GameSpy ran two features last year that rate the top ten best and worst video game box arts of all time. Well, in their eyes, at least. A lot of what you'd expect to find in such an article is there (The Legend of Zelda is one of the best, while Mega Man is listed as the worst), but I still found both features lacking. Here are a few of my picks for best and worst box art of all time... or, at least, in recent memory of games I've bought over the years. Anyone can point to pictures online and say "That sucks!" but it takes guts to have purchased some of these godawful boxes.
Growing up in the 1980s meant that I was privy to some fun cartoons and, for a while, kids couldn't beat The Disney Afternoon cartoon block for after-school TV-related fun. DuckTales was at the top of the heap, giving Uncle Scrooge the responsibility of raising his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. When Capcom acquired the Disney license a Nintendo Entertainment System title based on the show was released. The game was the typical NES Capcom side-scrolling platformer (meaning it was fun) but the box attracted attention on the store shelf. Kids of the day knew Uncle Scrooge and now, in this "state-of-the-art high resolution game pak", kids could take his adventures home. And who doesn't love saving up to $10 on other Capcom products? Face it, this box was a kid magnet.
This box meant one thing back in 1988: Mario was back and looking more like a real person than ever. While "Mario Madness" wouldn't reach its peak until 1990-91, this was the game that wrote a thousand reservation slips. We didn't know it was a revamped version of Doki Doki Panic back then, and to be honest we didn't care. This was Mario! And he was holding a vegetable! Among the clouds! A friendly face, a new adventure, and bright colors: what a way to sell a game.
The early Mega Man box arts were some of the worst examples of gaming-related art known to mankind, but by the time Mega Man X came around Capcom had hired actual artists. Although he's not as prominent these days, Mega Man used to sell stacks and stacks of game paks. Mega Man X, the first spin-off from the original series, hit stores in 1993. I didn't have enough pocket cash to buy the game at the time, but I had enough to rent it from Blockbuster Video and pestered the staff over and over again with "Hi, do you have Mega Man X for the Super NES for rent yet?" While at the video store with my father one afternoon I saw the box on the shelf and, moving at what felt faster than light, I snaked my arm out and snagged the rental box in a fraction of a second. "Wow, you must really want that one!" Dad exclaimed. Damn right.
For some reason Sunsoft decided to develop a video game based on the original The Addams Family television show. The game focused on the exploits of Uncle Fester Addams, and all things being equal the game wasn't really all that bad. I had rented it a few times from the local Movie Gallery, a video store that did not put the original game boxes on the shelf. Instead games were in plain black cases. One day my mother was headed to the mall, so I gave her my saved allowance money and asked her to pick up Fester's Quest if she saw it. When she returned home she handed me this box. Judging a game purely on its box art is a petty thing to do, but... well, just look at this thing. Fester's Quest was never quite the same.
During my elementary school years I had a friend who enjoyed sports video games. I was an action/platformer fan, so between the two of us we had access to a decent library of games. After playing long rounds of Fighting Golf at his house, I put the game on my own wish list. I eventually did get the game, but it never occurred to me how unexciting this box art actually was until sometime later. How did SNK expect this to sell? "Mom, Mom, I want the game starring Lee Trevino that's endorsed by the U.S. National Video Game Team!" I hope that SNK's target audience was adults here, because if not then they have only themselves to blame.
Castlevania box arts of the early 1990s all pretty much looked the same: evil Dracula in the background, heroic Belmont in the front, and a large whip stands between them. The issue I have with this artwork - and believe me, there were some debates about this on the playground back in the day - is that it doesn't clearly state the name of the game. Is it Castlevania: The Adventure or The Castlevania Adventure? Some people still don't know for sure.