For many of us more ‘seasoned’ gamers, it’s sometimes tempting to look back with rose-tinted specs and think that video games were just ‘better’ in the past. You know, back in the olden times when you didn’t need an account and an email address and an 8-character password (minimum one capital letter, one special character) just to play your favourite multiplayer game. Those good old days when you just plugged your cart in the slot, clicked the power button and away you went…
Such thinking tends to come about when 21st century gaming — with all its online and connected complexity — gets frustrating. For all the advancements of the medium, games can often feel less immediate than they used to, and we’re not just talking about input lag. ‘Yep, I’d love to play that game, but I’ve got a 13GB patch to download’ is something we find ourselves thinking all too often. The dreaded spectre of nostalgia clouds our memories, too, making it easy to forget the mod cons we enjoy these days, as well as the limitations of the past.
One of the things that we fondly recall is having a proper instruction manual come in the box with the game. It used to be that your tutorial came in printed form, kids; generally with an assortment of other leaflets and other cards which gave the box some weight. We’ve written before about trips home from the store in the car and Christmas mornings spent devouring each and every page of a game’s manual before finally getting the chance to play the thing. For us, the concept of the instruction manual is tied up inextricably with those glorious moments of anticipation — the time when you’re on the cusp of a new experience when anything feels possible.
Often you’d have no way of knowing certain information without reading the manual — enemy names, what certain items do, or what UI elements mean, for example — and even when the game itself contained a rudimentary nod at a narrative, it was generally the manual’s job to let us know what the heck was going on in Hyrule or on Mobius — and that’s if we even knew the name of the place without consulting the literature.
Nowadays, there’s little practical need for a printed manual; all relevant info is communicated through in-game tutorials, cutscenes and menus. Still, sometimes we long for a little leaflet to flick though — and feel bitterly disappointed when a retro purchase doesn’t come with all the peripheral pamphlets.
Are we just being nostalgic for the sake of it, though? To be fair, that feeling is part-and-parcel of being a retro gamer, and we entirely understand the desire that drives individuals and boutique publishers to create their own manuals for modern Switch games, even while we acknowledge their superfluity these days.
Do we actually miss game manuals, then? Or is our love of them just some knee-jerk reaction to the minor irritations and cut-corners of modern gaming? Do we just miss the bountry of extras that would drop out of a fresh box? The Club Nintendo VIP cards, the mini promo posters (remember this god-tier N64 example?) the… erm, warranty booklets. Is it not better for the environment to dispense with these printed pleasantries?
Let us know in the polls below, and feel free to share your manual memories in the comments.
It’s worth noting that across different regions Nintendo keeps an online catalogue of manuals available to download in PDF form — taking a look through them can be a lovely trip down Memory Lane if you somehow misplaced yours, or a previous owner scrawled their names in biro over your Wind Waker manual, or your dog loves eating shiny paper.
Did you ever actually use the ‘Notes’ pages in the back? Are you the one who scrawled ‘BRIANS PASWERDS’ followed by a series of indecipherable digits in the back of our copy of Metroid? Let us know below.