From LittleBigPlanet and Kirby’s Epic Yarn to Yoshi’s Woolly World and Sackboy: A Big Adventure, it seems like “textile-themed platformers” are becoming a genre of their own—as oddly specific as that may seem. It’s this trend that Where’s Samantha? jumps on, and while it lacks the budget and refinement of those other games, it’s still a fun little puzzle platformer with some neat ideas.
Where’s Samantha? tells the story of George and Samantha, two swatches of fabric who are head over heels for each other. They’re inseparable—that is, until a sudden gust of wind blows Sam away, and George has to go on a dangerous adventure into a strange realm in order to try and bring her home. It’s a place full of sawblades, moving platforms, lasers, spikes—all the usual hazards of a platformer game, but given a hand-crafted spin. Spikes are made from combs and screws; platforms from pencils tied to woollen pulley systems.
It’s a dangerous place, but George isn’t alone. Each level sees him joined by other fabric swatches, leading to one of the more unique aspects of Where’s Samantha?: the ability to split and combine characters. A stack of swatches together is heavier, better able to trigger bottle-cap pressure plates and lower gravity-driven elevators, but less able to jump. But split into two or three, smaller pieces, George and his newfound friends can jump higher and interact with different elements of a stage in tandem.
Using this capacity to split and rejoin swatches is at the heart of Where’s Samantha?. With up to three different swatches in action at once, some with unique abilities like a double jump, there are plenty of different possible configurations, all of which have their place. We’re not just talking simple things like splitting to stand on separate plates, but figuring out all the different ways that all the different configurations interact with the rest of each level. A single piece can jump higher, but that isn’t always a benefit—sometimes the weight of a stack is needed to stop a springboard from launching you directly into a spiky comb. And when you divide in two (or three), you still need to find a way to get everyone to the end.
This concept opens Where’s Samantha? to some clever puzzle design, and over the course of 50-ish levels, it grows from fairly straightforward to absolutely fiendish. Guiding George through this world requires plenty of out-of-the-box thinking, and it doesn’t take long to start encountering puzzles that initially seem impossible. By the end of the game, the puzzles get downright brutal, obtuse solutions deeply hidden until you finally get the brainwave you need to break through. There’s no hint system, and they’re not the sort of puzzles you can solve through process of elimination. Even trial and error doesn’t really help; you just have to wrack your brain for the elusive solution until you find it.
Depending on your capacity for puzzle solving, this can be a frustrating experience, with that frustration exacerbated by little annoyances that get in the way of focusing on the solution itself. Carelessness or lack of foresight can lead to making a level unsolvable—if you split your fabric crew in a way that means they can’t be recombined or can’t all get to the end, the only option is to start again. Granted, the levels aren’t huge, but it’s still a pain to have to replay sections because you inadvertently backed yourself into a corner.
Where’s Samantha? also struggles to introduce new concepts well. Tutorials for new mechanics come in the form of wordless diagrams, but they’re often unclear about what exactly they’re trying to explain. Take the one below, for example—would you take from it that your newfound swatch is capable of double jumping?
Even just moving about can be a bit of a pain, with unreliable physics and stringent hit detection that make it easy to accidentally fall off a ledge or to die to a sawblade that you swear you didn’t actually touch. This is particularly problematic when it comes to split swatches—while you control one, it’s not unusual for the inactive one to slip off an edge, especially when you’re navigating small platforms and uneven ground.
The story that unfolds as you work your way through these puzzles is fun, if lacking the depth or emotional weight that should come with its romantic premise. Characters are flat and the storytelling lacks direction, but there’s plenty of humour to be found in the way George’s questioning what’s going on constantly breaks the fourth wall, and in the spot-on comedic timing of the narration.
The fabric aesthetic is lovely, making the world of Where’s Samantha? an inviting one despite its many deadly hazards. It’s beautiful, and always a joy to see how each new element plays with the theme. That said, there’s a lack of variety that means the whole effect loses impact over time—there’s nothing to visually distinguish one level from another, and with the exception of seeing a new type of hazard for the first time, everything looks the same. That goes doubly for the music: a single piece of particularly annoying music that loops endlessly throughout the whole game.
How much you get out of Where’s Samantha? is going to depend on your tolerance for its clever but unyielding approach to puzzle design. It’s got some clever ideas, and if you find satisfaction in finding cryptic solutions, you’ll enjoy what’s on offer here. But little annoyances and a general lack of variety—despite the creative potential of the fabric-world theme—make it a less than satisfying experience for all but the most dedicated puzzle solvers.
Where’s Samantha? is developed by Respect Studios and published by ROCKiT Games. It’s available now for PC (reviewed).
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.