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Old Article Revival: Video Game Box Art Cliches

When I was new to video games back in the late 80s and early 90s, it seemed that every game tried to have a distinct cover art to differentiate itself from the rest, even if the game was a transparent ripoff of another - you certainly wouldn't mistake Golden Axe Warrior for Zelda just from looking at their cover art, nor would you take a look at Silent Assault and mistake it for Contra, or even confuse any of the Ninja Turtles games for one another.  There were exceptions to this, of course, but for the most part each piece of box art was distinct in some way.

But now it seems like every game is trying to rip off the same aesthetic style, posing and color schemes just to maybe trick people into buying their product instead, thinking it'll be just as good.  Possibly an effect of the oversaturation of similar first-person shooters and widespread word-of-mouth provided by the Internet that lets everyone know within a matter of hours (if not minutes) if a game is good or bad.  But we're not here to get into that discussion, so let's take a look at some of the most abused box art cliches, shall we?

Gun in your face

Because nothing says "Buy this game" better than a guy pointing a gun in your face, almost as if he's threatening you.  Bonus points if he has dark sunglasses, a sneer on his face, or both.

Soldiers Stand Alone in a Washed Out, Featureless Backdrop


Someone - generally the protagonist - prepares to stand against an unseen foe while absolutely nothing interesting goes on behind them or, in the rare cases where a reverse angle is used, in front of them either.  The protagonist is always the only thing allowed to stand out - the more washed-out and featureless the backdrop is, the better.

Gritty ugly character up close and personal


What better way to draw people to your game than to have some ugly character looming at you in extreme close-up before you even buy it?  I'm not sure why companies keep doing this, actually - it's a pretty good way to scare off a potential buyer, regardless of whether the game is actually good or not.  Planescape Torment is the prime example - great game with one of the best stories ever written for the electronic medium, but how many people do you know who took one look at that box art and thought "hey, this looks cool!"?  I'd be honestly suprised if it were more than two.

Looming Evil?


A heroic-looking figure in the foreground, situated near the bottom of an image, whilst some stern-looking faces loom in the sky above.  Are they major characters?  The main villains, perhaps?  Well we don't really even know, because we have no idea who these characters even are until we have at least a passing familiarity with the story, and that generally involves buying the game and playing it for a while.  It was actually kind of a clever motif until everybody started copying it.

Tower of characters


"Which character should I choose for the box art?  It should probably be the main character, but I like the supporting characters too.  Oh hell, I can't decide - just throw them all on there in a big pile!"

Action flying right off the box!

Kind of reminiscent of the vague menace of the gun-in-your-face cliche, only now it's a guy (or vehicle) swooping in from far in the background to clobber your face right off.  Or just knock an enemy conveniently situated in his intended path into doing the same.

Giant Monster Showdown

Arguably the most awesome of all cliches, this one is actually quite effective in establishing some sense of scale in the game's action - it lets you know right away that you're going to be fighting monsters the size of skyscrapers.  Still, it is used quite a lot.

Blank Logo


You have to be pretty confident that your game will sell enough based solely on its logo (or in some cases, just its sequel number) to use this one.  Hence why we rarely see it from anyone outside of the big-name companies like Square Enix.  But when they use it, oh boy, do they use it constantly.