We can be very superficial creatures, we like to be pleased aesthetically and our minds reject things that are unpleasing to our quite discerning eyes. Obviously not everything can be beautiful and you’d be a fool for thinking so, but sometimes there are some horrific things that we cannot but help be repulsed by.
Video game box art has a long and interesting history and in a time before the internet and even mass publications for people to read reviews, people did to an extent vote with their eyes. You may have thought ‘This looks good’ and made a purchase, but perhaps it was ill conceived. The greatest example for me was my parents buying me Dark Castle on the Megadrive which redefined the word ‘awful’. They thought it looked good, but little did they know the frustration and horror that awaited me in that little black cartridge.
On the other end of this spectrum is the game art that is just so bad that it defies any understanding as to how it ever passed any design/marketing team in the first place. They do however provide us with a great guide of how not to do it as well as some cheap laughs.
10: Ico (Playstation 2)
Great games deserve better than this, they really do. My problem isn’t so much with Ico’s artwork as it is with the rehashed American update of the box art. Gone is the mystery, subtlety and beauty of the original design and instead we get a collage of ropey CG faces. This fact was not lost on Yasuhide Kobayashi (Sony Japan’s Vice-President) who acknowledged that the game sales would’ve performed better if the art hadn’t have been changed. So hopefully this is a lesson learned; please do not mess up the artwork for The Last Guardian.
9: Zelda’s Adventure (Philips CD-i)
When you think of a Zelda game what images immediately spring to mind? Swords? Caves? Rolling fields? Strange creatures? Apparently not when it came to this CD-i Zelda game. In some respects it’s amazing that the box art is actually worse than the awful game it’s poorly trying to sell, not that I don’t love a candlelit window as much as the next man.
8: My Ballet Studio (Nintendo Wii)
With great power comes great responsibility, and equally as well with great photo editing software comes the ability to really mess things up. Entering into the time of Photoshop you would expect that management of images and design would improve given the power now possessed by professionals. I haven’t played My Ballet Studio, as great as I am sure it is, but what I do know is that I could not have that creepy person on the right in my house at all. I see that face in my nightmares.
7: Blood Omen- Legacy of Kain (Playstation, PC)
When I think of Vampires a few characteristics begin to emerge in my mind, vampires are frightening and cool with an underlying sexual charge. Those are three attributes that should provoke a deluge of great ideas for videogame box art. With Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain there seems to have been some disconnect from those ideas as what we are left with is a botoxed CGI vampire with what looks like Lego hair delicately placed on its head. Truly the stuff nightmares are made of.
6: Pit Fighter (Mega Drive, Super Nintendo, Game Boy, Master System)
I remember renting Pit Fighter from my local video store as a kid and thankfully I only rented it because if I'd bought it I may have never forgiven myself. This game was a new level of woeful, perhaps I had been spoilt with the likes of Streets of Rage, but my first warning should've been the box. Pit Fighter's box art looks like the worlds campest fight club, a mixture of Rocky Horror and those late night premium rate phone ads. This is a fight you definitely did not want to be in.
5: Strider (Mega Drive)
I loved Strider on the Mega Drive, although I do remember it being particularly difficult. Full of action in an industrial future Earth you took control of special agent Hiryu on an assassination mission which was pure action packed arcade greatness. There was a nice and nimble manga-esque feel about the visuals and the fluid animation matched this look. However the box art of Strider looks more like a terrible rejected idea for a Flash Gordon movie poster. Gone is the sleek character we know and love and what we get instead is someone who would not look out of place in the ring of WWE, right down to the purple lycra and boots.
4: Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior (Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amiga)
Ah controversy! You are never too far from our beloved video games and in the 1980's the cover for Barbarian ignited tabloid outcry for its overt sexualism. This was not helped by the female model Maria Whittaker who was known for her topless Page 3 shoots being scantily clad as well as tv's Gladiator Wolf on show for all the ladies in the house. Its an awful cover designed with controversy in mind which actually did manage to boost the games profile due to the complaints from consumers and religious bodies. The artwork may have achieved its intended purpose but it still remains nothing but trashy.
3: Pac Man (Atari)
Simplicity is sometimes the key to great design, if your game is simple then perhaps illustrate it in a simple way. It seems that this idea was spectacularly lost when this box art for Pac Man was released. We now see Pac Man as a buck toothed teenager being chased by ghosts (with legs) under an azure sky while eating what looks like cookies. I’m not against enhancing artwork but there is a point where visual hyperbole is so far removed from the actual product that it rings out as ridiculous.
2: Mega Man (NES)
I think it’s inherent in us all to at some point in our lives say, “I could do better than that”. Usually it’s watching sport when we can convince ourselves we are fitter than we are or even watching game shows where we like to think the pressure wouldn’t buckle us. Looking at this box art gave me not only the sense that I could do better than this but the confidence to know I couldn’t do any worse.
1: Pro Wrestling (Sega Master System)
Sometimes words can fail, not so much out of not having words to use but more so that the human vocabulary just isn’t sufficient enough to explain certain things. When I see the cover for Sega’s Pro Wrestling my mind goes blank, it truly is a new height in awful design. The Master System’s box art suffered anyway from the black lined grid on a white background but the image here defies human understanding. Many questions arise when looking at this cover and the most pertinent being:
1) Why is the upright body headless?
2) Why is the head being choked bodiless?
3) Why does the upright wrestlers forearm blend into his midriff?
4) Why is there no right sided pectoral muscle?
Released in 1987 you could almost forgive it for being at an early time in the gaming world, but I can’t ever envisage a time or place where we could forgive this monstrosity. If Picasso ever designed video game boxes it may very well look like this.