Outer Space, with Tor Johnson and Vampira as the final bosses. I was in love.
Even though I had a bunch of geek moments seeing all the references and loved the 8-bit rendition of “Torgo’s Theme,” MANOS isn’t without its flaws. The game plays exactly like the retro platformers it takes inspiration from, which means controls are optimized for something handheld with buttons rather than a PC keyboard. It’s also every bit as challenging as the games of yesteryear, which might put some people off. It was rare for me to fail and me not feel like it was my fault, but there were areas where I would be inevitably cornered by enemies immediately after spawning from a checkpoint. There are also areas in stages that feel impossible to traverse without taking heavy damage (I’m looking at you, stage four), but it’s hard to say how much of that is the game and how much is my own incompetence.
MANOS is hard, but it isn’t unforgiving. A “game over” won’t actually end your game, but just take you back to the beginning of the stage. With a little practice, everything can be conquered. That being said, I played the game on Normal mode – I can’t imagine it on the other settings of Hard, Hardcore, or god forbid, Nightmare. With all my failures in account, it took me 79 minutes and 33 seconds to beat a single playthrough of MANOS. I can see myself playing it at least a couple more times, especially since I missed one of the collectible “Hands of Fate” my first time through. Beating the game once also unlocks “Torgo Mode,” which I won’t spoil, but you can probably guess what it lets you do.
I also can’t speak for how this game differs from its original iOS version, but I know MANOS: Director’s Cut has some great cutscenes by one of the pixel artists for Binding of Isaac: Rebirth that aren’t in the original. A lot of the levels feel more expansive and complex than something from an iOS game, and the game definitely plays a lot better than anything on a mobile device. I’d recommend it for anyone who’s a fan of the original, especially considering the cheap ($5) price tag. Also, Torgo’s speech text wobbles in this version!
In the end, MANOS appeals to a very niche, very specific audience of MST3K/bad movie superfans (like me) and fans of retro-style platformers. If you fall into those groups, I can’t recommend this game enough. I can’t imagine MANOS would do much for someone not familiar with its subject matter, but the Master probably wouldn’t approve of those people anyways.
Torgo Strikes Again
MANOS is an occasionally flawed but ultimately fun love letter to the worst of the worst.