Remembering the Game Manual

There was a time when you could buy a game and an extensive manual came along with it, not those short little blurbs written in three languages. No, a game came with a 30-50 page manual that not only explained the mechanics of the game, but also a bit of the story and some extra information. If you had trouble in the game, skimming through the manual could help, but that wasn’t the only thing that I appreciated about them.

I recall after spending $50 of my hard earned money on Twilight Princess for the GameCube, I wasn’t able to play it right away as I had to go to a friend’s get-together first. So I couldn’t play the game, but the next best thing I could do was read all about it and imagine playing it. Flipping through the game’s 50 page manual gave me a safe environment to do just that.

Like an informative review, the manual covered all the basics and provided nice screenshots too. While it didn’t quite convey how the mechanics worked or whether or not the game was actually enjoyable, one could still get hyped while enjoying some of the title’s artwork and lore.

The current trend started last generation. Games still came with instruction booklets, but publishers began whittling them down a lot. These ‘manuals’ had fewer details and were often reduced to lame black and white handouts–a far cry from what they once were.

Details and pretty pictures

Details and pretty pictures

Nowadays, manuals are either nonexistent or completely digital. On the 3DS and Wii U, one can pause the game and read the manual without closing it, which is a nice convenience. The 3DS has it better since you don’t have to launch the game to read the manual, but both systems make it accessible to read if you’re experiencing in-game problems. While you never have to worry about losing the manual (I know I did with my Twilight Princess booklet…), you just aren’t able to read it unless you have the system with you, which isn’t always ideal either.

Another problem is that the manuals don’t even explain everything anymore. When I played Kid Icarus Uprising, I found things that were never mentioned in the game nor the manual, which is very different from, say, Tales of Symphonia‘s great physical manual shown below. Even if a game didn’t mention certain details, it used to be that manuals had your back.

Manual: Best place for information about symbols

Manual: the best place for information about symbols

It’s very unlikely that the industry will start printing full-blown manuals again, but if everything is going digital, perhaps we can see the return of some of the things that made us cherish manuals in the first place–like artwork or legitimate tips.

Currently, Nintendo’s 3DS and Wii U digital manuals are pretty plain and only tell you the controls and privacy warnings. I even tried googling one to give you an example, but no one’s even bothered to upload them.

Even though true physical manuals have gone the way of the dinosaur, their legacy still lives on. Owners love cracking them open from time to time and some have kindly scanned theirs to share with the internet. So may be manuals aren’t totally missing in action, but it would still be nice if publishers would show at least half of the effort that they used to…

Do you miss the old manuals too? Tell us about your thoughts in the comments below.


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About The Author

Feature Writer/Game Reviewer

Blogger in the IGN community and no longer for Always Nintendo. You can find him still blogging in the IGN community as FalconRise