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The Incredible Shrinking Instruction Manual
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on October 21, 2005   |   Episode 82 (Show Archive)  

   

TIGER WANTS YOU ... to ignore the instruction manual and play the game on your own!
Although many gamers tend to completely ignore them, instruction manuals are a great place to reference how to control your character, the ins and outs of saving, and learn who performed the voice acting. They're a place where you can find the melee combo your looking for, the explanation of all of the option menu, and maybe even a strategy or two. Since they come with the game, these instruction manuals end up being a lot more convenient than searching the Internet for the answer.

But this is all old news, right? People have been going to their trusty manual for decades, haven't they? Of course they have, but judging by Electronic Arts' recent actions it's clear that not everybody understands how useful a user guide can be.

If you're one of the millions of gamers who bought an Electronic Arts game within the last two years, chances are you've already noticed the tiny pamphlet they are trying to pass off as an instruction manual. Ranging from 9 to 15 pages, the new EA guide is considerably

Hey, didn't you prepare for the climates? This is SSX, not DOA Beach Volleyball!
smaller than what we're used to ... especially when it comes to games as in depth as Madden, Tiger Woods, and Fight Night.

EA's shrinking instruction manual has been stuck in the back of my head for some time now, even though I knew there was a problem I couldn't put my finger on what was going on. It wasn't until I was thumbing through Rockstar Games' 53 page manual for the Warriors that I realized how much I missed having guides that actually offered a lot of information. With information about 17 different gangs, a guide to controlling your character, and several pages of gameplay tips, the Warriors has one useful instruction manual ... the type I wouldn't mind seeing more of.

But as I started going through my games I realized that it wasn't all companies that were slimming their guides down, it was only one company ... the biggest game company in North America! Tiger Woods on the PSP only gets 13 pages to explain how to golf like the pros; unfortunately this is the same number of pages allocated to NBA Street Vol. 3, a game with more than a few notable moves you might want at your fingertips. It's not Capcom, Nintendo, and Namco who are slimming down their instructions; this disservice sits on the shoulders of Electronic Arts alone.

EA has not always been this way, several years ago they offered guides that were two, three, and sometimes four times longer than what we get today. To test this I took

Between Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt, and the Warriors, Rockstar Games knows how to write a good manual!
a look at SSX, a series that launched with the PlayStation 2 and recently saw its fourth installment hit shelves. In the beginning the SSX guide was 40 pages. SSX Tricky, released one year later, found itself with 36 pages, a slight drop due in large part to better page management. By 2003's SSX 3 Electronic Arts had dropped the page count down to 28, a third of the pages found only three years earlier. But then there's SSX On Tour, the newest title in the series, released this year we find an instruction manual with only nine pages. That's right, NINE PAGES!

Now you could argue that 40 pages might have been a bit excessive for a downhill snowboarding game. You could probably argue that you could get all the information in 25 - 30 pages without losing its integrity. But

How do you know Electronic Arts is just phoning it in? The Alien Hominid instruction manual is twice the size of Tiger Woods!
nine pages? You have to do a lot of trimming to get 40 pages down to 9, especially when this fourth installment is so much more complex than the original. Clearly SSX On Tour is missing some of the most important parts of an instruction manual, leaving it to the in-game tutorials to teach you how to play the game.

But sometime that's not enough. This year EA managed to released two separate Burnout games on the same day, one with a meager nine page instruction manual (Burnout Revenge) and one with thirteen (Burnout Legends, printed on smaller pages). Sure these guides explained the bare essentials on playing Burnout - control, different modes, Xbox Live - but neither of them explained how to perform the boost start taught in Burnout 2. Heck, that information was left out of the in-game tutorial as well, leaving online gamers high and dry. It's this kind of information you would normally go to an instruction manual for, yet here's just another example of Electronic Arts not taking the time to properly inform their customers.


Thank God Electronic Arts doesn't write all instruction manuals!
Electronic Arts' apologizers may argue that games like Burnout Revenge aren't all that complex, and therefore don't need a huge instruction manual. And for the most part they are right, but that didn't stop Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition from offering a 45 page guide explained just about everything you could want to know. Neither God or War nor Devil May Cry 3 need extremely large guides, yet they offered 47 pages and 21 pages respectively. Heck, even We Heart Katamari featured 48 pages of weird and wacky goodness. And NARC? Yes, even the worst game of the year managed to offer more than twice the pages of Burnout Revenge (NARC featured 20 a twenty page booklet). Across the board we're seeing this; every company is featuring a longer instruction manual than Electronic Arts ... even games like Alien Hominid.

Clearly we're missing out on some useful information when we only get a 9 page guide, yet we have the largest video game maker in the world cutting corners on the easiest (and often the most useful) part of the overall package? You can't expect everybody to play every edition, so if you're going to widen the game's appeal then you need to spend as much time as needed to get your instruction manual up to snuff. Because Electronic Arts, no matter what the excuse is, 9 pages is simply not enough room to explain the ins and outs of your games ... no matter how good they are.
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