• McKinley Valentine

Bring back the oldschool video game manuals

You are Mario! It’s up to you to save the Mushroom People from the black magic of the Koopa!


I used to be a huge gamer, and I’m not anymore, but I still read a lot of video game news and reviews for some reason. I don’t know if the games have got worse (probably not) or my ability to be enthralled has just waned.


I used to get up at 5 am to try and beat my brother to the Nintendo > Super Nintendo > PlayStation in order to get an hour or two of full, uninterrupted play. I can’t imagine being that excited, that compelled, now. Maybe twice a year, I come across a book that’s good enough to create that feeling, but not much else does. (The perpetual “Is that depression or is that just adulthood?” question, right?)


The best part was going into the city with my family, buying a game (well, my mum buying it), and reading the manual on the way home. Old-school manuals used to be really fat and have lists of all the towns you might visit, magical items you might acquire, stats you could level up in, character art, backstories… So much PROMISE. I think I felt genuinely high, like drug-high, reading those.


Manual for the NES game Faxanadu, pulled directly from my childhood and somehow on the internet:

And then they started dying off, and the manual, instead of being a whole booklet, became just a flimsy pamphlet with a warning about not sitting too close the screen. I’m not sure exactly why that happened – maybe the expense of printing, maybe the improvements in technology that meant designers could translate their vision into the game itself (compare the illustrations of items with the in-game versions in the image above).


When I play games now, I often lose interest and stop for no particular reason. But video game REVIEWS – especially of quirky, conceptual games – they still excite me. They give me back a little bit of that anticipation and sense of promise – this, THIS could be amazing. Even – probably because – I rarely end up actually playing the games themselves.


For more writing like this, subscribe to my fortnightly newsletter, The Whippet.

Melbourne, Australia

  • Twitter

©2020 by McKinley Valentine