Manikin Demo

by Rose Behar

2021

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Number of Reviews: 2
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
The mannequins are legit terrifying, April 23, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2021

A demo with not much there yet, Manikin nonetheless does a good job of realizing its text-message conceit and presenting an appealing central character (who isn’t actually the player). It’s also got a heck of an inciting incident, which is the main character’s mom texting to tell them that their neighbor’s house-slash-compound-slash-terrifying-mannequin-museum has burned down overnight, claiming his life. Your mom, her suspicions raised, decides to investigate, and also decides to keep you abreast of her exploits.

This is a kind of loopy setup, albeit with some moments of fear when you see the photos of the burned-out mannequin hall of horrors. It worked for me, though, since your mom comes off as an endearingly loopy woman. She’s not really up on slang, she derisively refers to the cops as “the popo”, and she’s a brave enough mix of clueless and bullheaded not to have any compunctions about entering a taped-off crime-scene based on nothing but a gut instinct that something’s not right (based on her profile photo, she’s unsurprisingly white).

The game’s interface is a mocked-up smartphone displaying a text thread, and it commits to the gag – messages take a few seconds to arrive and come with time-stamps (there’s not much actual waiting, thank god, as the timed text moves very fast and occasional time-jumps take care of any downtime), and there are inline photos as she shows you what she’s seeing. After every half-dozen or so messages, she’ll pause and give you an opportunity to weigh in, either asking a question, trying to direct her investigation, or advising her on the best course of action.

The choices at this stage are pretty low-key, mostly coming down to either supporting or pushing back against your mom’s Nancy-Drew-themed mid-life crisis. The plot doesn’t appear to branch based on these decisions – at least in this early section of the game – though given the way she’s characterized, I wasn’t bothered by the fact that she’s undeterred by her kid’s attempts to rein her in. Things might open up later on, and it seems clear that the central mystery will get more elaborate, as there are already intimations that there’s something untoward going on with the dead neighbor’s mannequins.

I was definitely disappointed that more of the plot hadn’t come out by the time the demo came to a halt, though I have to say I was also starting to get a little restless. I’m not sure if this is because the pacing sometimes felt a little slow, or if it had to do with the accumulation of the short but very frequent pauses as messages came in. Still, while this again isn’t anything close to a complete story, it did enough to put the full game on my radar screen, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for it!