I told myself when I first started research for this list that I would only include one game from the 2600, as pointing out misleading or overly-dramatic covers for this old system is a bit of a cheap shot, considering that no in-game graphics could possibly hope to match an illustrated cover. Often, you'll find epic drawings of spaceships and dragons on a cover, only to find they've been reduced to mediocre triangles and "fhwqwgads" within the game. Still, there have been plenty of covers for the 2600 that have managed to not only embellish upon the game, but take extra creative liberties to attach a little something extra, as is the case with this game.
3-D Tic-Tac-Toe is pretty much self explanatory. As evidenced by the cover there are four series of grids in which the player faces off against a computer to line up 4 of a kind, making use of any and all cardinal and diagonal setups along an X, Y, or Z axis presented by the layered grids. It's actually not a bad game at all, and is probably one of the more logic-oriented games in the 2600 library. The premise is simple, but more challenging to fulfill than one would expect, and the computer AI behaves well (although it can take some time to think up some of it's moves).
The trouble is, those grids are all there are. Turn the game on, and you'll see a blue screen, with some white lines for the grids. If you were hoping for a game set in space with pretty stars in the background, you won't find that game here. Furthermore, nowhere in the game will you find that boy, puppy and robot on the sides of the grid. They were simply thrown in there because the box art needed to be more enticing. To be fair, if there was only a grid with X's and O's on it, I doubt too many purchases would've ensued.
Now for a more modern example. Often, we find that covers can be changed by localization teams from their judgement of what is more appropriate for their region. In the case of the US, more often than not we'll find that means covers grounded more in reality, with a more mature aesthetic, and the cover of Settlers 7 typifies this perfectly.
Settlers 7, like the rest of the Settlers series, is a real time strategy and city-building video game developed by Blue Byte Software. Within the game, the player balances out the development of their kingdom by utilizing the three "paths" of Military, Science, and Trade, which focus on expansion by force, research, and economics, respectively. Judging by the US cover pictured, you can tell what path publisher Ubisoft wanted to bring to the forefront to grab our attention. While it's true that only half the cover is at war (shouldn't it only be a third anyway?), the man pictured in the forefront of the left half certainly looks angry enough to start a fight at any second.
Another thing you certainly can't tell from this cover, but was made quite obvious by the other cover variants, is that the game is in fact quite cartoony, with rounded character designs, simple facial features, and vibrant landscapes abound. Picture a mideval Bob the Builder, and you wouldn't be too far off. Those that may have pictured embarking on a grand-scale Lord of the Rings-esque quest when seeing the cover may have been sorely disappointed; hopefully not for long as the gameplay within is well conceived enough on it's own merits.
Perhaps a bigger victim of localization occurred in 2008, when the scrolling shooter The Monkey King: The Legend Begins was brought over to the US from Japan. As in The Settlers 7 above, the cover was likely replaced to attract a more mature audience, with a more realistic take on the game's setting, however in doing so the cover became completely devoid of anything really resembling the game at all. All we get is some guy on a cliff, overlooking a mystical landscape. There's not one action present to help us determine what will happen when the game loads up, and once it does, the differences on all counts between the cover and game become shockingly obvious.
Instead of the tall tribal fellow pictured, the player takes controlled of either Wukung Chen or Mei Mei; two pint-sized human-monkey hybrid children, who fly left to right on clouds right out of Dragonball. While nothing terribly outstanding in the realm of scrolling shooters, the game did implement a novel concept of tilt-controlled accelleration using the wiimote that could change the scroll speed, which was neat. The anime-styled scenes in between levels were also very well drawn, and were present on the Japanese Cover; it's just a shame that they chose to ignore their inclusion on the box for the NA release.
Celebrity star power is another marketing tool at the disposal of the videogames industry to help sell their products. Sure, these days you have the regular endorsements, film licenses, and occasional voiceovers, but every so often there's a little something extra thrown in, as evidenced by this game.
In case you were wondering, yes, that is Fabio Lorenzo, the self proclaimed "best actor slash model, and not the other way around," featured shirtless on the cover. Fabio generously graces us with his presence as he portrays the protagonist Kuros, complete with flowing hair, bulging muscles, and sword gleaming against the heavens...truly a master of his craft.
Anyway, guess who's totally not in the game? As soon as you get to the startup screen, you'll see that same sword held up high, but this time, held by a clunky guy in a suit of red armor. What happened to Fabio!? Sadly, that suit of armor will carry you all the way through the game, without a single appearance from everyone's favorite actor slash model, which while the game is still a very entertaining challenge, it just doesn't feel as it should. Granted, flowing hair with 8-bit technology has always been tricky, and I'm sure it's difficult to recapture the subtle nuances of Fabio's performance justly, but why scrap the whole character in favor of another?
"Truthiness," to borrow a term from Stephen Colbert, can also be a solid way to go when designing a cover. In several cases, we can see where the game's contents can in fact be found on the cover, however they have been disguised in a way that can resemble another product entirely. The effects of this simple shift in perspective can be devastating, and no game has perfected it quite like Arkanoid: Doh it again
Arkanoid, for those unfamiliar with the series, is a game where you pilot a spaceship to face off against a giant head. This is what the cover of this SNES sequel to the series would imply, and omitting certain other truths about the gameplay, this is just what you do. Within the game, you take control of the the intergalactic vessel "Vaus" and go level to level, eventually coming across (among other bosses) DOH, who resembles one of the Moai figureheads found on Easter Island. There still is a deception here, and it's one that will become painfully obvious once the game starts up. If you can't figure it out right away by looking at the cover, let me ask you this: which side of the spaceship in the foreground would you label as the front?
If you answered anything along the lines of "The side opposite those thrusters," like any normal spaceship would suggest, you're 90 degrees off. The front is actually that long flat side facing that colored grid to the left of the head. And just what's with those colored grids anyway? Well, in case you haven't put 2+2 together yet, Arkanoid is a Breakout clone; one of those games where you operate a paddle (your ship) side to side to bounce a ball into blocks to make them disappear. It's one of the best versions of the game in existence, with good powerups, bosses every so often, and a very memorable musical cue that starts out each level. Still, it's not exactly the gaming experience one might initially jump to when looking at the cover. It's a very clever deception though, as once you see the game, you'll start to notice just how much was really translated onto the cover, while still being able to appear as something else.
Taking a few cues from virtually all the examples above, Mobile Light Force 2 is perhaps the videogame embodiment of "And now for something completely different." Looking at the cover one might assume a variety of genres to expect. Seeing three Charlie's Angels knockoffs running through the streets guns a-blazin' may be suitable for a first or third person shooter, or perhaps an action platformer like Contra. But if there was anyone who took one look at the cover and said "vertically scrolling shooter" at first blush, they deserve a medal.
Truth be told, Mobile Light Force 2 is the US localization of Shikigami no Shiro, the first installment of the Castle Shikigami series in Japan, where instead of ships, human characters fly (not run!) through the air blasting enemies and dodging bullet patterns from all sides. The game has some frenetic action and some really stellar effects, however (and here's the kicker), absolutely none of it has to do with the cover. Those three women aren't even in the game! The six characters found inside are all held over from the original game, and are all anime-styled.
The only connection the three women have to the franchise, is that they also appeared on the cover of the original Mobile Light Force (the US localization of the similarly styled Gunbird)...where they again had nothing to do with the game...in fact it's the same exact image. Nice.
#4: Bomberman (TG16)
Up until this point, the games on this list have had the benefit of fairly quiet releases. Sure, several belong to a series of games, and a few have achieved moderate success, however they have never fully had the benefit of an already knowledgeable audience base. In an industry where branding continuity is becoming increasingly important, it should be known that many of the characters we know and love today have also received their own twists and turns along their road to fame, making their misrepresented box covers even more confusing when they appear.
Take this version of Bomberman, for example, for the TurboGrafx-16. With the exception of Bomberman: Act Zero, Bomberman has always more or less had the same character design in game since his inception. Most every gamer is familiar with the colored series of orbs that come together in a very cartoony way to create Bomberman and his gang, to which he's become one of the most recognizable characters in the industry. But that's certainly not what we get here.
For some reason, realistic-looking people were put into the orb suits to battle it out. Sure, they are in fact relaying what is going on in the game, but why put human faces to something that once the game is turned on will return to it's cartoony roots? White Bomberman isn't even on the cover, even though he is once again the main protagonist; instead we have red and blue (and to be honest, I'm not sure if blue can throw very well based on his stance).
Now, it's true that the cover of the NES version of Bomberman also had a misleading cover (he appears as a robot with an arm-cannon), however that was still a foundational period for the franchise. This game came out in 1990 during the 16-bit era; they should've known better. Fortunately, the series covers for the TG-16 returned to it's cartoon style upon the release of Bomberman '93.
#3: Pac-Man (A800)
Pac-Man is one of the foundational characters of the videogames industry, and is one that is recognized the world over; rightly so, as he's also one of the easiest characters to re-create: make a circle, cut out a pie slice, and you're done! Sure you might be inclined to add some eyes, or stick on some arms and legs as has been done in other Pac-games, but I can't recall ever wondering what pac-man would look like with a torso and a gym outfit.
Perhaps this cover was simply different for the sake of being different. As ports of Pac-Man were coming to every system imaginable in the early-mid '80s, the cover may have acted as a means of separating from the pack. Being for the A800, Atari may even have wanted to offer a more enticing version than their 2600 counterpart by portraying a Pac-Man experience unlike no other.
In any case, this buck-toothed, big-headed yellow guy in gym shorts and tennis sneakers is not the Pac-Man we know and love, and thankfully isn't the one we get inside. Once the game gets going, gone are the orange wafers suspended in mid-air, gone are the medieval castle walls, and gone is that lanky body that looks as though it just came off the basketball court; replaced with the same old Pac-Man gameplay that everyone has come to respect.
#2: Mega Man (NES)
Now for the one that I assume more than a few people were expecting: the original North American cover for Mega Man, a cover that continues to live on in infamy for it's several poor choices in design. The cover continues to show up on many "worst box art" lists around the internet, and always seems to be brought up in any discussion of box art, positive and negative. So how exactly did this cover come to be?
As many will already know, Mega Man was released in Japan as Rockman, where the cover was designed by Keiji Inafune; the same person who designed each of the characters in the game, as well as the many games after it. He did not,however, take charge of the North American box art, and boy does it show. Frankly, I just think it's a testament to how well the gameplay in Mega Man was received and it's amazing that the franchise was able to flourish the way it did, as this box art certainly wasn't doing the game any favors.
There are several things one should point out to the uninitiated when coming into contact with this game. Mega Man is in actuality a teenager, not a 45 year old man. He's the Blue Bomber, which shouldn't translate to blue and yellow. Dr. Wily operates out of a skull base, not the multi-tiered bizarro complex in the background. Perhaps my favorite, is that Mega-Man has an arm cannon, and does not utilize a small pistol as his main source of weaponry.
Even so, I am actually a fan of the cover. Say what you will about the artists' interpretation of the game's contents, or the questionable use of perspective in the background, but I think the cover does have a certain campy appeal; one not lost to the series as evidenced by the made up covers to Mega Man 9 and 10. It's also become clear that Capcom doesn't want to let this one go either, as they recently announced that "Bad Box Art Mega Man", a version of the individual pictured on the cover, will be a playable in the upcoming Mega Man Universe. Fight on, Bad Box Art Mega Man. Fight on for everlasting peace!
So with Mega Man, a cover made famous for its inaccuracies and misconceptions, now out of the way and taking the number two spot, you may be wondering just what could possibly top it.
--For dramatic effect, I suggest you scroll down slowly to take this one in--
Donkey Kong. You've heard of it. The game that introduced the word to DK and Mario, redefined genre guidelines for the videogame industry, and rose Nintendo out of its trading card past into a full fledged electronics powerhouse. Chances are, even if you've never played the game for yourself, you'll have seen enough to know what to expect if you do.
I don't think anyone could possibly confuse the game with something this epic.
To give a brief bit of background for how this amazing box art came to be, I should first note that the legal history of Donkey Kong is vast, with many twists and turns as the game made it's way around the world. Nintendo held exclusive rights to arcade cabinets, but when it came to home entertainment, rights to reproduce the game were sold in two ways; Atari received the rights to reproduce the game on computer systems, while Coleco received the rights to reproduce the game for cartridge-based game consoles. This led to Coleco developers porting the game to all available consoles at the time, from the 2600, to the Intellivision, eventually to their own Colecovision (which in a questionable move at best, was their best port of the game, to which a few companies cried sabotage). While Coleco acted as the brand name and publisher in the US, their parent company CBS, by way of their own brand CBS Electronics, acted as the distributer for Coleco's products in Europe, to which their own team in Holland designed their own region-specific cover.
That's right; Europe. For once it wasn't North America that created the misleading cover!
Rest assured, that the description on the box "Based on the real arcade game" is accurate. While the spritework doesn't match up 100%, and only two of the four arcade levels are present in the Intellivision version, this is still the same dodge the barrels, save the princess gameplay that Donkey Kong is known for. The depiction on the cover is not found inside, but oh, I wish it were!
In what I could only describe as "If MC Escher and Salvadore Dali went into construction," the first level takes on a very surreal quality, as the setting and characters of the game take a turn for the over-dramatic. Pauline looks battered and desperate, as Donkey Kong turns vicious, with sharp fangs and glowing red eyes. Even more out there is that the cover gives us the toughest, manliest, most testosterone-feuled version of Mario in existence, complete with a muscly forearm, no hat (Nintendo originally gave Mario a hat to skirt around the difficulty of drawing hair), a flashy '80s mullet, and what appears to be the hammer of Thor!
What I think is most interesting of all, is that the artist must have known that the character was named Mario, as evidenced by the "M's" on the character's sleeve. When Donkey Kong first came out, the character was simply referred to as "Jumpman" only later to be recognized as Mario once the character began to achieve success. When this version of the game was released by CBS in 1983, the character had already received his name (his first game as Mario was Donkey Kong Jr. in 1982), and had already established his cartoonish style from the arcade cabinets of both games. With cartoonish branding across the board for the other regional releases, the game's name branding lifted directly from the cabinet, and enough knowledge of the franchise to know of the amendment to the character's name, the move to a different art style for the EU boxart just seems all the more confusing. The fact that Mario as a character went on to become more recognizable around the world than Mickey Mouse doesn't help either.
Still, it's hard to stay mad at the cover. It may not be accurate, but I'd be a liar if I said it doesn't make me want to play Donkey Kong every time I look at it.
Many of these false impressions from the front cover can often be corrected simply by turning the box over. Usually on the back cover, you'll find a description of the game, coupled with a few in-game screenshots, which should give you a more accurate idea of what to expect. Still, the question remains of how far the buyer is willing to go to learn about the game, especially if they are not buying the game for themselves. For many buyers, the box art is the first interaction they may have with the game, which makes its design a very important part of the retail process. All parties need to keep in mind that misleading covers are out there, and that their outcomes can differ greatly between initial product success, and continued franchise support from a fanbase.
Thanks for reading!
List by BlueGunstarHero (02/17/2011)
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