Requiem for a Manual


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?

The Legacy of ToeJam and Earl


I love co-op video games much more than competitive ones. Sure, I could play Mario Kart for hours on end. I enjoy a good Mario Party as much as (okay, more than) the next guy. And I loved busting caps with the golden gun back in the Goldeneye days. But the more memorable experiences are the co-op ones (at least when I don’t get too worked about winning them…). Maybe that’s because the really good ones are few and far between.

ToejamMy all-time favorite game is Toejam & Earl. (Sometimes I say it’s Lunar, but it really is Toejam & Earl. I swear.) I have fond memories of playing this game through all hours of the night with my cousin during the summer, and I still have the complete cartridge, box, manual set, even though I don’t have a console to play it on. I remember renting the game once and totally falling in love with it. We looked for it everywhere, and my mom asked some random person at Sears of all places if they had it. The woman said she thought she’d seen the game somewhere and found it in some random drawer. I’ve never parted with it since.

Anyway, let’s get off that nostalgia train. Despite my fond fond memories for this title, I have replayed it on the Wii Virtual Console in recent years, and it still holds up. There’s something about it that’s charming and addictive, and revolutionary for its time, in the sense that no game has captured the same co-op experience for me personally. Toejam and Earl still hits all the high marks of what I consider the perfect co-op title.

1. Split-screen. It’s great to be able to go off and explore on your own, if you like, only to go running like hell for your partner when things start to heat up.

2. Friendly fire is rare. It’s hard to hurt your partner in TJ&E. Maybe that’s because of the general gentle nature of the game (effective weapons are difficult to acquire). But there are few “Oh my effing god, you just killed ME!” moments.

3. Strategy. Careful resource management (and a heaping helping of luck) is key to winning TJ&E. Strategizing over money, presents, and when to open them adds to the cooperative nature.

No co-op game I’ve played yet has met each of these three requirements with a four-star rating. Zombies Ate My Neighbors is great fun, but really hampered by being squeezed together on one screen.

One game that benefitted from the lack of split screen was Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, for Gamecube. However the GBA requirement limited the amount of people you could pull together for that game, and I think I only played it with two characters max. Being pack mule for half the game isn’t fun.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii/U both have the lack of split-screen problem (although I think split screen would not benefit this game), and the chaos that ensues all but ensures that you’re going to accidentally kill your partner(s) multiple times.

dkcr1My favorite co-op game is recent memory is Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii). It lacked split-screen, and platformers generally lack strategy, but it was just a lot of fun platforming enhanced by playing with a friend. The levels were very pretty, too, although I wish there were more of the “silhouette” style levels that were really eye-popping.

LoZ: Four Swords could have been an excellent Wii U game, if there was more than one gamepad involved. Perhaps the next portable Zelda will have a wi-fi version of the game.

The Simpsons Game was a total failure, and I have nothing else to say about the crappy gameplay, horrible camera, and general lack of fun pervading this piece of garbage that had a lot of promise for a licensed title.

I’m sure there are more co-op games, good and bad, I’ve played, but I can’t think of any right now.

Curious as to what the guys behind TJ&E were up to, I was startled to discover that the TJ&E III website from 2004 is still up. And unchanged. I’m one of the eleven people who enjoyed TJ&E III. The tone was off at times, and the addition of combat took away the fun survival element, but it was still the closest thing to the original anyone had done in a decade.

According to this Edge Online article one of the guys behind TJ&E is working on a new DS game. I hope it’s co-op.

I have Trine 2 to play after I finish NSMBU, and I just cannot wait for Ron Gilbert’s (another favorite of mine) The Cave. It’s like a multiplayer Maniac Mansion with a twist. Yes, please, I’ll take two.

Does anyone have a good co-op game to recommend?