One of the casualties of the war on budgets in video games has been the humble manual. Not so long ago, every game came with a nice, detailed, full-color manual. Now, you generally get a monochrome three page pamphlet dedicated mostly to legal information in tiny type. There are rare exceptions, but this is the rule.
That’s a shame. Here’s why the manual needs to make a comeback.
Not Everybody Can Refer To A PDF Or A Website While Playing
If you want to look something up quickly, hitting Pause and going to the “online manual” is a laborious process compared to flipping a few pages. Nobody buys games to visit websites; why should we have to use them to look something up? It also cuts out gamers who either can’t, or won’t, connect their console to the Internet.
Some Games Desperately Need One
Just ask anybody who picked up Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance; not all games do a great job of explaining their mechanics. A manual can help players, you know, actually play the game.
It’s A Useful Source Of Context
Manuals used to be the source of backstory for most games. But as developers have decided we want to stare at lengthy cutscenes that you can’t skip instead of playing a video game, that function has atrophied. Somehow, we bet the printing cost of a manual is a lot cheaper than a prerendered cutscene, and it’s a lot less aggravating.
It Serves As An Appetizer
Every gamer above the age of, say, twenty-two remembers getting a game and opening the manual first, because the manual generally told you about all the neat stuff you were going to find.
Zelda games in particular were really good at this: They told you all the tools and other goodies you were going to come across… but not where or when. So you spent the whole game looking around, making note of places you needed to come back to once you had a Boomerang or a Hookshot or some bombs.
Far too often games, especially sequels, rely on marketing campaigns or player familiarity with the overall franchise to excite people. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s nothing wrong with giving us a taste of what to expect, either.