Remember how, back in the day, cover art didn't look anything like the game at all? Remember how the picture on the cover of the box (hell, remember when video games came in boxes?) would be all cool, with muscled-out dudes doing battle with aliens, or dragons, or something like that? And then you'd pop in the cartridge (remember cartridges? S--t I'm old) and you'd be presented with a Dadaist array of squares and rectangles in primary colours that resembled a cartoon version of what you saw on the cover?
It's not that it was ever a let-down. I mean, we all knew that it wasn't going to look like the box art, yeah? And often times the game, in its 8- or 16-bit glory, looked better than the weirdness on the cover - to wit, Mega Man 2's famously ugly box art, and Mega Man 2's great in-game art direction.
True, cover art is with us still. The thing is, it's beginning to look more and more like the game inside - or, rather, the games behind the cover art are beginning to look like the cover art. It is sometimes beautiful, sometimes kick-ass, and sometimes gives you a taste of what it the game has in store for you. It seems, though, that more recently the box art is meant to quite literally show you what the game looks like - a little too literally perhaps - whereas in the days of unsophisticated graphics, artists were free to run with their imaginations a little bit more.
That thought struck me while I was perusing a nice little retrospective about Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell, a team of artists who created some truly iconic fantasy imagery through the years - a canon which has been copied (usually poorly) for decades, and is now beginning to get more and more recognition. Bell and Vallejo are responsible for a great many classic video game box covers, and their outrageous imaginations (to wit: bikini-clad warrior wielding flaming sword and riding a pegacorn whilst battling a dragon in space) are truly admirable.
I'm sure much of this is my selective memory, the past getting better as I get older. But there really has been some great, imaginative box art over the years. Pictures that would stand out on their own, without the game's name splashed all over the image.
Do you have any favourites? Please do sound off in the comments section below.