In the grand tradition of taking normal situations and injecting obtuse control schemes and wacky physics into them, Table Manners thrusts you into the miserable world of dating, somehow making it even more unpleasant than it already is.
The pitch is simple, swipe through your dating app till you find someone you want to take on a date, then do it. The only caveat is that you have one hand, and you’ve essentially forgotten how to use it. Also, the people you’re dating are utterly useless and need you to do literally everything for them. But let’s back up and start from the top.
If you’ve ever played Surgeon Simulator, the game largely responsible for creating this genre of “wacky hands, considerably less wacky scenario,” Table Manners is more of the same with less of the charm.
The controls are cumbersome, yet somehow oddly simplified for a game like this. With your mouse, you control your general movements including going forward, backwards, side to side, rotating your hand and grabbing things. The only thing that took me a bit to wrap my head around was using the W and S key to control the vertical position of your hand. Not especially difficult, just cumbersome in the way these games usually are.
Table Manners starts you in a steakhouse with your desired date, tasking you with several mundane date tasks, and then a bunch of really wild stuff for anyone to ask on a first date with a stranger. Every level in the “steakhouse chapter” involves you doing the same tasks, while adding one or two into the mix in subsequent levels. Light the candles, pour the wine, let them try your french fries, it all happens every single time in every level in the “steakhouse chapter.” There are only four levels in a chapter, and somehow I was bored by the third instance because I was just doing the same stuff over and over.
It also doesn’t help that your dates are absolutely nuts, asking you to do things like salt their food, feed them out of your hand, and perhaps the most heinous crime, asking you to put ketchup on their steak! It’s like they know they’re committing a food crime and want you to be complicit.
After dates, you can choose to “text” your date or any random person on your dating app, but to what end, I don’t know. All of the dialogue options are these bad non-sequiturs, that are replied to with another non-sequitur, and followed up by one more. It’s complete gibberish that isn’t really every funny and seems to have minimal impact on anything considering anyone will go on a date with you before you have a conversation with them.
From top to bottom, Table Manners feels like a game made for people to stream and never think about again. While it isn’t aggressively bad or anything, it’s just aggressively bland and lifeless, at least in the early goings.
The trailers show off interesting locations including a cruise ship and an airplane, but the game itself makes you trudge through a bland steakhouse and lame objectives before you see anything remotely cool. It’s a shame too because it’s a neat concept that ends up feeling too rigid in its objectives and controls, ultimately robbing it of a lot of creative freedom you might have in similar titles.
Every moment of what I played felt less like I was doing something fun or being creative with my solutions, and more like I was just battling bad controls to accomplish a specific goal, the specific way they want me to. Games like this can be such a blast when they allow you to tackle objectives in any zany way you choose, but in the admittedly small slice of what I played of Table Manners, I found it a little too rigid and particular for my tastes.
It doesn’t help that each objective your date gives you is timed and is the only metric by which they judge you. You could literally hold a knife up to the neck of your date, and all they care about is if you put some salt on their fries in time. It doesn’t feel dynamic, comedic or fun, it just feels unnecessarily stressful. So by that metric, it totally nails the dating experience, as a game though, it’s really not worth your time.
Maybe Table Manners takes a turn later on and lets you really do some goofy nonsense and have a little bit of creative freedom, but the first act of this game really lowers the bar from the jump. Goofy physics based games are usually up my alley, but this one goes to show that there’s always going to be outliers that miss the point of why these kinds of games are fun.