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8 hated box art cliches

It’s only a matter of time before a major art museum hosts an exhibit for videogame box art. Imagine… Your favorite titles blown up to impossible sizes. Ripped out of context to be ogled and discussed by art critics. People milling about stark white rooms breathing hushed commentary of how they “get it.” Curating such a show would be a nightmare – even with covers stretching into the millions and a history that dates back more than thirty years, moments of visual genius are few and far between.

This article isn’t about those moments. This article is all about the “between” – the endless menagerie of visual crutches used in box art stretching as far as the eye can see. Join us, then, as we take you on a journey through our most hated box art cliches.


1. Don’t look at the camera


Above: Hey, over here!

Gazing off into the distance can evoke all sorts of meanings; deep thought, wistfulness, inability to focus on objects closer than a few feet away. In the realm of gaming, however, it’s a visual crutch that is often used to hint at a mystery far beyond your expectations. Mouths open, mouths closed, there’s always something going on off-camera with these guys.

Is the world ending? Look off to the distance. Enemy troops about to drop in for a late-night ambush? Better make sure you’re looking away. Starring in a game with a convoluted sub-plot that no one will ever really understand? Definitely, definitely don’t make eye contact. As a viewer you start to wonder, is there spinach in my teeth? A booger in my nose? Why won’t you look at me? What’s wrong with me?! Do you not think I’m pretty?! WHY CAN’T YOU LOOK ME IN THE EYE?


2. I got your back


Above: Like chiropractic

It’s tough being ignored. It’s even tougher when you’re being ignored by someone that only exists in a game you’re paying for. Then again, maybe they’re not ignoring you at all - maybe they’re simply leading the way towards a path of visual enlightenment. A land where all characters give you meaningful, deep looks, where subtle hints about the plot are artfully sprinkled through the landscape, where nary a weapon is brandished but implied. Or, this could just be another visual crutch used to promote the idea that the money you’re dropping is going to lead to the best gaming experience ever. His back is turned to you because the breathtaking graphics, artful storytelling and unique and engaging gameplay is just too much to handle facing forward!


3. Here, let me get that for you


Above: Enemies to your left! Enemies to your right! Enemies all around you!

Characters may not want to look at you, but they’ll definitely defend you to the death based off what we see here. Enemies are surrounding you, your ammo’s gone and your health is fading. Behold! The main character of Insert Game Here has arrived to save the day! Weapons cocked and ready! You better be glad you’re not standing three feet to either the right or left of these covers lest you turn out to be the target.

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93 comments

  • guillermomatias - May 20, 2011 7:44 p.m.

    Great article by Lars von Trier. I'd rename first section to "No photos please!" though.
  • gruser01 - April 30, 2011 5:07 p.m.

    I agree, some box art is used alot or over used, but isn't that what draws a person or gamer to that specific game to play it or check it out?
  • tlopezkid - April 30, 2011 7:57 a.m.

    Saw 4 different MGS games on this list...great games make up for over-used box art designs. Also like GoW3 one-eye cover, guess I didn't notice so many games use that style.
  • ThePlatypusMan - April 29, 2011 10:08 p.m.

    The first Spider-Man movie game would fall into the "I Have One Eye and Cannot Blink" category and the Spider-Man 2 movie game would fall into the "I Got Your Back" category.
  • jackthemenace - April 29, 2011 11:45 a.m.

    I was like "Yes, I don't own ANY f these games with terrible box art!". Admittedly, I'd played the good ones like FFXIII, but I don't OWN any of them. I was there all smug, until both MGS4 AND God of War 3 turned up in No. 7. Bugger.
  • CitizenWolfie - April 29, 2011 11:29 a.m.

    Looking at most of these I'm glad they change the box art in Europe. Especially the Final Fantasy ones - I reckon "Giant Logo, white background" beats "main character looking away wistfully." I notice you left out the "Scary Villain looking Scary" category. OR is that because you can't bear to have anything Bioshock in a Hate article? RE: JRPG collection - I saw a poster for Dissida 012 in this month's GamesMaster and it really shows up how generic Square Enix's character design has become - the entire front row have the same faces.
  • FinderKeeper - April 29, 2011 3:38 a.m.

    "3. Here, let me get that for you" "what the F**K stop pointing that F**KING GUN in my direction" "there's a fly buzzing just a few inches from your ear... let me get that for you" "take it easy, Mr. Cheney... it's just a fly... and aren't we supposed to be hunting F**KING DEER?!?!1!!"
  • Imthedoctor - April 29, 2011 3:30 a.m.

    haha, the fantasia game cover is hilarious in relation to it's complaint haha
  • manicania - April 29, 2011 2:04 a.m.

    I think they should do a follow up about "What we'd like to see in box art." Because I don't think its fair to call these box arts out for being cliche without letting us and the dev's know what they want to see.
  • Spybreak8 - April 29, 2011 1:40 a.m.

    This should get expanded to indie titles lol, then you'd see use hot babe on cover to interest gamers in your pos game. ^^ I love the Final Fantasy one, yeah all we really have to do is put the name on the box, done.
  • criticalkate - April 29, 2011 1:36 a.m.

    @BluesyFish: Except that The Orange Box still has a character holding a gun pointing close to towards us.
  • sharker - April 29, 2011 1:34 a.m.

    Is this a joke or something? What else do you want? Pretty much every game I've ever owned has box art that'd be on this list.
  • BluesyFish - April 29, 2011 12:37 a.m.

    I've plugged all of this data into a machine. And the best boxart evar is... The Orange Box? If you say so Cheryll and the Machine
  • yesIusetheM14 - April 28, 2011 11:45 p.m.

    Another great article, GR.
  • egregious - April 28, 2011 10:28 p.m.

    I just want to point out it's funny that the first box art I see is for DQ5 which I just bought at an Amazon Lightning Deal for $20. (It's gone. Sorry!)
  • zigs - April 28, 2011 8:43 p.m.

    Cheryll, that was an awesome article! Really laughed reading this =D Please do the follow up (obviously once Week of Hate is over) with a list of the best, most inspired box art!
  • tehgamer - April 28, 2011 8:13 p.m.

    I feel that this article should include the classic orange/blue contrast cliche, although that afflicts more than just video game box art.
  • macewindex - April 28, 2011 7:53 p.m.

    So... the perfect box cover would be a single, unarmed, at attention lone character who does not look into the 'camera' while simoultaneously not being mysterious or creepy. bo-ring
  • Japanaman - April 28, 2011 6:20 p.m.

    I own so many of those games, it's not funny. I even bought Metroid: Other M an Mario Super Sluggers a few days ago. I'm looking forward to more bad covers, like Silohettes, Motion Blur, Close-Up of a Car, Really Blank Cover, and Painted Covers.
  • BurntToShreds - April 28, 2011 4:20 p.m.

    They don't really bother me that much. Box art is made for the same purpose that movie posters are made: To catch your attention. You can see a lot of the same cliches in movie posters, it's just more noticeable on video game boxes because we see them more often.

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