This article is just going to be an appreciation of the unique, sometimes odd, sometimes bad box art of the NES. Back in the halcyon days of the NES, box art was of paramount importance. This was going to draw you in at the rental store or make you purchase it sight unseen. With the coverage being relegated to mostly Nintendo Power and the occasional random advertisement in comic books and such, you needed a strong first impression. Today you have professionally done box art that is mostly well done. Sometimes it is minimalist and most of the NES box art is very much non minimalist. I think that's what makes it so great. Heck, I even own a few t-shirts with the box art on them. So what we will do here is a brief run down of the memorable box art of the NES. Some good, some bad.
Might as well just start with this. How bad is this? I mean I know it has been talked about a lot but....good God. It's so awful. Don't worry though, the game has "state of the art, high resolution graphics". I just wonder who OK'ed this. The Japanese cover is much better:
Why they could not have transferred that, I have no idea. I mean back in the 80s, your sole attention grabber was going to be your box art. No internet, very limited magazine coverage when this game came out and you are trying to sell the game and you allow cover art that looks like it was drawn by someone using their teeth. Ah well, it remains a classic to gamers the same way Troll 2 is a classic.
As a huge Universal monsters fan, I love this box art. They cram as much into it as they can which is a typical trope of most things in the 90s era. The game wasn't too bad either but I always thought this box art deserved a mention amongst the better ones of the NES generation. This segues into my next favorite...
So cool in every aspect and is one that could probably work just as effectively on this generations consoles. Heck, it's a better box art than either Lords of Shadow games. I love the way that Dracula is depicted front and center. Obviously Simon is in the foreground but let's be honest, the selling point had to be that you would be hunting Dracula. The one thing I have always applauded the Castlevania series for is making Dracula a monster. Don't make him some misunderstood tortured soul. Make him evil incarnate. That was one of the problems I had with Lords of Shadow 2. Making him the protagonist just doesn't work well for me.
Wizards & Warriors II: Ironsword
Well, it has Fabio on it. I mean nothing screams "Conan-like bad ass" quite like Fabio does. It was hilarious because this game came out in the so called "hey days" of Fabio. It's not like people weren't going to know. In fact, I remember a friend of mine owning this game and I was looking at it, the first thing I remember saying was "Is that Fabio?" The game actually is pretty good. It's my favorite in the Wizards and Warriors series. Or should I say the extremely tough Wizards and Warriors series. The box art would work pretty well if the distracting world famous Italian model on the front didn't take away from everything else.
Vice: Project Doom
Good grief is this bad. First of all the game, is not awful. It's a decent at best game but this box art is laughably bad. First off, both the guy and the girl he is either rescuing or assaulting both look like they are either in a comatose state or they are looking off in the distance at Medusa and she has turned them to stone. Either way, its just all over bad. With box art you have to give the impression of some sort of action or motion, this accomplishes none of that. It literally looks like two people just standing completely still under some sort of electrical problem.
The Legend of Zelda
The classic. This box art works on every single level. It's elegant, it's minimalist, it's just great all over. I could absolutely see this as box art for a game today no question. In fact, this is better than most of the box art in future Zelda games. It really balances that line well of not telling you a lot about the game but also making you curious to see what it's all about. The shiny gold of it also gives you a sense of elegance and the feel that you were going to get your money's worth. If it is indeed dangerous to go alone, I take this.
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
IMO, the best overall game on the NES. This game has it all for me and the box art is so incredibly fantastic. It is the rare game that delivers on the awesomeness the box art portrays. Not only is the actual art very well done, it has a ton of stuff going on it without feeling like it is too crowded or hard to see. And if that didn't do it for you, most of the boxes had a big red dot proclaiming how you could win a trip to Dracula's hometown! I wonder if anyone ever won that and if they did, what that experience was like.
Friday the 13th
OK, this game is horrible. Horrible in every way possible. But it does have a great box art and game over screen:
As a kid I was not allowed to watch the Friday or Nightmare films. All my friends got to, but not me. So being able to play a Friday the 13th game was almost akin to finding the holy grail for my 8 year old self. I'm still a huge Jason fan and even though I could do without the neon puked all over the box, the big guy is front and center and that is good enough for me. In fact this box art is currently the background on my work computer. I wish I loved this game like I love the Nightmare on Elm Street game but I just don't. The game has the rare distinction of being a bad game with really cool box art.
TMNT III: The Manhattan Project
This is my favorite box art of the entire TMNT franchise. The premise of the game is ridiculous, but let's be honest here, we don't play TMNT games for the premise. If the idea of the game was for the turtles to help OJ escape the cops, I would play it and love it. This box art is another example of showing action. Lots of stuff going on without being cluttered. It has some action from the turtles and also an enemy is on the front. I think that's what really seems to be the theme for my preference in NES box art, showing both the antagonist and the protagonist. And that leads to my final selection...
Super Mario Bros
Yet another classic. Fire Mario is front and center, it shows motion, it shows action....it shows Mario committing suicide. He is obviously falling into lava during a Bowser level. What? Why? Mario is supposed to be in control at all times! Maybe flying through the sky with a wing cap or jumping through the air while holding a radish or flying with the raccoon hat...not jumping into a smoldering lava pit. But if you completely change the face of video games and jump start a company like Nintendo, I guess you can get away with some puzzling box art.
Well that's it, just a few selections of some my favorite box art of the NES. I'm sure there are some others that I left out that are good, so if any of you have some favorites let me know!