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Old Article Revival: Terrible Box Art in Gaming, Part 1

A look at some games with box art so silly, absurd or downright hideous that it's a wonder anyone played them at all!

Phantasy Star Series

Ah Phantasy Star, you are the greatest console RPG series of all-time, but Sega of America's artists must have been high on something whenever it came time to design cover art for you.

Well, alright, the original's was decent; it features all four of the game's protagonists and several enemies, and all of them looked pretty faithful to their in-game counterparts.  Myau mysteriously became a fox creature instead of a cat, but other than that, I don't have any issues.  Plus, if nothing else, it's a huge leap over most other Master System cover art of the time (which we'll be covering later).

Oh boy. This looks like rejected cover art for a science fiction novel from the 70s.  In fact, this cover art has so many issues that it warrants a bulleted list.

  •  Rolf looks at least fifty in the cover art.  His age isn't given in the game, but he's definitely not that old.
  • Rolf's weapon of choice is a sword, not a rifle.
  • Nei does not have horns.  Elf-ears, yes, but not horns.
  • Mother Brain is a computer, not a giant brain with an eyeball.
  • Motavia is no longer a desert planet; it's long since been turned into a lush, green planet by the time the game begins.
At least the robot and the spider-ish monsters somewhat match the in-game enemies.

I suppose that's supposed to be Rulakir at the top, firing shots at one of the four possible protagonists from the third generation.  Fair enough; Rulakir doesn't look anything like that in the game, but he is possessed by Dark Force, so it makes sense that he'd be fighting the hero.   But why are they floating in space outside of the ship?  The last fight in the game took place in the floating city of Terminus, inside one of the ship's seven "globes".  Within a stone temple, no less.

Actually, there's not a lot to say about this one, aside from Chaz, Rika and Rune looking really ugly.  And old.

God Hand

This image of a smoking, red-hot fist punching downward into a white void brought to you by a Clover employee's eight-year-old child and his copy of Microsoft Paint.  Thankfully, they saw fit to scrap this terribly nondescript artwork for the US release:

...But they apparently liked the white void design element too much to let it go.


Aren't critic quotes usually reserved for the back of the box?  Or the bottom of the front cover, at least?  The washed-out action shot of the Ikaruga and a nondescript robotic monstrosity underneath the large, awkwardly centered title and logo don't do it any favors either.

Bust a Move

Bust a Move, also known as Puzzle Bobble, is a pretty simple concept - match up three bubbles of like color and they'll pop, with your goal being to clear the screen before they sink down far enough to cross a line at the bottom.  So how do they keep boning up the box art this badly?

Bubbles sporting creepy faces with their eyes pried open with matchsticks.  Who signed off on this?  It's almost as good an idea as advertising games on tombstones.  (Don't laugh, by the way;  Acclaim actually tried that.)  Yeesh, this shit's going to give me nightmares... let's move on.

A baby sporting some forehead graffiti and lazily-Photoshopped sunglasses while blowing a red spit bubble.  At least they showed something gameplay-relevant this time, I suppose.

Some things are better left in their cartoonish roots rather than upgrading them into a realistic, bump-mapped 3D model.  Bub the Dinosaur is clearly one of them.

Mega Man

Since this one invariably comes up whenever a discussion about terrible box art appears, we may as well get it out of the way now:

Holy moley, this looks terrible on every level.  A terribly misshapen, discolored, gun-wielding Mega Man on a background of circular platforms over a purple abyss, a metallic tower and a city bursting into flames and some palm trees growing out of what looks like a building.  All of this set in a tiny picture upon a tilted, off-center red and blue grid.  Honestly, I can barely even look at it without laughing.

The story behind the hilarious abomination is a rather simple one.  Faced with surprising success of the game in Japan, the game was scheduled for a US release with little advance notice to Capcom's American branch.  So, with no time to erase mistakes or generally make it look good at all, the marketing department sketched this out, inked it, and colored it in about six hours' time, and it was stamped onto a few million boxes and cartridges.

Mega Man 2's US artwork fared considerably better:

Still silly though, what with Mega Man's superfluous visor, leg bent at an awkward angle, and continuing use of a gun instead of transforming his arm into a Mega Buster.  And unless I'm very much mistaken, Dr. Light appears to be sending Crash Man into battle against Mega Man.

The rest of the series' box art was mostly taken directly from the Japanese releases, which saved Capcom USA a considerable amount of headache and probably a fair amount of ridicule as well.

On a final note, Gerald de Jesus of i am 8 bit sketched up an affectionate tribute to the original Mega Man's box art for the impending release of Mega Man 9:

Capcom apparently took a liking to it, as it was used as the official "Box Art" of the game and in the limited edition press kits.