Remembering The Lost Art Of Video Game Manuals

Remembering The Lost Art Of Video Game Manuals

When was the last time you grabbed the box from one of your favorite games on the shelf and leafed through the video game manuals inside? Better yet, when was the last time you purchased a game that came with a detailed manual, and in color?

The other day I was experiencing every gamer’s problem, the one where you have an entire shelf full of games stacked upon one another, but you still can’t choose something to play. That’s when my eyes fell on a Super Nintendo game box for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Aside from nostalgia hitting me full on, I grabbed the box and opened up to see what was inside. Sure, the game cart, but there also came a fold-out, double-sided map of Hyrule. With it was the game’s manual, or “instruction booklet,” and I had almost forgotten how elaborate these bundled pieces of paper could be.

Perhaps the gradual extinction of the game manual can be owed to the rise of “going green,” or perhaps it was more cost effective for gaming publishers to ease back on the use of more paper. Whatever the case, I sure do miss a good gaming manual. Today we don’t expect to see them inside of a brand new game we just purchased. You’ll instead find inserts promoting other games from the publisher, or a leaflet trying to convince you to grab an expansion pass.

I suppose it became noticeable with the advent of the previous console generation. It’s hard to believe that generation of gaming consoles, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, are now over ten years old. I don’t remember exactly what game I first took notice with, but I recall opening new games with a vested curiosity if there was indeed an instruction booklet inside.

You might think, who cares? I grew up generation after generation, and I never took so much as a peek at them. True enough. I, too, have been known to pop a new game into the console and learn as I go. Come to think of it, did anyone actually read game manuals on the car rides home from the retailers? Appreciating that kind of charm in these manuals often falls by the wayside.

Without a doubt, most of my favorite game manuals come from Nintendo games. No surprise there, I’m sure. The Big N has been known to be masters at their craft. Even way back when it seemed they couldn’t go wrong. I’ll never forget when I got my Super Nintendo along with Super Mario World. That game’s manual was so colorful and detailed, as a lot of Nintendo goods are. Remember how a lot of manuals at the time would give a little backstory to set up the adventure? Gosh, I miss that. It just gets you to wonder how much you, as the player character, can make a difference in the game’s world.

In the case of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the game gains so much depth when the first pages of the manual describe how Hyrule was shaped and formed by three goddesses, how war took its toll, a hidden golden land that is home to the Triforce, and that gathering its three pieces can allow the holder to make a wish. It was a lot to take in, but if anything it succeeded in making me think. I can tell you for a fact that it’s because of details like these that I love the lore of The Legend of Zelda, and why I can obsess over that franchise’s timeline.

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Jason Arriola

One of the biggest Star Wars fans there is. When I don't have one of many gaming peripherals in my hands I probably have my nose in a good book, out amiibo hunting, or contemplating (and never deciding) what game to pull off my shelf next!