Since a game's manual is often written before the game is complete (and since nobody reads them anyway), a completely perfect game manual is a rare sight to behold.
Sometimes plans change before the game's release, leaving the manual as perfect documentation... of the game's beta version. The manual could have downright wrong stats, causing an uproar of confusion among the players. Maybe they forgot to remove that Dummied Out item or stage from the manual list, causing many an Urban Legend of Zelda as players try to track down the hidden secrets they suggest. Yet other times, it's just a crazy typo.
But whether the writer didn't research the game properly, or if the manual itself is just an incredibly Obvious Beta, it's hilarious to see just what made it through to print. These errors are usually cherished by the fandom as So Bad, It's Good.
Often a frustration of Read the Freaking Manual comments - since sometimes, people are asking because they read the manual.
Glaring errors are often fixed in updates, so these are more common in the first versions of the manual.
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The Age of Empires II manual was printed before the game was finalized, and as such contains a number of mistakes and references to Dummied Out features. Most notably is the whole section on 'Custom Formations', now useless since the feature was removed, along with several references to a 'horde' formation which no longer exists.note Technically it still does: it's the formation a mixed group of military and non-military units automatically take while moving, but it's no longer manually selectable.
Caesar III: The manual and its famous typo. It was quickly re-printed and removed, but not before hilarity ensued. The PDF manual that comes with the GOG.com version retains the typo, interestingly enough.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2: The strategy guide has several screenshots of menus that were obviously pre-release screenshots. The Deathstreaks one, for instance, has an extra deathstreak and a different image for the copycat entry.
Command & Conquer: Generals: The manual states that the Chinese soldiers have bayonets, when in fact, you simply deploy two of them instead. However, the bayonet part is ironically correct (they are on the character model) but irrelevant, as the the soldier units in question have no melee attack.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert: The manual has a few errors, such as saying that some multiplayer-only weapons were available in single player and vice versa. The Expansion PackThe Aftermath also said that the M.A.D. Tank is usable by both sides and the Demolition Truck is Soviet-only, when in reality it's the other way around.
Diablo: The first game has never been translated in French, but a manual translating every dialogs and quest texts have been published. It includes lines from a removednon-player named Tremayne.
Doom 95: A re-release of the first Doom that ran under Windows instead of DOS, shipped with a manual that made many references to Doom II. Apparently, they just copied the Doom II manual, but tried (unsuccessfully) to remove all information irrelevant to the first game. For example, the Baron of Hell was described as "Like a Hell Knight, but worse," when the Hell Knight is a Doom II-only enemy. Done on purpose in The Depths of Doom Trilogy's manual, where the Cyberdemon and Spider Mastermind are marked "in Doom II only" so as not to spoil their boss fights in Doom 1.
The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall: The UESP website recommends not to use the manual as reference since it was based on a pre-release version and contains information inconsistent with the actually released version.
Epic: The manual describes an Ion as "a particle of *FILL IN LATER*."
KGB: The European version was retitled Conspiracy. The manual was thus localized by doing a search-and-replace to change all instances of "KGB" to "CONSPIRACY". This had... predictable results.
The manual for Messiah claims that machines, unlike humans, cannot be possessed. But the only enemy in the game which is referred to as a "machine" (Armored Behemoth) can be possessed, and in fact at one point it's necessary to do so in order to proceed.
StarCraft: Early prints of the manual manual listed the beta versions of many game units. For example, it claimed that Mutalisks shoot acid, and queens and defilers have attacks. Cutscenes still depict Mutalisks spitting acid clouds.
Some of the 'Upgrades' were incorrect as well, like the ground-attack laser for the Wraith being an 'upgrade' instead of standard equipment like it became.
TZAR: The Burden of the Crown: The manual doesn't mention that you had to right-click to order units around. While obvious now, a person arriving from Command & Conquer or other left-click interface games will have trouble - especially when the only mention of the right-click interface is to state you don't understand how RTS games work. In other news, it listed every single unit, but didn't mention strengths and weaknesses of a unit until a small passage at the end (which was still an incomplete picture.)
Strife described the Reaver enemy as being "VERY fast," saying that saturation bombing may be the only effective way to destroy them. In game, they're faster than most enemies, but not by much. The Demons in the original Doom (which Strife uses the engine for) are a lot faster.
World of Warcraft: The manual states that dwarves can choose the mage as a class (differing from most depictions of dwarves). Guess what? They can't. (They could in early beta, though.) Moreover, the Cataclysm expansion fixed this. Manuals printed as late as 2006 contained references to Plainsrunning, a Tauren ability patched out before release. This was also done with Druids and the Polearm weapons up till a recent patch, Druids couldn't use them but in the manual it said they could. It actually listed "Polearm" and "Spears" as different weapon classes, saying Druids could use Spears.
Of course with the constant evolution of the game, including a ground-up revamp of most Vanilla content in "Cataclysm", it would be hard to find much in the manual that is STILL accurate. Fortunately the ingame information has been expanded a lot as well, even including some easy-to find information about the latest gameplay changes for all classes for returning players.
X-Universe: X3: Reunion had a manual full of Blatant Lies and completely wrong info. X3: Terran Conflict is much more accurate, but it's still wrong on some things; it has ships with the wrong picture, and it talks about several guns that do not exist normally in the game.
Guild Wars: An Amusing example occurs with the third campaign Nightfall. In the manual one of the recruitable heroes, Razah, was described as having a variable class, that the player could determine. When the game came out, however he could only be a Ritualist. this was amusingly averted three years later, when an update allowed him to change his class as stated in the manual.
Nintendo Entertainment System
Action52: The manual sometimes describes completely different games or features that weren't in most games. For instance, "Bits and Pieces" is described as a Falling Blocks game, but it's actually more like a ripoff of Altered Beast. The description of "Sharks" promises "rare marine creatures" and undersea treasures to collect, and an "electromagnetic base" to hide from sharks in, none of which appear in the game.
Adventure Island: The manual refers to Master Higgins' girlfriend as Princess Leilani, despite the fact that she is called Tina in the game. The recurring boss of the game is referred by two different names in the manual as well ("King Quiller" and the "Evil Witch Doctor").
Athena: Whereas some NES games were misleadingly advertised with screenshots from their graphically superior arcade versions, the manual of this game used some screenshots from the NES version... of Spelunker.
Contra: The manual claims that the player must destroy a "diamond-shaped sensor" to clear the Waterfall stage, which would've been true... if this was the arcade version. In the NES version, the Waterfall boss is a giant alien statue whose weak points are the tips of its two tentacles and its mouth whenever its open. The stage descriptions were actually written with multiple versions in mind (the other versions of Contra released in the U.S. at the time were the DOS and C64 version), but the NES version takes a few liberties from the arcade original rather than being a straight port.
Double Dragon: The manual claims that Abobo "likes to throw bombs", despite the fact that the only bomb-throwing enemies in the game are the dynamite-wielding Williams. In reality, this is a mistranslated reference to an unused move for Abobo called the genbaku nage or "atomic suplex" (Abobo doesn't actually use it, but animation frames were still included in the game's data). The manual also gives different inputs for the Spin Kick and Elbow Punch than the ones used in the actual game and spells a certain enemy's name (Lopar) differently from the actual game (Rowper).
Dragon Warrior III: Not a manual misprint, but the item chart/map that came with the game mistakenly claimed that the Iron Shield was cursed, due to the description of the actually cursed Noh Mask accidentally having been used instead. What makes this even more notable is that this led to the Dragon Warrior IV item chart repeating the same mistake, complete with unique text.
Dragon Warrior IV: The manual has got quite a lot of misprints. For example, it is claimed that Maya and Meena's (Mara and Nara's) father was "Loro", a weaponsmith who "died of unknown causes" ("Loro" was actually alchemist Mahabala/Edgar who got murdered by Balzack); that the Powder Keg/Gunpowder Jar would have the Chancellor "lead [the player] to Keeleon" in a castle (the castle was already named Keeleon Castle/Palais de Leon, and the "boss" is not Keeleon, but rather Balzack); and that Tom Foolery/Panon is a "she" who is "a brilliant star" and "is good to have in dark places" (Tom/Panon is not a woman, but he's rather a comedian, and we don't know if he's "good to have in dark places" or not, but he is more of a Joke Character than a helpful person).
Mighty Final Fight: The manual describes Abigail as asking trivia questions and attempting to kiss you if you answer wrong. This is actually true, but only in the Japanese version, where he would ask you a series of trivia questions before the fight and award you with a continue if you answered them all correctly. The quiz was removed in the US version, which simply has a pre-fight banter between the player and Abigail.
The Legend of Zelda: The manual had a reference to getting past the "invisible doors" in caves where people live. This is, of course, completely impossible, and drove many players insane in the days before the Internet. What the bad translation really referred to was the hidden doors that you accessed these caves from by bombing rock walls and burning trees.
Life Force: The names of the bosses Cruiser Tetron/Tetran (the core boss with the four rotating arms) and Intruder (the fire dragon) were switched in the US manual.
Strider: The manual says that Hiryu retired from the Strider organization "after eliminating the sister of a mad A-grade Strider." In reality, Hiryu killed his own sister (Mariya), an A-grade Strider who went mad.
Super Mario Bros. 2: Some versions of the manual has the names for Birdo and Ostro switched. This may be due to their names being switched in the end credits as well. The mistake was kept in the Super Mario All-Stars version of the game, but was eventually corrected in Super Mario Advance.
X-Men: A vital instruction was misprinted, though on the cartridge label rather than in the manual itself. The access code for the final level was to hold Select + Up + B and hit Start, but "Select" was mistakenly omitted. (Even if the code had been correctly printed, it would have been unreadable when the cartridge was plugged in, and few players would reach that point since the game was barely playable anyway.)
Contra III: The Alien Wars: The first sub-boss from Stage 3 is listed twice under different names, "Chrome Dome" and the "Tri-Transforming Wall Walker", the former being a made-up name and the latter a translation of its original name from the Japanese version. Most of the other enemies had different names and three of the bosses, namely Vicious Slave Hawk (the tortoise boss from Stage 1, the name itself being a mistranslation of "Slave Beast Taka"), Beast Kimkoh (the elephant-like final boss from Super C with the female face on its belly) and Metal Alien (the winged xenomorph-like boss from the arcade Super Contra), had their names switched.
Earthbound: The strategy guide included with the game mentions that the Gutsy Bat is located in the Sea of Eden, randomly dropped from a Kraken. This is totally untrue; the Gutsy Bat is found in the final dungeon of the game (past the Point of No Return) from a different enemy, the Bionic Kraken. Made even worse in that the guide explicitly states how rare it is, and there only exist three of those Krakens in the area. An unsuspecting player might try in vain to obsessively reset the game, hoping in vain that one of these three Krakens drops the bat. Of course, it will never happen.
Earthworm Jim: The manual jokingly claims that pressing X "Turns off Mrs. Schultz's porch light in Germany. So quit pressing it!" This even becomes a Brick Joke in the sequel — one of the trivia questions in The Villi People is "Where does Mrs. Schultz live?" The manual also claims that one way to earn a continue is to find a can of worms. In the second game's manual, they concede that the first game had no such pick-ups (instead you had to earn them by beating the Andy Asteroids bonus levels between levels by winning against Psy-Crow), but that this game does (which is true).
Final Fantasy VI (a.k.a. III) - For as otherwise accurate it was, the Nintendo Player's Guide has a ridiculously terrible Lore list. Many of the descriptions either leave out important details (such as Exploder/Self-Destruct killing Strago), or are just outright wrong (Sour Mouth/Bad Breath is listed as curing status ailments, and the descriptions of the level-based spells suggest that they hit your characters as well). Nearly half the descriptions are incorrect or vague in some way.
Plok: The manual has the pictures for the enemies Shprouts and Gershwin reversed.
Secret of Evermore: The whole manual seems to have been based on a prototype version of the game, as numerous differences exist. The Magic Gourd is shown as a trade item (it's a relic in the actual game), the Queen's Key is called "White Castle Ke" (yes, "Ke"), a Mad Monk enemy is shown as a "Wily Rogue", and most interestingly, a few spells are listed for Queen Bluegarden and Professor Ruffleberg that don't actually exist... including one that supposedly drains MP. Which the game does not have.
Super Mario All-Stars: The manual claims that the player dies when "all [their] hearts turn white" in Super Mario Bros. 2. Definitely a leftover from NES colors. This has more Mario examples.
Gauntlet Legends: The official strategy guide seems to be based off the arcade version. For one example, it claims that the Scimitar deals great damage to one of the Chimera's heads, and that you need only kill one head to defeat it - in fact, it cuts off the lion head, and all three heads must be killed to bring down the Chimera.
Mario Kart 64: The manual shows an icon on the map for Bowser's Castle cautions the reader to watch out for falling rocks. There are no falling rock hazards on the stage.
Mega Man Network Transmission: The character descriptions in the manual appear to have suffered a "Blind Idiot" Translation from the Japanese version, at the hands of either Altavista Babelfish or someone given a Japanese-English dictionary without knowing any Japanese nor anything about the game. They managed to misspell several characters' names, mention names of other supposed characters who don't actually exist (common nouns in the Japanese text seem to have been misinterpreted as proper names), and use a picture of Bug Style MegaMan for Chaud. And Bug Style doesn't even appear in this game.
Double Dragon: The story page claims that the game ends with Billy Lee confronting his brother Jimmy, who reveals himself to be the leader of Black Warriors. In reality, the final boss is Machine Gun Willy and the sibling duel never really happens in this version (outside the "Mode B" minigame). The manual simply recycled the plot from the NES version without taking into consideration the differences between versions, a mistake that the Genesis version also made with hilarious result (see below).
Pokémon Red and Blue: The manuals for both versions claim that Ghost was super-effective against Psychic. However, due to a programming glitch, it did NO damage, contributing to the game-breaking status of the Psychic type. The Pokémon Yellow manual corrected this error by saying that Ghost had no effect on Psychic and the glitch was later fixed in Generation II.
Super Mario Land: Not a mistake, but the English manual left the names of the enemy characters unchanged from the Japanese version. This included enemies that were sub-species of other enemies (namely the Chibo, Nokobon and Gira) from the original Super Mario Bros. and were given similar names to reflect this (their counterparts being the Kuribo, Nokonoko and Killer). The problem is that the enemies in Super Mario Bros. had different names in the localized version (Goomba, Koopa Troopa and Bullet Bill), so the play on names got lost between regions. When Super Mario Land was re-released on the Virtual Console, the enemies were given new localized names (Goombo, Bombshell Koopa and Bullet Biff).
Mega Man Xtreme 2: The manual uses utterly wrong transliterations for the names of every character mentioned except for X and Zero. In particular, Iris was already an established character of some importance, and her name is both a real name and a real word—there was really no excuse for mangling it into "Aillis."
Pokémon Gold and Silver: Some versions of the manual claimed that happiness could be decreased by storing the Pokémon in the PC, and increased by just using any beneficial item on it. These are actually relics from Pikachu's happiness system in Pokémon Yellow, and have no effect whatsoever on happiness in the Generation II games.
Mega Man Battle Network 4: The manual occasionally forgets the Dub Name Change and reverts "Mega Buster" back to the original "Rockbuster". The manual for the Red Sun version also has several pictures of version-specific elements from the Blue Moon version while the text still describes the Red Sun counterparts, leading to mismatched pictures and descriptions.
Mega Man Zero: The manual had a page dedicated to explaining that 'these characters' are Zero's fellow Resistance members. It also had a page full of art of some of the game's bosses. If you think those two pages should probably not be one and the same, then congratulations! You're officially smarter than whoever put that manual together.
Captain Silver: The US version of the game had content removed, which include two whole stages and most of the enemy characters. Despite this, the game's manual still list most of the missing enemies and makes references to the removed stages.
Double Dragon: The English manual has the names of Jeff (the Lee brother head swap boss of Mission 2) and Willy (the machine gun-toting final boss) switched (here's the Japanese original for comparison). Some of the point values given in the manual for performing certain moves are also inaccurate (the correct values are listed here).
Wonder Boy: The functions of the attack and jump buttons are switched in the manual.
Double Dragon: The manual for the Genesis version is pretty notorious for how the author completely misinterpreted the backstory of the game. To be precise, the game itself is a port of the original arcade version, but the manual uses the plot of the NES version for reference, which is not entirely consistent. Whereas in the arcade game Billy and Jimmy Lee fought against the Black Warriors together, in the NES version Billy fights the gang on his own and Jimmy shows up as the final boss, revealing himself to be the true leader of the Black Warriors. Apparently the fact that the final boss looks nothing like the game's protagonist in the Genesis version, whereas Player 2 is a palette swapped twin wasn't enough to clue in on the manual's author that something was not right. As a result, the manual misidentifies Machine Gun Willy as Jimmy Lee and the Player 2 character is referred by the name of Jake.
Golden Axe: The manual identifies the boss of Stage 6 as Death Adder's son and the final boss as Death Adder himself. In the actual game, Death Adder Jr. is the final boss in Beginner mode, Death Adder is the Stage 6 boss and Death Bringer is the True Final Boss.
Pop'n Magic: The manual includes a picture of the title screen, where the copyright line misspells the name of the publisher as "TELENEENET JAPAN." Thankfully, this typo is corrected in the actual game.
Monster Lair: The manual for the English version takes a few liberties with the story, stating that alien invaders have acquired the "Legendary Weapon of Complete Destruction", when actually it's the Legendary Sword and Armor from Wonder Boy In Monster Land that they stole; it also refers to the hero as Adam instead of Leo.
Battle Arena Toshinden 2: The manual prints Eiji's special move list twice: once on his own page, and again on Sofia's page. This had the odd habit of moving the move lists of all of the odd-numbered characters back two pages, leaving newcomer Chaos without a list to call his own (his page shows Gaia's moves).
Breathof Fire 3 had an infamous misprint in the BradyGames strategy claiming that Balio and Sunder, and early pair of Unwinnable bosses, could be beaten. Cue much, much hair-ripping as it turned out to not be true.
Mega Man Legends 2: The English manual list Von Bluecher and Klaymoor under their original Japanese names (Von Muller and Bancosus, respectively).
Silent Hill: The official strategy guide was based on a beta version, as it remarks on the sneakiness of the lizard-like enemies that populate the sewers and tells you to "rely on that lovely sound coming from your radio" to help avoid them. It'd be pretty good advice for the finished version too, if only the radio still worked in the sewers.
Suikoden: The manual makes references to Magic Points for spellcasting. It doesn't; it uses Vancian Magic, where each spell can only be cast a certain number of times, independent of any other spells you might still have available. The character of Kuromimi is also listed under the names of "Black Ears."
.hack: While not outright wrong, the manual gives some ignorant advice: it tells you to take Balmung along for the final bonus boss, along with Elk who demands he be allowed to go. They seem to forget you have access to Helba, a wavemaster, hacker, and downright better character.
Kingdom Hearts: The BradyGames guide mistakenly called Sephiroth's signature attack "Sin Harvest" instead of "Heartless Angel". It wasn't until Kingdom Hearts II that this mistake was corrected.
Kingdom Hearts II: The BradyGames strategy guide mentions a chest in the Hundred Acre Woods that was moved to a different part of the area. Not a large error, but enough to freak out the completionist who can be made to think there's an invisible chest.
One of editions has an image with the caption "hammer, dwarf thrower".
The 3.5 Complete Divine handbook lists Tharizdun's favored weapon as a "check toee." What it means is "Check Temple Of Elemental Evil", a note to check the book to figure out what it is then update the section. Until it was clarified, gamers wondered and joked about what a check toee was.
The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons supplement Encyclopedia Magica Volume 1 had references to people taking points of "dawizard", or something about "iwizards"; this was obviously the result of a Word find-and-replace gone wrong that tried to substitute the more generic term "wizard" for "mage".
7th Sea characters can take a "destiny spread," an optional set of rules that grants them some character background and either advantages or drawbacks, depending on the mood of the Random Number God when the character is created. One of the Destiny Spreads from the Avalon sourcebook grants a "1 point Druidic Secrets Advantage," despite the fact that no such Advantage exists.
Warhammer 40,000: The 6th Edition rulebook calls Boltguns 'Rapis Fire' weapons. (s is next to d on a keyboard, but it's surprising they let this slip, especially since it's the single most ubiquitous weapon in the game.) Actually, a lot of Games Workshop rules and sourcebooks have these, you can find a full list of errata here.
Parodied in Stinkoman 20X6, which describes the Level Nine boss (a robot gangster) as a "speedy squid". There actually is a squid enemy in that level, but its picture is missing from the manual altogether.
Happens from time to time in scale models. Most common are schematics whose forced perspective makes it impossible to tell which direction a part is supposed to be oriented, but early Revell mid-00s Ford Mustang kits had the interior schematic printed twice and another major assembly not at all.
The Official Pokémon Handbook contains so many errors (some bordering on Cowboy Bebop at His Computer) and typos that listing them all would be a waste of time. To give on example, Lickitung's entry says "It will daze and confuse its opponent with its Wrap technique and attack a maximum of five times in a row with Supersonic." Anyone who's actually played the games will know those two descriptions should be swapped.
Some early CodeMasters games had their manuals lazily recopied with each system a game was ported to, even if some of those ports were radically altered. Captain Dynamo on Commodore 64 was a big offender for misinforming players of the high-jump controls and Goomba Stomp abilities which were omitted from that version to make it Nintendo Hard. Crystal Kingdom Dizzy had an oddity where the manual mentioned having to walk through a set of doors to load games, when that never happens in any version of Crystal Kingdom Dizzy, though it was used in Wild West Seymour.
On a related theme, since the Airfix model kit construction company was bought out and revamped, several new kits (and others originally marketed by other firms, but re-released on licence by Airfix) have been introduced into the range. At least one, (the Higgins Boat, used by American forces in WW2 as a light landing craft) has an instruction leaflet which shows illustrations and kit parts which do not physically exist in the kit. This suggests there was a certain amount of confusion as to which of several production versions of the vessel was actually being released as a kit, and the person doing the illustrations was depicting the wrong one. Or that the original production plan was to market a model of a later production version with additional armour for the protection of boat and crew, and when this specification was changed, nobody bothered to brief the artist who was working to the original plan.
The instruction sheet for the ZX Spectrum game Soft & Cuddly claims that the player "must find the eight spirit keys" and take them to the fridge. The fridge exists, but the keys don't; they might have been taken out of the game prior to release.