Being a gamer of the late 80s/early 90s was much different than it is today. We didn't have to wait for the game to update because we hadn't played it in a while, we didn't have to pay to unlock extra levels, instead we...wait for it...actually played the freaking game to unlock everything. We also didn't have hundreds of videogame websites and news outlets telling us how we should feel about a certain game. I've never played a Halo game, but I can tell you exactly what that entire series is about, because I've had the series shoved down my throat for the past decade. I know everything about a game before it even hits store shelves, and that takes away so much wonder and amazement that makes the gaming medium so fantastic. For the most part, the only thing we had to go off of to determine if a game was worth playing was a small blurb in Nintendo Power, or going down to the local rental shop and poring over the wall of box art that stood before us. I have so many memories of just standing in the rental section of our local Marsh Supermarket while my mom went about and got our groceries, carefully grabbing each box, turning it over to see screenshots, and placing it back on the shelf. This was a tough decision, renting a bad game would ruin the entire weekend. I had to choose wisely.
These memories are the reason that I have such a fondness for retro videogame box art. Box art used to be such a huge part of a game's appeal, and let's face it, box art these days usually just consists of 'white guy holding a gun with game title'. It doesn't even matter what kind of game it is. It could be a dating simulator or a puzzle game, and as long as someone from the United States designs the cover art, it's going to have a gun on it somewhere. So I figured this week's top 5 would be my favorite box art from my favorite system, the NES.
Note: I would just like to say this was one of the hardest lists I've ever written. I looked through the box art of every licensed NES game released in North America. When it was all said and done, I had to narrow a list of 50 down to 5. Actually, I narrowed it down to 3, because I already knew what my number 1 and 2 were.
Ninja Gaiden II
Batman: Return of the Joker
Now let's get on to the games that made the cut!
5. Double Dragon II
I'm not sure if the Double Dragon series is supposed to be set in the era that it was released (late 80s), or if it's supposed to take place in the far flung future of 1997-ish. Based on the box art, I'm inclined to believe it's the latter. The world of Double Dragon certainly has a problem with gangs, and this art reminds me of movies of the same era like The Running Man and Escape from New York, a futuristic dystopia ravaged by criminals. Also, it shows that you'll be able to live the ultimate power fantasy of saving a blonde damsel, being chased by a helicopter and wrapping a whip around the neck of a...mohawked...woman? Sure, why not?
4. T & C Surf Design 2: Thrilla's Surfari
Is that gorilla riding a wave of lava? He is, isn't he? That. Is. Awesome! There's also an Elvis impersonator, a cat wearing a tux, a witch doctor burning a woman at the stake, a two-headed rhino-griffin (a grifno? a rhiffin?), and a shored shark that is apparently chasing all of these things, despite not having legs. That shark is showing you that you can live your dreams, even if the world says it's impossible. This art is why my childhood was better than yours, unless we're the same age, in which case, high five! You're rad.
3. Friday the 13th
I only owned a handful of games NES games as a kid, since renting was all the rage and way cheaper, but Friday the 13th was one of the games that stayed perched on my shelf. That right there is proof that this was a completely different time in gaming. My parents had no qualms with their young son playing a game about a violent killer from a slasher film franchise, but I wasn't allowed to watch Beavis and Butt-Head. I was allowed to play Mortal Kombat, but not allowed to watch The Simpsons, which obviously didn't work out the way they had intended. Anyway, when you think of Jason Voorhees, what colors come to mind? Hot pink? Neon green? A literal rainbow? I get that the rainbow was LJNs logo, but it stands out so much when pictured with a psychotic serial murderer from the pits of hell. This is the one entry that makes it on the list for being so bad that it's good.
2. Super Mario Bros. 3
There is no cover art that takes me back to my childhood like Super Mario Bros. 3. It's not outlandish. It's not full of radical 90s neon (see above). It's very simple, almost minimalist, and that's what makes it great. A plain yellow background with our mustachioed, raccoon-ed hero soaring through the air with his huge, vibrant smile. This is the videogame definition of happiness, folks. There it is. I found it. We don't need to look anymore, because I know you were all looking.
This isn't just my favorite NES box art, it's my favorite videogame box art, period. As a kid (and even now), one of my favorite movies was The Monster Squad. I've always had this love of the classic horror movie monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy, etc. So when I saw this art, with the titular castle there on top of the mountain, looking all foreboding and junk, with Dracula's face looking over you, dripping with blood and laughing at you, I knew I had to play it. Then you see him, Simon Belmont, with the legendary Vampire Killer in his hands, and you knew, you just knew, that you were in for the fight of your life. It also helps that the game is one of the best games on the entire console.
Thanks for reading,
All covers courtesy of thecoverproject.net.