Most SNES games aren't very text-heavy compared to games today, but they still deliver decent exposition through their instruction booklets. Back in the 16-bit pre-dawn, you had to turn to these glossy, stapled bundles of paper if you wanted to know everything about your quest, its characters, and its power-ups.
While most instruction booklets of the era delivered the bare basics, some went above and beyond. The best booklets contained high-resolution color artwork, well-written stories, detailed character profiles, and even jokes and puns. Unsurprisingly, most of the games Nintendo selected for its SNES Classic Edition line-up were initially bundled with excellent instruction booklets offering all of the above, and more.
Oh, you missed out on the golden age of pack-in video game literature? No worries. Nintendo has clean scans of each SNES Classic game booklet. Even baked-in strategy guides are on display. Between Nintendo's efforts and its excellent Star Fox 2 instruction booklet mock-up, it's good to see the company go the extra mile to preserve such an important—if under-celebrated—element of retro gaming.
Here are ten SNES instruction booklets that deserve to be re-read.
As with its booklets for Super Mario Bros 1, 2, and 3, Nintendo's booklet for Super Mario World illustrates each of Mario's moves with a full-color picture. That's cool—especially since Mario World has a lot of moves compared to its predecessors. I also like the large map that explains each region and links Super Mario World to Super Mario Bros 3 via the Sunken Ship guarding the Valley of Bowser.
F-Zero wasn't initially supposed to be set in the future; the technical limitations of the SNES forced fate to make a sharp turn. Once Nintendo made up its mind, though, it committed to the whole "future racing" business. There's a lot of great art and exposition in the F-Zero booklet, some of which is delivered via a small comic by Valiant.
In the 8- and- 16-bit era, Konami loved to joke around in its instruction booklets. The instruction booklet for Castlevania IV is a lovable nightmare of groan-worthy puns and bad wordplay. Even if Konami is absolved of all its sins in the distant future, nothing will erase the travesty of "Paula Abghoul and Fred Askare." I appreciate the floating horse head named "Mr Hed," though.
The manual for A Link to the Past is a delight. It's where we first learn about the three goddesses that are now an indelible part of Hyrule lore, as well as Ganon's initial history as Ganondorf. I still love the images of blood, war, and slaughter the booklet relays through its story of the Imprisoning War. Pretty hardcore stuff for '90s Nintendo.
One trick RPG developers tried in hopes of recruiting more players outside of Japan was to include extra-thick instruction booklets that served as partial strategy guides. Secret of Mana is one example of this effort. I really like the narrative tone of this booklet, especially the instruction to choose a name for Randi that will "strike respect and fear in the hearts of the people you meet." Some of my choicest names have included "FART," "QUEEF," and various strings of nonsense when I couldn't be bothered. Don't follow in my footsteps, youngsters.
The Super Metroid booklet contains some great outlines of Samus' armor, as well as an illustrated two-page map of Zebes and a full bestiary that contains lesser-known tidbits of info. Did you know the Keyhunter enemies are another species of Space Pirate?
The Donkey Kong Country manual is worth re-reading just for Cranky Kong's quips, especially "Who'd want to copy this game?" on the Copy Warning page.v
The booklet for Final Fantasy III / VI doesn't contain a step-by-step guide in the vein of Secret of Mana, but it's still packed to the brim with useful information about the game's characters, skills, spells, and Espers. It's also sprinkled generously with illustrations by series artist Yoshitaka Amano. Great stuff all around.
Here it is: The Holy Grail of RPG strategy guides. Buying EarthBound back in the day netted you one of these beauties as well—but since few people bought EarthBound when it was released, the guides quickly became scarce. That's too bad, because it's a thing of beauty. It walks you through the game step-by-step, of course, but it also features clay models of the enemies you encounter, and it utilizes wonderfully cheesy human models in parts. The whole shebang is modeled to look like travel brochures and local newspaper articles. It's truly a step above. Even the digital file is a hefty 50 megs.
Super Mario RPG's booklet isn't as detailed as Square's other SNES efforts, but it's still worthy of a shout-out. I love the clean renders of the game's characters and items, not to mention Luigi's guidance from page to page. "Mario doesn't need me this time around," he says. It's OK, Luigi. You can cry. I won't tell anyone.