If you're too young to remember the heyday of the Nintendo Entertainment System, I don't know if I can accurately describe the level of excitement that came with cracking open a new instruction manual.

See, while games these days are full of in-game tutorials, the games of the 8-bit era didn't have the space or inclination to teach you anything explicitly in the game itself, so while the best ones relied on intuitive gameplay to acquaint you with the controls, virtually all of them had to rely on a little book packaged with each game (and usually left out of rental copies) that would give you the arcane secrets to actually making your way through.

But they weren't just simple how-to-play diagrams. NES instruction manuals were also tasked with telling the story of the game, describing the enemies, and even providing maps to players who could get lost wandering around Hyrule. And today, Nintendo has put 30 classic NES manuals online, including classic titles like the Super Mario Bros and Legend of ZeldaMega Man 2, Castlevania, and more.

 

 

The classic manuals are, of course, released in conjunction with the new NES Classic Edition console, which comes pre-loaded with the thirty games on display here. Each game also has a slick, simple, modern in-game manual (something that's common to new Virtual Console releases), but the Printed Manual option brings up the classics in all their truly bizarre glory. So while you might be having a little trouble tracking down an NES Classic for yourself (lord knows I am), you can still leaf through these magical little books to see what there is to see.

And there's plenty to see. My personal favorites are the hand-drawn maps that are more of a suggestion of a game's layout than anything you could actually navigate by...

 

 

... but there are also more detailed guides for games like Zelda, and the massive strategy tome that accompanied the original Final Fantasy is in there, too. There are even a few comics, like this one for Bubble Bobble, although I'd question if it was any easier to read when it was originally printed than it is in the PDF:

 

 

If you have any nostalgia for the NES era, or an attachment to the often overlooked ephemera of video games, these are well worth checking out. And here's hoping that the NES Classic leads to a new wave of high quality archiving, because I could legitimately read this stuff all day.