I love dumb stuff: corgis with long legs, cheese that looks like people, my idiot boyfriend (hi, honey!) In Table Manners, dumb stuff abounds. For a gamer like me, that is a match made in heaven.
The “physics-based dating simulator,” available on PC this Valentine’s Day, tasks players with helping a disembodied hand impress a dinner date. How did this hand come to be severed? I don’t know. Can the hand even eat dinner? No clue. Why is this charmer still single? You tell me!
The game opens on a desk that doubles as your mission control center and tutorial level in what looks like a college dorm room. Taking a break from his studies and other undisclosed hand business, Mr. Hand swipes away on an app called Blundr.
Flipping through Jamies, Pamelas, Alexs, and more, Mr. Hand can peruse profiles, chat with matches, and set up culinary outings. Mysteriously, everyone on Blundr has an identical face paired with different hair, different clothing, and different accessories. Their profiles and interactions too are eerily similar. (I do have a theory that Mr. Hand is falling prey to a master of disguise scamming for free dinner, but that’s for another time.)
It is here that the nightmare begins.
Once you’ve found your One, Mr. Hand shuffles over to the levels menu (taking the form of a vaguely serial killer-esque scrapbook) and starts the date. Instantly, you and your heartthrob are transported to a restaurant.
It is here that the nightmare begins.
Similar to Surgeon Simulator and Job Simulator (minus the pesky virtual reality), Table Manners focuses its gameplay on tricky control manipulation. Your date demands various romantic gestures — light the candles, pepper my steak, pour the wine, etc. — and you try to help Mr. Hand do them before time runs out.
It should be easy, bordering on boring. But alas, it is hell.
Combining mind-boggling mouse movements and light keyboard use, the experience of maneuvering Mr. Hand lands somewhere between rubbing your stomach while patting your head and saying the alphabet backwards in German. You can fiddle with the sensitivity of your controls and switch to your preferred dominant hand in the settings menu, but even at its “easiest” Table Manners brings catastrophe.
Table Manners is designed for catastrophe.
Bottles of wine go flying, soaking the table until you turn them upright. Dishes you’ve selected fall off the dining cart and into oblivion. Fries you’re trying to seductively feed your date violently pelt he/she/they in the corneas, and must be ordered again.
The good news is your date doesn’t mind mistakes that much. But fail to do numerous tasks in a row and your connection will falter. When your romance approval rating (measured in the top left) dives too low, your date will slam their fists on the table and leave. You can either try again with no penalty to your overall relationship, or bail and find another date for a new level.
Each level brings a fresh setting, and with it new obstacles. Crème brûlée torches set the tablecloth on fire. Sushi conveyor belts go haywire. Ketchup gets stuck in the bottle right up until you shake it all over your date’s sweater. As tasks pile up, you can puzzle your way through them all, strategize on what to skip, or start over. I started over a lot.
If you do manage a successful night out, you’ll get the bill with your overall score, a cute note from your date telling you to call them, and accessories to adorn your hand. (My Mr. Hand has red polkadot nails, a sweaty wristband, and a heart tattoo. He’s a catch!) After all that frustration, the reward is enough to make you want more.
There’s plenty to do in Mr. Hand’s dating wonder emporium and while I haven’t made it to the end of my Table Manners adventure yet, I am having a blast. Back on Blundr, you can play the field with numerous cuties, or land in a committed relationship that spans levels. Just be sure you’re giving everyone quality time or you could face a breakup.
At my most engaged I was alternately screaming “I got you, baby,” humming the Indiana Jones theme song, nervously stomping my feet, and wondering aloud if I should “just go back to Jessica.”
According to my boyfriend, I looked pretty dumb. Nice. [Finger guns.]
Table Manners is now available for PC on Steam.