Ever wondered how the homo sapien neanderthalensis determined which video games to buy? Back in the Middle Pleistocene era, there was no Internet, so gamers couldn’t read each other’s reviews without traveling for days to find a decent cave painting, at which point you might as well just go to the store and try your luck. As such, people relied solely on box art, picking up the titles with the prettiest packaging and leaving behind those with pictures like below. Here are the five worst examples of video game box art I have ever encountered.
5. Phalanx (1992)
For those of you wondering, a phalanx is a military formation akin to the one used in Zack Snyder’s 300 (2006). How that relates to a space shooter or an old guy holding a banjo is anyone’s guess. In fairness, the tiny ship in the back does hint at the actual product, but, honestly, where are your eyes drawn when you look at this image? I put Phalanx at number five because the randomness of the art was intentional, as the marketers wanted something original to attract new players. I admit it’s quite memorable, but I still dismissed the game for fear banjo playing would be involved.
4. The Legend of Zelda (1986)
Back in the eighties, Nintendo packaged most of its cartridges in black cardboard boxes, making this golden packaging stick out like a sore thumb. After drawing your attention with a plain background, the designers reveal their centerpiece: a silver shield with a key, a heart, and a lion engraved. There is no lion in the game by the way. The forth quadrant consists of a hole that allows you to confirm that the box indeed holds a cartridge and that the latter is also painted gold. Even as a child, I couldn’t help but think Nintendo was trying too hard. Luckily, my friends informed me that The legend of Zelda was, in fact, a great game, and I am forever grateful.
3. Mega Man (1987)
In this one, we have a poorly drawn middle-aged man holding a pistol in front of some sort of castle or pyramid and a bunch of palm trees. His legs, by the way, seem to be bent in an extremely uncomfortable position. More to the point, who could have guessed from this perspective-challenged picture that Mega Man is an action-packed platformer starring a robot kid with a plasma canon for his left arm? This terrible image is often held responsible for the title’s poor commercial reception here in North America. Indeed, the sequel, aptly called Mega Man 2, showed a marked improvement in both its box art and its sales, though the cover still shows Mega Man carrying a gun for whatever reason.
2. Anticipation (1988)
What could possibly appeal more to children than the image of a bunch of adults having fun? Everything. One glance at this picture, and you know the only kid in town to own a cartridge of Anticipation has got a generous but misguided aunt who should’ve just stuck to knitted Christmas sweaters two sizes too small. Even worse, the tagline, “Nintendo’s first video board game”, will bring up memories of all of those family evenings you wasted at the kitchen table while your baby sister accused everyone of cheating. One final gripe: why are all the letters in the alphabet printed just below the title? I’d check the back of the box to find out, but that would waste precious seconds of my life.
1. Neverwinter Nights (2002)
Unlike the previous entries on this list, Neverwinter Nights came out during the Age of Enlightenment, by which I mean after the Internet became a widespread tool for information. I’d been looking forward to this game for some time, as it was developed by the makers of Baldur’s Gate and incorporated the mechanics of the Dungeons & Dragons rule set. On the day of release, I made my way to the nearest store, tracked the right shelf, and picked up the game only to have the box art stare back at me. Despite all the research I’d done, all the information I’d committed to memory, and all the anticipation I’d built in my gamer’s heart, this weird crying eye still made me reconsider whether to purchase the title. This just goes to show that it’s in human nature to judge a book by its awful, crudely drawn cover.