For its thirty year life, the video game industry has gone through innumerable changes. Changes that I’ll be listing over the coming years as I try to remember the ‘good old days’ as my senility rapidly sets in.
It’s surprising that more isn’t made of the changes that box art has gone through over the life of the industry. You’re always told not to judge a book by its cover, and the same should be said of any video game. But today it’s what I’ll do! For much of the 8bit era, Sega, kept to a very rigid box art formula.
For whatever reason Sega elected to use a very austere grid background for much of their catalogue. It certainly is a product of its time, when the grids were the way to say ‘hey, electronics!’. Sadly, except for a select few covers, the grid background has aged poorly and makes Master System games look like anything but a collector’s item. This game was Rambo in the US, but Sega forgot to buy the rights in Europe and Australia. Terrible stuff.
The clear winner of the 8bit era, Nintendo had very different ideas when it came to Box Art.
Nintendo and their ‘Entertainment System’ catalogue show a far less restricted choice of styles in their box art. While many of the early releases (for the US market at least) have the diagonal writing and real graphics theme, there really isn’t much of a set style once most of the later third-party releases come out.
The eventual difference between early and later NES are quite remarkable. It seems Nintendo did not enforce much in the way of box art guidelines to Konami here. Some of the later Master System releases moved away from the simple cartoon images for some of the third-party releases for their console. But still, with the grid lines behind the picture. It isn’t a good look. It’s a CATastrophe!
A smaller player during this time is the game publisher and developer Epyx. Well known for their Impossible Mission and Pit Stop series, Epyx also created some of the more memorable box art of the era. With a highly distinctive wire frame neon style, their game boxes stand out even today.
Great colours and very distinctive covers. You still have my heart Epyx.
On the left we have Impossible Mission. I know I’d be staying forever with a fantastic cover like that. Every version of that game used this cover-art. Except one. Yes, Mr. Sega Master System on the right, instead of missiles and explosions and a cool neon effect you choose a gay gymnast jumping a broken fire hydrant.
It’s completely unfair of me since this is from about fifteen years later, but I’ll throw in one of my all time favourites. Circle of the Moon Japanese person version.
So what’s the verdict on a good 80’s ish cover? It doesn’t matter if your cover art lies about what the game looks like, but it should be something fairly simple and not too mired in the contemporary. Avoid the semi realistic cartoon style, unless you’re making a He-Man game.
Also don’t make a He-Man Game.