One of the last reliable supporters for the concept that video games should have instruction manuals appears to be backing off. Nintendo has released its first games on its new console without instruction manuals: Nothing on paper and not even a digital manual.
Nintendo's 1 2 Switch party game has no paper manual inside it, just a visual menu of the mini-games contained on the game cart:
The inside of the box for the company's flagship Switch game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild simply depicts an illustration of protagonist Link climbing a cliff.
The closest we've seen to a printed manual for a Nintendo Switch game is the inside of Konami's Super Bomberman R box:
Nintendo had backed off creating printed instruction manuals during the lifespan of its Wii U console. But the company had consistently offered digital manuals, which players could access by pausing a game and clicking an option to page through a virtual manual. Games on Nintendo's 3DS system also all had the digital manual option.
The digital manuals for Wii U and 3DS games weren't always great, but they were there if you needed them on Nintendo and third-party games. For a time, it seemed Nintendo was even making an effort to make their digital manuals look good.
On the Switch, it doesn't appear that Nintendo is making the effort to even make these digital manuals any more. In a change from the 3DS and Wii U, there doesn't appear to be a system-wide option for accessing manuals. Trying to access any possible digital manuals the way we could on Nintendo's prior systems is futile. If you click the plus button on a Switch controller while highlighting a game's icon on the system menu, you'll get a list of options for reading safety warnings and copyright info, but nothing about how to play the game.
We asked Nintendo about this a few times over the last week, while also asking them lots of other questions about the Switch. Some they answered, but we've yet to get comment about what Nintendo's policy is regarding instruction manuals on the system. We're left to wonder: Maybe Nintendo doesn't think they're necessary any more?
It's possible, of course, that Nintendo refrained from offering manuals for its Switch games due to the nature of those games. 1 2 Switch is fully tutorialised in-game. It doesn't need a manual. The new Zelda is designed to be mysterious, and perhaps a manual would give too many things away. Of course, for decades many games had instruction manuals that just explained basic controls and modes.
Nintendo has continued to produce digital instruction manuals for most of its recent releases on its other systems, including Tank Troopers, a game released in the US for 3DS in March, the same month as the Switch. That manual walks readers through the game's controls and basic modes. Notably, the Wii U version of Breath of the Wild technically has something that appears when you click the system's digital manual option, but the "manual" is a bare-bones breakdown of things like controller support and how to connect an Amiibo to the console — nothing about the game:
Third-party games on Switch also don't seem to have digital manuals. "You are correct that there isn't an instruction manual," Yacht Club Game's David D'Angelo told Kotaku when we told him we'd went on a quest to find one in either of the company's Shovel Knight Switch releases and found nothing. Yacht Club did make an online manual for its Switch-first release, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment, which can be viewed here.
"We weren't sure how common they would be used on Nintendo Switch," D'Angelo said. "It's possible we may add it in the future, but we chose to focus on making sure the game was done since we were rushing to make launch day!" He noted that Nintendo provides an option for games to have manuals on the system, but that game developers have to manually invoke the option to have manuals in their games. That supports our theory that there is no longer an automatic system-wide digital manual option as there had been on 3DS and Wii U. "We were definitely hemming and hawing about whether to pull more all-nighters to get the manuals in there," D'Angelo said.
Whether third-parties decide to start using manuals, it will be telling if Nintendo goes back to offering them. Upcoming releases like April's Mario Kart 8 Deluxe might tell that tale. There's also another option that it's possible Nintendo is pursuing: Outsourcing. There isn't technically a Zelda instruction manual, you see, but there is an option in Nintendo's "My Nintendo" rewards program to redeem the first chapter of a third-party Breath of the Wild official guide:
That free first 25 pages of the guide is full of the kinds of things you'd normally find in an official instruction manual. It's a PDF you download to your computer — and maybe print out and tuck into the game box, if you're feeling nostalgic:
Or maybe Nintendo is coming around to the growing consensus that, whether on paper or digital, instruction manuals are just no longer a necessary part of video games.