Requiem for a Manual

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Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the video game manual dying.

That strange, girlish, squeaking sound you also hear? That’s the sound of me weeping, mourning its slow, slow demise.

I love video game manuals. The video games I keep, I keep in perfect condition: box, game, and, of course, manual. Ah, the beloved manual. Without a manual, we would never have known about Birdo’s identity crisis in Super Mario Bros. 2.

We wouldn’t know the ridiculous scientific names of the humans in Toejam and Earl.

[NO IMAGE! I’ll have to get around to scanning my copy of the manual for this one.]

We’d never have the zany sticker book that doubled as Warioware’s manual.

[OMG! No image of this one either. I must be the only person with a love of manuals. It’s okay. I get it.]

We wouldn’t have experienced the god of all manuals: Lunar, The Silver Star Story Complete.

Why yes, it is hardcover, full color, and has a ribbon bookmark and enclosed cloth map. Game manual heaven!

Things have changed.

I first noticed it with Nintendo. Nintendo always had good, full-color manuals. With the Wii, and their insistence on cramming English, Spanish, and French into one manual, things started getting a little scant. A 30-page manual suddenly became a 10-page manual, filled with nothing more than the basics you learn during now-mandatory in-game tutorials.

Then this came along:

That’s the manual for Super Mario 3D Land. A little four panel fold-out PIECE OF CRAP.

Ahem. No, I’m not angry about this. I swear.

Almost all the 3DS manuals are like this. Why? Because the 3DS has a built in manual feature. That’s right: digital manuals. (Professor Layton is the exception, with a beautiful full-color manual. I do not have any non-Nintendo published 3DS games, so I don’t know if they’re following this trend.)

The Wii U followed suit, with Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U. They’re nice enough to include flimsy little pieces of paper in the case, but that’s it.

This is all in line with Nintendo’s push toward digital distribution. I wish the games weren’t $10 more this generation since they’re saving money by¬† not printing all this paper, however.

Anyway, I realized the end was nigh this evening, when I open up the new Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for PS3. (More on this game after I play it a bit more.)

Here’s an image of the manual:

That’s right. THERE ISN’T ONE.

I’ll have to scan my manual for this game, too.

Now, a Sly Cooper manual was always a fun thing. They looked like the fabled Theivius Raccoonus, were in full-color, and included profiles of all the baddies you were going to face.

Side note: Sly Cooper follows one of my favorite traditional video game plots: Multiple bad guys (5 or 6 or so) that you know about in advance, you play though themed levels for each one, and the boss fight is a Big Freaking Deal. Metal Gear Solid got me hooked on this type of gameplay. Reading about the bad guys in the manual just enhances the excitement for me.

Now, with Sly, there’s nothing. Just an empty half of the case for me to put what’s left of my soul. The digital manual includes no Big Bad profiles, no artwork, no illustrations. Nothing.

I’ll forgive Sly. The game is a great deal at $39.99, $20 cheaper than your average game, so I can understand cutting non-essential corners. I’m just disheartened that this seems to be an industry-wide trend.

Am I the only one lamenting the slow disappearance of the video game manual?

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Snapshot Storytelling

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I’m almost done with Super Mario 3D Land, and will have my complete thoughts on it up soon. (Spoiler alert: I like it!)

The game is a little 3D love letter to Super Mario Bros. 3. Nintendo’s been milking SMB3 nostalgia for a while now, with New super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but it doesn’t feel stale yet. Perhaps because the mechanics behind SMB3 were so solid.

Something I really appreciate about SM3DL is the unobtrusive way it tells its story. Raise your hand if you’re playing a Mario game for the story. *waits* Right, didn’t think so.
I don’t think there’s any text whatsoever. The opening cinema sets up the plot–something about a tree covered in Raccoon leaves, which transforms Bowser and all his cronies into Raccoon-tail-wielding hybrids. Oh, and Peach is kidnapped too, natch. Then, in between each world, Mario catches a little flying envelope from Princess Peach, showing what’s going on at Bowser’s castle.

Inside each envelope is a photograph. The illustrations are nice, and harken back to older Mario art, except with the updated character designs. Thankfully, we never have to see Peach look like this again:

The 3D effects make the photos pop. But they also show something interesting: Princess Peach isn’t content to be a damsel in distress this time. She sulks around Bowser’s Castle for a bit, but around World 4, she plots her escape. She even manages to clobber a tower of Goombas with her parasol. And all of this without crying or tapping into her magical PMS powers. This is a Mario game, so of course she gets recaptured and put in a cage, but at least it’s a stylish one.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed or cared if I hadn’t recently suffered through Skyward Sword. The bland storytelling of that game was made almost insufferable by the copious amounts of repetitive text you have to scroll through. A lot of times I’m playing a game to, well, play a game. I read a lot of fiction, and many video game stories aren’t that great to begin with. It’s even worse when they’re not well incorporated into gameplay.

My favorite video game story of all time is Grim Fandango. What’s yours?