Devolver Digital Is Bringing Back Game Manuals, And I’m All In

I miss the physicality of owning games, and Devolver is bringing it back

Devolver Digital Is Bringing Back Game Manuals, And I'm All In

What do you miss about old games? Is it the lack of microtransactions? Perhaps the fact you’d get a new entry in your favourite series every couple of years rather than waiting the better part of a decade for some bloated live-service flop? Or maybe it was just a time when you could spend every evening glued to your Game Boy rather than needing to deal with adult life?

I miss holding my games in my hands. I still buy a physical Switch game every now and then, but digital downloads rule my life. I buy games on Steam sales and on the Xbox store, I receive codes from PR representatives for new releases, and I have an eye-watering backlog that would fill an entire room if those hundreds of games all had cases and cartridges.

When I was a kid, getting a boxed game was a treat. Most of the titles I played were either rented &- often turning them into unintentional roguelites &- or bought second-hand from Birkenhead Market. On neither occasion did they come with a box. If I was lucky, I got a photocopy of the instruction manual.

The first brand new game I got was Nintendogs, which came packaged with my Nintendo DS and an excellent bone-shaped carry case. I pored (like pawed, get it?) over the tiny booklet, looking at all the different breeds and seeing the activities I could do with my dogs any moment I was pulled away from the screen. My parents were fairly strict with limiting my screen time, but I immersed myself in the world of puppies and pampering at any chance I got, whether by screen or manual.

It wasn’t long after this I discovered online gaming communities. Online acquaintances taught me to leave my pup in the bath overnight with my DS on charge to make her squeaky clean. I dread to think what this did to my parents’ energy bill. Another foray into a Pokemon forum solved Pokemon Sapphire’s Braille puzzles, which had stumped me for years by this point due to my lack of manual, the manual which contained the key to cracking the code.

I yearn for this early age of the internet too, but in many ways it spelled the end of game manuals. Why put out a physical paper booklet, which needs to be written, designed, and printed, when an online superfan will post it all online for you? A4 game guides were the first to go, but manuals soon followed. Instead of beautifully crafted works of art, we got a slip of paper that was an advert for another game or DLC. Instead of helpful instructions and fun facts, we got a code to unlock a free gift in-game. We lost our booklets as games lost their souls.

A few games have bucked the trend. Tunic famously made its game manual virtual, and it was a core mechanic of learning how to explore the foxy Zelda-like. However, as its slow reveal includes vital spoilers that are uncovered with progress, Isometricorp Games didn’t publish a physical version.

The Banished Vault did the opposite, crafting a bespoke manual in its gothic-futurist style. That’s a hot little indie that you probably missed last year, by the way. It’s not a game that needed an instruction manual, it wasn’t ill-explained, it didn’t have codes to crack that required physical ciphers. Developer Lunar Division just made one for the love of it. Because the creators wanted something physical to go along with their digital-only video game. It cost a fiver, and was arguably a better purchase than the excellent game.

Devolver Digital is now jumping on the trend, starting with Pepper Grinder. Designed and written by TheGamer alum Andy Kelly (remember him? Hasn’t he done well?), the Pepper Grinder manual is designed in the style of those that came with SNES games. It’s digital only, for now, but if my campaign to bring manuals back to the physical realm gains traction, I’m certain Devolver will read this article and start cranking the printer. That’s how printers work, right? I bet they have handles and everything.


Despite being a digital manual, the love that’s gone into this Pepper Grinder booklet (which you can find here) is clear. From helpful tips, to meta pullouts that warn you against using the book as a coaster, it’s equal parts fun and fabulous. There’s even two pages for ‘notes’ at the back, as if your pixels are being digitally bound and the surplus pages mustn’t be left completely blank. My favourite touch is the little page turning animation that really sells this as an alternative to those physical booklets of decades past.

Kelly has committed to making these for every Devolver game in future. While Devolver is a massive publisher with a massive budget that barely constitutes as indie any more, I hope this can encourage other small devs to follow their lead.

Whether devs are producing physical booklets for an extra couple of quid, incorporating them as game mechanics, or having fun with online versions, game manuals are making a comeback. I hope that this move, which has mainly proliferated in the indie scene thus far, will result in a pile of thin, paper booklets that I can stack next to my console for use if I ever get stuck. If vinyl has made a comeback, little instruction manuals can, too.

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