Best of the best
We threw a lot of shade around with our Worst Box Art of 2015 lineup, so it's only fair that we give credit where credit's due to the best boxes of last year. Thankfully, narrowing this list down was much easier than the mind-rending onslaught of horrors that is worst box art. It's interesting to compare these two groups and see how many of the worst boxes fail because they overburned their coves with nonsensical imagery, while many of the best boxes smartly place one striking design against a stark backdrop - which is the case with our first entry...
25. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
This cover for Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection elegantly captures the essence of Uncharted. The distressed look of the text, coupled with the map superimposed on Drake's silhouette, invokes the globetrotting spirit that's at the heart of this series. On his person we see Drake's ring, backpack, and gun - which pretty much sums up everything you need to know about gaming's Indiana Jones.
While most boxes in this year's lineup trade in muted elegance, Splatoon isn't afraid to be bright and fun. Neon colors explode across this cover, but there's a method to the madness. Along the ground we see a clear line separating orange and blue, as well as two orange- and blue-haired kids duking it out with squirt guns, which tells you exactly how Splatoon is going to play.
23. Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin
Speaking of "muted elegance," enter Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin, a game whose entire aesthetic can be defined by those two words. It may not by the most eye-catching cover, but the stoic, armored warrior - alone against a foggy backdrop - is the perfect primer for this game's style and tone. The intricate designs set against a decaying suit of armor establish the faded glory that permeates this series.
22. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a mean game, so it's only fitting the cover to this standalone expansion is evocative of a grindhouse movie poster. The monochromatic color scheme sets it apart from other games on the shelf, apropos of Blazkowicz's world being all blood and rage. Unfortunately, its best element - that screaming Nazi - is so far back you can barely discern his terror-stricken expression.
21. Yoshi's Wooly World
Seeing little yarn Yoshi riding little yarn Poochy in Yoshi's Wooly World taps into some deeply rooted cuteness instincts science has yet to fully explain. The feeling is almost primal, like when you see an adorable little kitten and you just want to hold it and squeeze it and gobble you up, yes I will, oh yes I will. Ahem, well, sometimes such ancient impulses are difficult to control.
20. Xenoblade Chronicles X
Xenoblade Chronicles X makes a lot of promises here. An overcast sky fills the frame while naturally drawing the eye towards the intricately designed robot in the center - star of both this box art and (let's be honest) the game itself. The alien landscape suggests an open world adventure with giant robots, while saying nothing of the 30 hours you'll need to spend before suiting up in your first mech.
19. Minecraft Story Mode
Even if you don't give a rat's behind about Minecraft, you can't deny the captivating sense of adventure conveyed in this art. The blend of golds and purples pulls you in, first to the otherworldly creature screeching in the background, then to the motley crew of heroes arrayed along the bottom. Their expressions give you an intuitive impression of what their personalities, save for the pig. Who knows what it's thinking.
18. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.
I'd like to take a moment and applaud the creators of this box art for the copious amounts of steam they were able to work into the Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. cover. It's piping out of the guns, the title - it's everywhere. This entire thing just screams steampunk, right down to the tiny little gears denoting the S.T.E.A.M. acronym.
17. Dying Light
These days, zombies convey all the excitement and freshness of wet cardboard. But Dying Light stands apart with the unique artistry of this particular brain-eater, with the way he bleeds into the frame like a downpour of darkness on a sunny day. The hands reaching up from the depths of the darkened city could be those of hungry undead or desperate survivors reaching out for a savior.
16. Super Mario Maker
How do you convince someone - at a glance - that Super Mario Maker will be fun? This cover answers this question shockingly well. The disembodied hand and grid backdrop suggest this is some sort of workshop, while the oversize Blooper and its pixelated buddies let the viewer know this is going to get silly. But the real stroke of genius is making the lower half a solid color, thereby preventing the viewer from being overwhelmed by visual information.
15. Life is Strange
Your teenage years typically revolve around the self, as you figure out who you are and where you fit in. Life is Strange considers these questions of identity, and its cover puts similar emphasis on the self: the splash of color from the polaroid of the game's lead, Max, and the imagery of a lone figure standing atop the edge of a cliff. This photo is then framed by two contrasting scenes, both thematically appropriate: the tranquility of the lighthouse and forest surrounding Arcadia Bay, and the unpredictable chaos of storms and tornadoes looming on the opposite side.
14. Project CARS
No one would've batted an eye if Project CARS - or any racing game, for that matter - put some glamor shot of a luxury sports car or an action scene of speeding competitors on the cover. But no: Project CARS goes against the grain, eschewing sweet rides entirely for a more abstract, eye-catching composition. The rainbow lines emanating from this shadowy everydriver evoke the same artisty as the unmistakable Every Extend Extra box art. And the dash of deep red and bright orange across the cover somehow conveys a sense of speed through color alone.
13. Resident Evil: Revelations 2
Deep reds and purples give this cover a warm - if not unsettling - aesthetic to the cover of Resident Evil: Revelations 2, with the emerald green eye serving as the proverbial rug that really ties the room together. Danger is felt in the twisted barbed wire snaking along the bottom and rusted prison bars framing the scene. There's a nice bit of ambiguity in whether the eye is looking out from its cell, or in on the viewer.
12. Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster
Here we have a stunning piece of Final Fantasy X artwork, and the designers were wise to let it breathe against an otherwise uncluttered canvas. Swirling blues and dancing pins of light along the periphery harken back to our leading couple's iconic scene together in the Macalania lake. Their placement suggests a deeper connection, while distinguishing them as protagonists of their own games.
11. Rise of the Tomb Raider
This minimalist cover design smartly sets Lara alone against the elements. Stone columns on either side naturally frame the image, subtly reinforcing this is a portal to another Lara Croft adventure. You'll also notice there are no enemies or other humans on the cover of Rise of the Tomb Raider. This heightens the sense of danger while also downplaying the whole manslaughter angle which draws this series such ire.
10. Tearaway Unfolded: Crafted Edition
You guys, the Tearaway logo is itself torn away from the backdrop. And, as if that wasn't enough excitement, the Unfolded subtitle is - wait for it - unfolded like a piece of paper. This may sound sarcastic, but I sincerely appreciate the visual humor in this logo. Of course the adorable paper hero and wonderful background framing her are the real stars here, but I have to give it up for Tearaway Unfolded's logo.
9. Rainbow Six: Siege
A dude exploding through a wall sums up this game to a T. Other boxes wish they could spell out their game with such clarity. Right away, the white and black backdrop on the cover of Rainbow Six: Siege tell you this is going to be some sort of team-based experience, all those guns reveal it's a shooter, and the exploding wall is the promise of wrecking shit up. Add a title, and what more do you need to know?
Here's an interesting inversion of typical box art conventions. Instead of placing the cityscape around our hero, it is placed within, implying the hero is some sort of portal through which we experience a noticeably bleak and hostile world. The fraying around the shoulders and red plumes of smoke appear almost like wings, giving the character an angelic (or demonic) appearance, further heightening the riddle of Bloodborne's setting.
7. Star Wars Battlefront
There's some excellent David and Goliath imagery going on with the Star Wars Battlefront cover. The absences of any logos or text along the top half of the image let you take in the size and grandeur of the AT-AT Walker, itself an iconic vehicle design that just screams Star Wars. At the bottom, our tiny, defiant rebel soldier stands ready with fist clenched and blaster drawn. The ruined Snowspeeder hints at the battle thus far, and the incoming Stormtroopers tells us there's still plenty more to come.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes cover could survive on the strength of its artwork alone, but there are few subtle additions that really set it over the top. First, notice how the colors in the background and logo are kept ever-so-slightly muted so as to make our heroes really pop. Second, the red Link's attire and use of magic sets him apart from the other two Links, setting up that this is going to cooperative adventure with different, distinct play styles.
5. Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition (JP)
Japan has outdone itself again with this stellar piece of Devil May Cry box art, itself a parade of DMC mainstays past and present. The power of symmetry on display here is unmatched, right down to the mirror image of Vergil's sword and the smoke from Trish's gun. An overabundance of logos is the only thing holding this box back from perfection.
4. Batman: Arkham Knight
It's telling that Batman: Arkham Knight lends equal real estate to the Dark Knight and his iron steed. Both are centered up harmoniously with the logo, giving the entire box an aesthetically pleasing sense of verticality. The white light in the center serves a dual purpose by placing emphasis on Batman and symbolizing him as the last ray of hope in this dark night.
3. Until Dawn
What an ingenious way to present a teen slasher. Typically, horror movies - which Until Dawn both mimics and subverts - have posters focusing on a single freaky face or creepy image, leaving little to absorb beyond the initial shock. But Until Dawn's box art draws you in with its skull-emblazoned hourglass, which seems to be made from a mixture of glass and ice. Its dwindling sands evoking the downpour of snow on your remote cabin, the time-rippling consequences of your choices within the game, and the ever-shortening life expectancy of its hapless visitors. And what's that glinting in the skull's eyes? Do you dare look any closer?
2. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D
The blinding, pale white of the moon, coupled with its half grimace, makes this one of the most instantly arresting images on the lineup. Its presence looms as large here as it does in the game. In the foreground we see Link, gripping a mask that'll be key to this adventure, and behind him is the Skull Kid, twisting in the moonlight. Between them we catch a glimpse of the incredible journey that's about the unfold, with a special spot reserved for the oh-so-creepy Happy Mask Salesman. Together, they make a beautiful summation of the series' most melancholy stories.
1. Nobunaga's Ambition: Sphere of Influence
The purpose of box art is to sell the viewer on the game and the prospect of buying it. And even though I know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that I will never, ever take interest in a methodically paced large-scale tactics game set in feudal Japan, the Nobunaga's Ambition cover has my rapt attention whenever I spy it. The lavish gold bordering magnetizes the eyes, pulling you towards the overwhelming imagery at its center.
Everything you could ever want is here: a dashing, determined warlord with immaculate facial hair and a rifle hitched over his ornately armored shoulder. A beautiful woman in eloquent garb with an expression that could convey grace or guile. A hawk flying into a lightning bolt, which in turn is crashing between two battlefields on land and sea. After such a bounty, you can give your eyes a rest with the calm religious figures in the upper right, one of whom looks like a short-haired Jesus. True story: there were multiple occasions in 2015 when I saw this box, excitedly picked it up to look at the back, and came crashing back down to earth when I realized that it plays nothing like this art looks. But with a game, franchise, and genre this niche, the captivating allure of its box's visual splendor is its most powerful asset.