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Where’s Samantha? I’ll do you one better. Who’s Samantha? I’ll do you one better. Why’s Samantha?
The platforming market is one of the most saturated markets in gaming. They’re easy to make, easy to theme and difficult to hate. When I made a game in school using the child-friendly programming software Scratch, I made a platformer. Of the 9,038 games on the Nintendo eShop, 1,342 of them are categorised with the tag ‘Platformer’. The situation is similar in the wild-lands of Steam, with 6,003 of the 95,982 games being Platformers. So when a game like Where’s Samantha? comes along with 6,002 competitors on its platform (oh no, I can’t stop saying the word ‘platform’), it’ll need to do something pretty special to stand out from the background noise and be a statistically significant data-point i.e. a good and successful game.
Where’s Samantha is an example of the puzzle flavour of platformer. Motivated by your missing love, Samantha, you’ll puzzle platform your way through a non-copyright infringing wool-like world (that is definitely legally distinct from Yoshi’s Woolly World) to find her. You’ll need to get your craft on and knit your way to success by absorbing excess wool into your delicate square body to transform into bigger and more colourful variants with different weights, speeds and mobility, or split into multiple versions of your original body, all of which would sound like some sort of eldritch nightmare if the theme was less woollen and more…fleshy. You’ll have to choose your form wisely to successfully solve puzzles by interacting with platforms, doors, fans and more.
My main complaint with the game comes in with this size-changing mechanic. There are three controls associated with it, one for splitting a big woollen boy into constituent smaller woollen boys, one for switching control between woollen boys and one for recombining them back into a big woollen boy. These controls are on ctrl, alt and shift and in my several hours with the game I could never remember which one was which and almost always had to try all three until the thing I wanted happened. This could just be me being thick, but I don’t see any intrinsic association between the actions and their buttons. I think most PC gamers have those three buttons filed away as awkward auxiliary controls, apart from where shift is run and ctrl is crouch. The controls are almost certainly more intuitive on a controller where unconscious associations with the face buttons are a bit more general but if you’re playing on a keyboard you might face a lot of trial and error.
Once you’ve got over the slightly fiddly controls, however, Where’s Samantha? is a pretty well put together platformer. The jumping feels a little bit restrictive – even in your smallest form you don’t have a lot of extra height to spare on jumps, but overall there’s not much to complain about. For me, the key to a platformer is the controls not being frustrating. I want to know exactly what to expect when I push a button and, when I push that button, I want exactly that action to be carried out. Where’s Samantha? definitely ticks that box. Other than the couple of things above, I felt zero frustration with the controls.
The puzzling isn’t particularly difficult, it’s almost a case of doing the only thing you’re able to do. I don’t think anybody is expecting to boot up this game and be faced with N++ levels of nightmare platforming, so that’s fine if you ask me (which, when you’re reading a review written by me, you technically are). The game is clearly aimed at children and I think the difficultly of the platforming is pitched pretty perfectly for such an audience.
So, returning to the thesis at the start of this review, does Where’s Samantha? do enough to stand out from a very densely packed crowd, a Where’s Wally? of platformers, if you will? In two words: not really. The game is fine, it’s average, it is to gaming what rice is to food. But it does absolutely nothing original. The size switching mechanic feels like a less combat-focused copy of the same mechanic in Adventures of Pip, another game I reviewed for this site. Is there anything wrong with it? Not especially. But in such a competitive market I don’t think that’s enough. Being average means there are 3,001 platformers on Steam that are better than it, which gives you quite the backlog to get through first.