To follow up my Top Ten Stylish Games article, I decided to court controversy by posting my 10 favorite box covers. This has the advantage in that I don’t need to have liked (or played) the game. When I came to write the post, however, I quickly found I had far far more than ten. Grand Theft Auto, Halo 3, Age of Empires III… all great covers, and none made it onto the end list. Because, yes, as you can imagine, I am letting my nostalgia take over again and I am looking mostly at older titles.
The list also began to modify itself when I investigated the differences between European and American covers. Final Fantasy, for example, has long carried a stark white cover and beautiful logo in Japan and Europe, whilst in America they tend towards a more normal character focused cover. Equally Ico, a game that has a classic cover by anyone’s definition, turned out to have been mutilated for an American audience. On the other hand, the US cover of The Legend of Zelda became a classic, whilst the Japanese cover was rather more ordinary.
The result is that this list is even more arbitrary than the last. If you’ve got a favorite, and it doesn’t appear, let me know about it!
The cover is either incredibly dull, or incredibly brave – depending on your point of view. Since Ico sold next to nothing when it first came out, I’m guessing most impulse buyers, browsing the shelves of their local game store, decided it was dull. A shame, since its one of the few covers that moved completely away from “hard-ass and stylised” to try something a bit more artistic. It’s the starkness that appeals, but perhaps it doesn’t grab the eye of the casual browser fast enough, and is more of a cover that grows on you.
The Legend of Zelda
Prior to The Legend of Zelda, most covers were cartoonish, pixelated or generic. There were some exceptions, but for the most part it often seemed like most cover artists hadn’t even bothered to play the game, let alone put an interesting artistic interpretation on it.
Then came The Legend of Zelda, and the gold and silver minimalism cried out “Buy me! I’m cool, grown up, and different!”.
Unlike Ico, the decision to do something different with the packaging worked. Zelda sold, and the cover became a classic. It was a theme many Zelda games later took up.
The black box, of course, was actually a hole that revealed the inside game. It stood out, and that was what counted.
I can’t make a top ten list without including a Lucas Arts game in it somewhere. It’s not just that they were inspired game makers – but that they borrowed from such diverse influences.
Outlaws, naturally, was a Western. The cover summed up the definitive Western cliche, but the colours, shadows, and slightly twitchy style contributed to make it a parody and a homage, rather than a rip-off.
I’m divided on the title font – it makes it look like a survival horror game, and doesn’t seem to fit with the theme at all. Nonetheless, the game goes on the list.
Final Fantasy Series (FFXII)
In Japan and Europe, the Final Fantasy name sold itself. Covers were white, minimalist, and carried the ornate logo with no background art.
Naturally, they decided to change this for the American audience. Busy covers, smiling characters, and detailed CG art was all the rage. With Final Fantasy XII the logo became the cover. The massive figure, with the subtle color gradients, took central stage. A balance had been found. I have no idea what they went with in America, but in the UK this cover caught my eye instantly.
There’s always been a very Japanese feel to these covers/logos, and FFXII was no exception. There’s a definite samurai edge to it.
Metal Gear Solid
I love the art style for Metal Gear Solid. The colors! The red shadows! The comic book edge!
My brother bought MGS, and I ended up spending most of time staring at the art assets, rather than playing the game. My main issue with the game was the talking. Characters went on and on, and whilst I’m normally a sucker for a story, for some MGS just didn’t cut it for me.
I loved walking around as a box though. I have to say.
Of course, part of the appeal is the chisel-jawed hero and the big-gun. Unlike Ico, MGS stuck with an image that sold, but gave it their own twist.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Another confession. Until I went searching for cover art today, I’d never played, seen or thought about Castlevania. I’ve heard the name, I’ve even seen some fan-art, but for some reason it had slipped below my radar of ‘cool games I should play someday’.
Then I stumbled across a forum, and someone had posted the image you see to the left. What can I say? The art speaks for itself. I still have no idea what this game is about, but after finishing this post I intend to go and find out.
Oblivion is an amazing game. The sheer depth, breadth and time you can spend exploring it makes it legendary. Despite it’s vast complex world, however, it went for a very simple cover.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, I like simple. The peeling paper, the strange rune-like symbol, and the writing around the edge make the game seem mysterious. It also has that odd effect of bringing the feel of the very old into a very modern media (games). Whilst most games emblazon their covers with cutting edge graphics, or futuristic cars and weaponry, Oblivion looks more like an old book. It definitely wouldn’t look out of place on a fantasy lovers bookshelf.
It was pretty, and it worked. Once again, minimalism ftw.
Call of Duty 4
So far we’ve seen manly stylised and minamlist cover art. Now I’m going to point at Call of Duty 4. With most war-game covers, the emphasis is on the machines: the guns, the tanks, the big explosions. Call of Duty 4 focuses on the soldiers. However, that alone wouldn’t be enough to drive into onto the list – what makes this cover interesting is that its the product of a community vote.
The guys behind the game, Infinity Ward, submitted five covers to the Charlie Oscar Delta community, and got them to vote. The final cover is actually a blend of two. If this is the start of a generation of developers getting (and listening to) feedback from gamers I’m all for it.
The restricted palette is definitely something we’re seeing a lot of in game art. It’s a good sign.
Command & Conquer
When I got my first PC, at the somewhat delayed age of 15, the first game I bought for it was Command & Conquer. This wasn’t because I had read great reviews, or desperately wanted a classic RTS. Nope, it was for the cover.
I still think this cover stands out, with the black and white line work, and the colored ‘game reflection’ in the goggles. Luckily for me, judging a game by its cover turned out to be a great idea in this case. It started me on a life-long love affair with C&C, and with RTS in general.
The cover made me impulse buy, and I’m sure it made others. As such, the cover worked very well.
Silent Hill 2
Strangely, SH2 is the only one I haven’t played. None the less, the cover is one of my favorites. I think it’s that minimalism again. This time around, instead of the cover being white (or gold, or cream) it’s black. Despite this, it doesn’t really wear its horror label on its sleeve. The game could be anything – and thus the contents are all the more surprising.
That just about concludes our trawl through the best game cover art. As I mentioned at the start, a list like this simply has to leave off some powerful contenders. Dungeon keeper was rejected, as was World of Warcraft and Max Payne. There are, shockingly, no Mario games on this list. So dig out your old games, and look over the covers. If you find a gem, let me know!