As I've said before, making great video game box art is an art. Just like making a movie poster, taking things like composition, readability, and visual excitement can make for a cover that no one can forget. It becomes iconic, like the Star Wars: A New Hope poster, or Jurassic Park. You can readily identify it, and essentially just fall in love with it.
Unfortunately, in the early days of video games, and even now, creating a great cover seems like it was never a top priority. Thankfully, for those games that have been victims to the ravages of crunch time, and developers who couldn't be bothered to care, even though that's going to be the first thing a person sees on store shelves, have a savior: the Internet.
Not only are these games given new life through the swaths of fan art created to celebrate it, but there's a website out there that specializes in specifically redeeming those video games that have box arts more akin to a raging dumpster fire than actual art. It's called VGBoxArt.com, and it's a collection of tens of thousands of different artist's works.
There are so many amazing box arts on here, you guys. This website, and their many incredibly-talented artists, have redeemed pretty much every single bad video game cover I've ever covered here on TheGamer and then some. So today, I've found you twenty of the best ones VGBA and other places around the Internet had to offer. I'm sure you'll be blown away, because I sure as heck was.
20 Just Tone It Down (GoldenEye)
Now, of course, this is an iconic gam; it was the most popular FPS ever on the N64 and one of the greatest games of the 90s. But can we all just sit here for a minute, come together as gamers and say one thing?
The cover art is kind of a mess, you guys.
There's an explosion he's running from, some planes and a satellite dish, this chick is giving us some massive side-eye, and to top it all off, James Bond has a massive face. If you hadn't seen the movie, would you know what any of this means?
This classic cover on the right captures some of the spirit of the game's multiplayer appeal, without being a clutter mess that looks like a small-child's photoshop effort.
19 Minimalist Dance (Final Fantasy VIII)
For one of my favorite Final Fantasy games, FFVIII doesn't really have that great of a cover. It does suggest the triangle of sorts between Squall, Rinoa, and Seifer, but honestly, that's a tiny part of the story as Seifer fades more and more into obscurity. Then we've got the ominous shadow of Edea/Ultimecia in the background, and that's about it. A resounding "meh."
Needless to say, this classic cover featuring Yoshitake Amano's artwork is a big improvement over the generic official cover art. Not only does this alternate artwork capture your imagination, but it highlights one of the most important scenes in the classic game.
18 An ACTUAL Representation (Donkey Kong)
Just to look at it, can you imagine what the people who were making the cover art for Intellivision were told before starting this?
“Alright, this is an epic clash between man and a crazed, bloodthirsty giant gorilla. And if you can make the guy look like Burt Reynolds, we’ll pay you an extra 10%.”
There is nothing here that actually resembles the game. However, tleeart over at VGBA gave us a great take on the classic look that we find from old NES games. We see Mario, Pauline, and Kong all in a great, slightly in-game, slightly 2.5D representation. If only we had the technology back then to make them this good now.
Sheez, imagine what things would look like now.
17 Much More... Understated (Resident Evil)
Just take in the original here for a second. It legit looks like Chris Redfield (if that's who that's supposed to be) needs to go to the bathroom (and he might not make it in time). And then there's a bunch of weird scary faces on the walls and... spiders? For some reason? Also, is he holding a shotgun or a jackhammer? I guess we'll never know.
However, the piece on the right looks almost optimistic compared to the original. Jill Valentine in an incredibly heroic pose, birds flitting past the charred remnants of Raccoon City... what's not to like?
16 More Than Just A Big, Spooky Castle (Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night)
Man, the US release of one of the greatest games of all time has absolutely terrible box art. Instead of, you know, a castle, we've got this House-of-Usher-looking distinguished Tudor mansion. And of course, that would have been perfect if Count Dracula was a prissy British noble, but he's Count friggin' Dracula.
The new version we see on the right from Ervo at VGBA evokes the Japanese box art much more effectively, while also bringing color and the beautiful artwork the game had to offer in perfect relief. It's an excellent job that captures the Gothic beauty and the darkness that the Castlevania series is known for, and makes it feel like a piece of art well worth the magnitude of the game it's representing.
15 A Snake Like The Rest Of Them (Metal Gear)
In the vein of "box art directly ripped from video games," I give you exhibit (approximately) 4.5 million. Aside from the obnoxious blue and yellow coloration on the logo, it's an alright cover. It just has nothing to do with the art style that Hideo Kojima and friends adopted after the Metal Gear Solid games started happening.
Side note: Is... is that a toaster on "Snake's" belt?
This cover by MattStar gives us a look in line with the later games while also just being pretty great in the first place. The light, almost watercolor-y cover contrasts deeply with the gritty subject matter. It feels right at home with the art that we've seen from the MGS series to date. Well done!
14 REAL LIFE BOMBS (Bomberman Act: Zero)
The gritty reboot no one asked for, now in video game form. How can we actually make the most adorable video game character appeal to a new audience? Make him a cyborg trying to break out of some kind of stupid prison. Needless to say, the game failed horribly and everyone tries not to talk about it.
This alternate art, however, would've worked even better in the stupid reboot. At least here, DeviantArt user RedShardCaster embraces the silliness of the gritty reboot, sticking a dude in a ridiculous outfit while a bomb goes off behind a wall, obliterating one of his prison mates. They had been partners, once. The very bomb job that put them behind bars in the first place, come to think of it. They had each other's backs. But now, it's bomb or be bombed.
13 Less Bomberman, More Art Deco (BioShock 2)
The cover for BioShock 2 would have no problems if Bomberman didn't already exist. The foil between the Big Daddies, gigantic bio-engineered behemoths and Little Sisters, those creepy little ADAM farms, should be enough to convey the ominous and threatening tone of the game. However, since the biggest intimidation factor looks like a kid's game mascot, we kinda can't help but laugh.
However, DeviantArt user edwardjmoran has given us the same thing, but in a way that keeps it ominous and foreboding. The dark shadow of the Big Daddy encompasses the negative space left by the Little Sister. It's a beautiful metaphor executed with simplicity and excellence.
12 Less MacGyver, Plz (Strider)
Strider is one of the more successful 2D side scrollers of the 90s for SNES and Sega Genesis to date. However, being released in the 90s, means that the American release was stricken with the terrible curse of the hyper-realistic fantasy art, turning the masked, brown-haired, katana-wielding Strider Hiryu into some Richard-Dean-Anderson-looking mook in a wrestling outfit. Now don't get me wrong here, I'm sure this art has a place. But it's not found in misrepresenting the art of another game.
This version by SpankThru brings a look that, well, looks like Strider when you play it. He looks like he does when you play him in Marvel vs. Capcom. Not only that, but we see a concrete villain, looming above Strider. It's awesome. You know what isn't? Three throwaway goons in the bottom right corner.
11 Everything Is Better With Lasers (Portal 2)
So, compared to the original Portal, Portal 2's game cover left something to be desired. The original was a perfect display of minimalism and humor, mimicking the subtle humor and premise of the game it was. Here we have a little bit too much going on, even though P-Body jumping from one portal to another looks cool. But honestly, after doing one thing so right the first time around, you kinda can't blame the art team for trying something different.
If they did want to go all out, why not do something like VGBA user Artist did? Chell in the middle of all of that chaos, P-Body and Atlas at her sides, GLaDOS in the background, ominous and foreboding. And a color scheme that perfectly clashes with the orange of Chell's outfit.
10 Is... Is it Better? (Streets Of Rage)
Okay, so remember when I talked about the odd North American video game curse of the 90s? Here's another example. Streets of Rage —the game that is definitely not Final Fight— had two games under its belt with silly art work, and then they just went all out with the final installment. It's all there, folks - Jackie-Chan-Fu-Manchu type with an electric robot hand and sparky foot, guy with arms bigger than his head casually Shroyuken-ing, and the pièce de résistance, the boxing kangaroo.
VGBA gives us this piece encapsulating them all from user Joeseye, which takes a decidedly less intense approach. However, it's still pretty clear what's going to happen: fights. In the street, perhaps. However, the original is so over the top in its badness that it's great as is.
9 A Lot Less Like Commando (Contra)
So barring the rampant ripoffs of popular 80s action movies, the overly-gray background of the original Contra box never really did it for me. I mean, it is pretty shameless in its ripoffs, with Lance and Bill looking exactly like (and taking poses from) Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, all topped off with the Alien head in the background.
However, this box brought to us by ButcherDeliz seems to incorporate all of that in a more visually appealing form. The blue and red stand out against the overly gray background, while the appropriated positions make them look like they're standing back to back, a classically cool move that suggests brotherhood and attitude. Even the Alien heads look cooler. What's not to like?
8 Hard-Boiled Plumbers (Super Mario Brothers)
So once again, here's Mario, crashing into a friggin' wall. It's a classic cover to be sure, but you just can't get past its obvious problems. And props to keeping that original line up we see from early Nintendo stuff. That "Action Series" was responsible for most of my childhood. But there's just so much more that can be done here.
Like this transformation into a pulp detective novel! Never mind the fact Mario looks like Norm McDonald for whatever reason. We can get past that. He's gotta have a look so he can infiltrate the "fortress" to save that doll of a princess.
...If she wants to be rescued.
7 A Mega Man Cover... That Looks Like Mega Man?! (Mega Man 2)
It seems that the North American Art Virus ended up having some pretty stiff competition when it came to the European Art Virus. Mega Man 2 is one of the best games you can play on an NES emulator with a rewind button, but I'll tell you here, if I had seen this cover without knowing anything about Mega Man when I first saw it, I wouldn't know what the hell to expect. I probably would've been disappointed when I saw that my character wasn't in all silver and had a giant Q-tip as his main weapon.
This box art from Ervo, though, does absolutely everything right. It tells you right off the bat "Hey, here's some more Mega Man, buddy. You have fun with that." And you damn sure will.
6 WHY DID HE HAVE LEGS IN THE FIRST PLACE? (Pac-Man)
I'll never get why game companies used to apologize for their substandard graphics by upscaling the game cover art. It's like "yeah, sure you're just controlling a blinking yellow circle, being chased by four different-colored blobs that are supposed to be ghosts." So why are we even trying to bring this explanation some kind of credence instead of just doing what VGBA user StephenCho: make a cover showing us a canon representation Pac-Man.
Not only are all the characters drawn infinitely better, but at least Pac-Man doesn't have buck teeth and total inability to not eat giant Orange Spree candies. Also, who said he was running in a giant friggin' castle? So many questions with this.
5 Less Of A Horror Show (Star Fox)
I mean, alright. I get it. He's a fox, and he cruises the stars. But I mean, did they really have to make him look like an animatronic Chuck E. Cheese fever nightmare? We don't need to see his cybernetic amputated legs, or that belt that looks like a codpiece. Yeah, it's a heroic pose, but you know what else is? This version that captures the original aesthetic without making it look like he's inanimate. It keeps the animatronic look but focuses directly on the faces of Fox and his buddies. It's like Hogan's Heroes, but from Chuck E. Cheese. And that's something I personally could get behind. Can you imagine these guys taking on the dudes from Five Nights at Freddy's? Pretty much a dream come true.
4 How Lazy Is This?! (Castlevania: Dawn Of Sorrow)
How dare they! Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow was DS the follow-up to GBA smash hit Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, essentially the closest version out of all of the portable Castlevania iterations that landed the closest to Symphony of the Night. Dawn was just as good as the original. But what the heck did they do to the "greatest hits" version? Just put a copy of the game box? Geez. I've got this great piece here by VGBA's Staceass, and I can't compliment it nearly as much as I wanted to because I spent all my time crapping on the original cover!
What a damn travesty. The beautiful, broken statue motif is a great look and the gnarled wings provide the right amount of darkness against the background. It's a perfect match to the game's aesthetic.
3 Well, At Least He's Holding Something... (Ico)
Listen, guys. If you want your game to be taken seriously, you cannot, I repeat, can NOT, have a child with a horned helmet on the front cover. Unless those horns are attached to some burly Viking dude, you're not going to get anywhere. Nevermind the windmill and ghost girl face in the background. Also, what the heck is with Ico's right hand? Did they draw the stick too short?
Anyway, we take a look at this alternate cover, and it feels a lot more to scale with the game itself. Two figures explosing a foggy unknown passage. It matches the sprawling, charming, and odd world of Ico perfectly.
2 Befitting Of The Game's Beauty (Okami)
If you can get past the IGN logo in the corner, the cover for the astoundingly-beautiful Okami is, well... alright. It's got Amaterasu front and center, against a decidedly monochrome background. But if anyone's ever played the game, you know that couldn't be further from the truth. The game is alive and vibrant, with your dark brush strokes really the only darkness to be found.
That's why this version by alldreamsfalldown is so good. It feels like a period piece. It's awash in color, saturated and insanely beautiful. Honestly, I could just look at it for hours. It may or may not be my computer wallpaper right now. Or my phone's.
1 A Terrible Wrong, Righted (Mega Man)
I fell in love with VGBA from the moment I laid eyes on it, but when I found this, my heart grew three sizes. If you don't hate the North American cover for the first Mega Man, then you're the worst. Nothing about it makes sense.
But this piece by darkwickus is a simple way to show just what they needed to do in the first place. It's got a classic composition, features all the key players, and then builds a perfect cover out of it. They even incorporate the purple background found on all Capcom games around that time. It's so simple, and so perfect.
That was all the original artists had to do.
Just keep it simple.
But they COULDN'T DO IT RARAAAAGAGAGAGAGHHHHH--
*Editor's Note: We haven't heard from Rick for months now. He was last seen rampaging through TheGamer's offices, ranting about game developers with a mouth that would make a sailor blush. This article is published in his memory.