Requiem For A Seam: Remembering The 10 Best Game Instruction Manuals
Let me spin you a yarn. Times were, you’d open that brand-new cardboard (or plastic) box and there, nestled right next to your cartridge (or disc), would be a booklet. Yes, a booklet – paper pages stapled together that told you how to play the game (and sometimes more). Remember those?
Now the left (or right) side of your game case sits bare or thinly veiled with tie-in ads or DLC codes. Those clippies that once held your booklet are all but obsolete. Booklets might not be completely extinct, but they are on the way out. Here are ten of our favorites in no particular order.
Even if it’s not the longest manual on this list, The Vault Dweller’s Guide is one of the most detailed. It has the character biographies and UI explanation, but it’s buffered by abstruse explanations of nuclear blasts and their effects, overviews of the game’s character progression, and even notes from The Overseer “taped” to the page. It’s a manual that informs and engrosses readers, offering a peek at what something like the Vault Dweller’s Guide would look like if (and when) we ever need one in the real world.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni No Kuni’s visual appeal extended beyond its watercolor Ghibli palette – its instruction manual was a charmer, too. It’s the last gen’s example of how an instruction manual should be put together in an attractive, visually appealing way that doesn’t get away from itself. It features full-color, clear explanations of the game’s many systems and a bit of lore to top it all off, including an unnecessary (but worthwhile) translation of the Nazcaän script used in the game.
Grand Theft Auto IV
Like Vice City before it, Grand Theft Auto IV’s manual is presented as a tourist guide to the city in which the game is set (Liberty City). This manual, however, was much cleaner and featured more contextual elements, like the city’s hotspots, dating tips, and a full song list for the game’s stations. The instruction manual became almost part of the game, and it was a shame to find one like it missing from Grand Theft Auto V’s box.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
The instruction booklet for the newest Super Smash Bros. game clocks in at just under ten pages (the other ten are the French translation of the first ten), but all of those are packed with hi-res, full-color diagrams of almost every fighter’s moveset. There are a lot of different ways to play Smash Wii U, and its manual does exactly what an instruction manual needs to do – tell the player how to play the game – with aplomb.
Super Mario Bros.
There’s a bit of a dark past hidden in Super Mario Bros.’ booklet. The story, as described in the manual’s first few pages, involves the Koopa tribe turning the Mushroom Kingdom’s residents into bricks, stones, and “field horsehair plants” (commonly considered the game’s Fire Flower power-up). This would mean that Mario is actually shattering bricks with human souls when he grabs coins and ingesting people to throw fireballs. The sordid implications were eventually ret-conned, but the original manual stands as a sort of morbid tome to the Mushroom Kingdom’s sordid past.
Turn the page for at least one SNES classic, a BioWare favorite, and more.
Sküljagger: Revolt of the Westicans
Few will tell you of the greatness of Sküljagger, but some will tell tales of its instructions. In fact, its 80-page manual is one of the few things you’ll hear about the game; that’s pretty big for a Super Nintendo-era sidescroller. Those 80 pages were dedicated to a storybook-style presentation that gave readers clues about hidden areas and other game secrets. It makes you wonder why Comix Zone didn’t have a rad, panel-format instruction manual.
Earthbound broke the instruction manual mold by releasing a full-fledged strategy guide instead of the requisite booklet. The pack-in told you how to play the game and how to beat it. It was also rich with printed art, including iconic model figures of the game’s characters and enemies. The back pages of the guide even featured scratch-‘n’-sniff cards for… actually, I don’t know that there was a reason. Regardless, it helped make Earthbound’s retail release an intriguing anomaly and earned it a solid place on our list.
Gran Turismo 3
A must-have for speed freaks, Gran Turismo 3’s manual featured specs for every car, league, track, and game mode. It wasn’t the most visually engaging literary work of its time, but its encyclopedic 103 pages wasted little white space in delivering a full breakdown of the game’s racing roster.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
While others expound with superfluous adornment, the straightforward companion to BioWare’s 2003 RPG earns a spot on this list because of its conciseness. It explains the game’s mechanics and story enough to get the player off the ground and into Knights of the Old Republic’s world and lets them handle it from there. It still runs 73 pages, but given the breadth and depth of KOTOR, that’s just a starter’s pamphlet.
[Source: Internet Archive]
This manual was so big, it had to be split into a couple of different manuals (which were huge in their own right). There’s the Sword Coast Survival Guide, which serves as an introduction to the game, and Mastering Melee and Magic, which got into the nitty-gritty of how to harness the mechanics given to the player. Its pure girth gives it a place in history and on this list.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
As those who’ve read the “trilogy of five” can expect, the text-based computer game companion to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novel series features things equally helpful and ridiculous. In the box, there was a pair of “peril-sensitive sunglasses,” which turned dark when danger was afoot (all the time), a microscopic space fleet (actually an empty plastic packet), and a tuft of pocket fluff. The game itself was obtusely difficult and purposely nigh-impossible to win, and its pack-ins didn’t help much.
The Adventures of Willy Beamish
Willy’s instruction manual doesn’t do much in the way of instructing the player, but it goes a long way toward giving you a sense of the character. He calls you a booger, for crying out loud. In his “Meed” composition notebook, Willy can’t stop doodling about the Nintari championships and his hopes to become the champ someday.