I came across something on Twitter a couple of days ago that made me stop and think. Someone had posted a picture of some Wii games they had picked up and stated that they enjoyed collecting Wii games because those still came with Instruction Booklets. This was the second time that the lack of Instruction Booklets in recent console generations had come to my attention over the past few weeks.
The first time was in regards to a few Christmas gifts I got. My wife got me a PSVita along with Ys: Memories of Celceta. To go along with it, my son got me Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate and my brother, Rayman Legends. As I opened each one, I was surprised each time to find no booklet at all inside the case. There was a game cartridge, and nothing else.
For the kids that grew up with the PlayStation, N64, and subsequent consoles, this is not a big deal. Most games come with built in tutorials, and those that don’t often give you tips on the fly that teach you the game while you’re playing it. Heck, the first three chapters of the masterpiece that is Xenoblade Chronicles X are essentially training missions. This is the natural evolution of the digital age. Instruction Booklets aren’t needed anymore and, if we’re being honest, most people that missed the NES/SNES/Genesis generation probably never read the booklets that came with PS/N64/PS2 games anyway. For those of us that came of age in the 80’s and early 90’s though, those booklets were essential reading. They were almost as important as having the game itself.
First of all, our games weren’t digital (definitely not knocking digital copies of games, I downloaded three over Christmas myself). You had to pick them up in the store and take them home. Maybe I’m isolated here, but I would have the game open in the car to study the Instruction Booklet. What was the story? What items were in the game? What did the characters look like, did they have names, etc… Part of the excitement of getting a new game was to read about the game before you played it. It set up what you were doing, why, and how you were going to do it. But why did the Booklet have to set this all up? That’s my second point.
NES games (as well as Super NES & Genesis games to some extent) could not waste space on telling an elaborate story in-game. All available space in that cartridge needed to be applied to the game itself. Of course, there are exceptions, but even in those games that had the story included (Zelda 2, for example), the booklet gave you far more details than the game was able to. In the same vein, many times the booklet also gave you artwork for the characters in the game, both friends and foes. Again, the NES was limited. You had to use your imagination sometimes. Hyrule looks deserted in The Legend of Zelda, but the picture of Link kneeling on a rise overlooking the countryside inside the booklet showed you that it was so much more. That was important to me then. It actually enhanced the game in my mind, if not on the screen.
Finally, NES games did not have tutorials. Sure, there are only two buttons, but developers did a whole lot with those two buttons, and there are times that you would be missing out on how to accomplish certain things in-game if you hadn’t read about the controls beforehand. When I was 9 or 10, I used my allowance to pick up Milon’s Secret Castle at a local rental store (it was in their for sale box of used games, I picked it over Q-bert, I still think it was the right decision). I really liked the game, but I was stuck on the first level of the castle and felt like I was missing something, and there was no booklet included for me to read. The next time we were in different rental store that we frequented (honestly, I miss those) that had it for rent, I asked the person at the register if I could just read the manual. They were cool with it, and it helped that I was a kid. After reading through it, I found out that there were some actions I was unaware of. I immediately put my newfound knowledge to use when we got home and got further than I’d been able to before. That Instruction Booklet was make or break for me on that game, and I’m sure that would have been true on other games I played (most of mine came with the booklet). On a sidenote, I’ve gotten quite far in Milon’s Secret Castle, but have yet to beat that game. It is freaking hard. Another great example of this is Startropics. Included with that game is a letter that you have to use to get a code that is needed in the game itself. Startropics was breaking the fourth wall long before Psycho Mantis was on the scene. Seriously, how cool is it to have to do some real world action to progress in your NES game? That’s genius.
I admit to having a yearning for my childhood. I have a ton of nostalgia towards older games, partially because they are a lot of fun and I still enjoy them, but also because they represent a simpler time for me, before the realities of adulthood and responsibilities set in and the innocence I had (and all kids have) was gone. Flipping through Instruction Booklets is a part of that as well. I’m sure this seems like I’m making a huge deal over a few pages in a video game box, but it’s not that. It’s just something that I always loved that has changed over time. Rest assured, I’m not shedding any tears over this, no matter how this sounds. Still though, even now, on the occasions that a new game does come with an older style Instruction Booklet, I do still pull it out and flip through it. Even after all these years, there’s still some magic there for me.
Brandon Nicholson is a blogger for TMRzoo.com and the founder of Just Another Video Game Blog and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3 and PS4, Microsoft XBOX One and XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Brandon provides his readers with reviews, previews, release dates and up to date gaming industry news, trailers and rumors.