GamesRadar's box art battle

Scientific studies have shown that 82% of all geek arguments derive from pitting two entities against each other in fictional battle.* Xbox vs PlayStation. Mac vs. PC. Mario vs. Sonic. Lara vs. Samus. GamesRadar is no exception as we’ve done battles for both our most hated and loved characters. Nothing fuels us more than arguing amongst ourselves over unanswerable, completely hypothetical situations, so it only makes sense that the next logical step would be to pit some of our favorite box art against each other in a truly geeky fashion. That is, in the design geek fashion.

That’s right, I don’t care about your warm and fuzzy feelings of nostalgia over certain games. I don’t care if a game’s cover betrayed its utter lack of decent gameplay. I don’t even care if your absolutely brilliant game with a mediocre cover didn’t make it onto this list. I played both Mass Effects and loved them immensely but I would never include either of their predictable covers on any best of list.

Fictional battle aside, guidelines were laid to, you know, add structure:

1. Everything is based on the cover alone. Games featured have never been played and, other than a fleeting glance at Wikipedia entries or what has been overheard, nothing is known about them.

2. Entries were compiled from top 5 lists submitted by editors in the US and UK, so you’ll see repeats from our GamesRadar’s favorite box art article.

3. After crying during a particularly brutal critique in design school, full disclosure requires that I state that this article may or may not be a direct response to that horrible, horrible ordeal.

*And by scientific study I mean stuff I keep hearing in the office at least once a week.


Secret of Mana vs Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

If there’s one thing designers love to hate it’s violators. Bubble bursts and blasts screaming “New!” or “Improved!” or the one-two contradictory punch of “New and Improved!” on everything from book covers to laundry detergent are the bane of any designer’s existence. Secret of Mana doesn’t give us just one violator, but a black text box with six of them. Might as well punch me in the face with a Comic Sans exclamation point and then bury me underneath a tombstone made of Styrofoam. Meanwhile, long live the King of Pop and motherfucking rainbows.

Winner: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

Jet Set Willy vs Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within

Dear Jet Set Willy,

Why is there a glow around the foreground character’s coat tail? Why is the title set on one plane of perspective when the wall it’s supposed to be placed on is obviously on another? Why does the illustration look like it’s been regurgitated through a pre-schooler’s remedial art class? Who the hell set type over two of the busiest areas of the illustration? Why does the anatomy of the main character---asl;dkfa;sdlkfjas;dfklj...

Winner: Gabriel Knight: The Beast Within

Red Steel vs Out of this World

Oh, Out of this World, I really want to like you. I want to jump in your sweeping vista of an illustration and raise my arms like Rose on The Titanic with you. But, your typography! Your overly condensed face coupled with cramped letter spacing screams, “I’m tighter than a pair of jeans just out of the dryer during Thanksgiving!”

Winner: Red Steel

Shadow of the Beast vs Left 4 Dead 2

Squint your eyes and look at that Shadow of the Beast cover. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Did you notice that the type for Beast practically disappears? Now, custom type is almost always appreciated (unless it looks like utter shit) and Shadow of the Beast’s appropriately conveys the sort of Death Metal-meets-Labyrinth feeling you would expect from a game with its title. However, setting your type in the same color palette as the majority of your cover means you can’t read the thing unless you’re uncomfortably close. And, really, testing fate by getting too close to the Shadow of the Beast isn’t recommended.

Winner: Left 4 Dead 2

Red Dead Revolver vs Awesome

Lone character staring off into the distance shooting at an unnamed target off-camera while screaming obscenities? Do I have to reference our 8 Most Hated Box Art Clichés or can you all figure this one out yourselves?

Winner: Awesome

EveryExtendExtra vs Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Oblivion? BORING. Next!

Winner: EveryExtendExtra

Ico vs. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Ico. Windmill thing. Couple running. Ico. Windmill thing. Couple running. Wash, rinse, repeat. See what’s happening there? My eyes go from each of those three elements, never stopping to ponder any due to their simple natures and bouncing around the cover like an off-kilter tennis match. Give me a solid focal point, and maybe something to pop that drab color palette, or give me death!

Winner: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Yars’ Revenge vs. SpongeBob’s Truth or Square

I rather like SpongeBob Squarepants. I think he’s funny guy and rather likable sea creature. And, although this collection of covers for his game draws you into to his arguably funny face in several ways, there’s nothing there to keep me interested. Where’s the mystery, SpongeBob? Where’s the intrigue? Kid’s menu at the local diner inspired colors and your gaping maw may imply that there’s fun and excitement to be had within the confines of your case, but to me it just lets out an underwater bubble-bursting yawn.

Winner: Yars’ Revenge


  • Japanaman - May 24, 2011 1:49 a.m.

    If Castlevania II had the Nintendo Power cover, it would have won the Best Box Art ever award. Maybe God of War will get a cover where Kratos holds Medusa's head dripping blood.
  • JayLin22 - May 22, 2011 12:41 p.m.

    Pretty damn awesome article!
  • super0sonic - May 22, 2011 9:45 a.m.

    You know i loled when i read both the most hated and loved character battles. But for some reason this just made me mad. EveryExtendExtra should have won. Every time i see that game at gamestop i almost want to buy it.
  • Gob - May 22, 2011 2:32 a.m.

    Awezome and Ico's covers were fucking epic; it should have come down to them. I hate Vice City's cover. It's cheesy garbage.
  • RedOutlive10 - May 21, 2011 6:11 p.m.

    Funny because the first thing that comes to mind when Oblivion is mentioned is "BORING".
  • cole1114 - May 21, 2011 4:17 a.m.

    Awesome, was frankly awesome. I feel sick after reading that. Ah well, eye of the beholder and all that flop.
  • criticalkate - May 21, 2011 1:32 a.m.

    A few other criticisms now that I have a little more time to type: 1) Rather than randomizing the initial match-ups, I'd have preferred you at least tried to initially pair up covers that fit the same style or category of layout. For example, Secret Of Mana and Out Of This World are both long-shots with the character(s) appearing very small with their backs facing away from us, taking in the vast world around them...who would've won that round? Or Moonwalker and Every Extend Extra sharing similar traits with the colorful and expressionistic art of Bob Peak. At least those would've been interesting "matches" then. 2) On the topic of Bob Peak I still don't understand your hang up with "floating heads." I could maybe understand it if you just haven't been exposed to the people who did it well, and have gotten sick of it based on the third-rate Bob Peak and Drew Struzan wannabes that pervaded the 70s and 80s, and still do to a lesser extent today. But seriously, go through some galleries of Peak and Struzan's work, these people are modern masters, and in particular experts of visual layout and leading your eye around their paintings. To declare all collage or "floating head" paintings just because you've seen a lot of sh*tty examples is just being close-minded to different styles. 3) Likewise, I don't get your hang-up on condensed type. Tall letters usually get across a sense of "larger than life" or "epic," which is why even that excellent Secret Of Mana logo is condensed type. My main issue with Out Of This World isn't that the type is condensed, its that the letters should've been a little less bold, to make it easier to read. 4) Your critiques of the Spongebob cover(s) have me occasionally wondering if you're being serious, or just poking fun at just how snobby or elitist designers can sometimes be (I say as a designer). The job of a videogame cover isn't to appeal to your limited personal taste in aesthetics, it's to get across the tone of the game in an eye-catching manner. A lot of game covers succeed at either being eye-catching, or getting across the tone of the game, but not a lot of them do both. If Spongebob was in a long-shot atmospheric layout, it might look nice and appeal to your sensibilities, but it wouldn't get across the tone of the game. The existing cover's extremely playful, and undeniably eye-catching next to other videogame covers on a shelf. I wouldn't call it the greatest cover ever (I've never been huge into Spongebob, to be honest), but it serves its purpose for a Spongebob game. 5) I also couldn't tell at first if you were joking by praising Rockstar for taking this GTA cover by Brian Wood that was fantastic the first time around, and then uncreatively turning it into a template to copy/paste new art into. They took something that was unique and eye-catching the first time, and ran it into the ground until it became boring and overused. The GTAIV: Complete Edition was like a glass of refreshing water just by breaking from this over-used template.
  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - May 21, 2011 12:31 a.m.

    What the fuck? The Doom cover was in the origanal list of best box covers, but it's not now? I'm sorry, I'm never one to criticize GamesRadar, but this really is a bunch of bullshit. Probaly knew it would win though, and that's why it wasn't on here.
  • GamesRadarCheryll - May 20, 2011 11:56 p.m.

    Thanks for all the thoughtful comments, folks! You guys brought up a lot of good stuff so I'm going to try and address all of them here. Here we go... @Gahmah - Many designers would say that typography is the foundation for design, with readability being one of the elements of typography that designers are constantly experimenting with. With that in mind, having bad typography on a cover automatically puts it at a disadvantage. Thanks for reading! @AleeR - Man, that Ico comparison was tough. For the record, I stuck all the titles in a tournament randomizer I found online which matched them against each other. If Ico had gone up against anything else I'm sure it would have fared much better as I'm a big fan of the cover. Ultimately, though, the lack of a solid hierarchy really got to me, so GTA "won". However, I'm positive we could go back and forth about the positive and negative aspects of either for hours... not that I'm encouraging that! Thanks for the comment! @santaclouse37 - Whew! Remind me to ping you the next time I write a design related article for GR! ;) 1) I purposely used technical terms to come off like a little shit. I'll freely admit that. If you do a search on GR we've done similarly when Stephen Pierce was with us and wrote fashion-commentary on the hookers in GTA or the sexiest game developers. Whereas I dropped technical terms, Stephen named dropped designers. In fact, I tried to channel a little Stephen while writing this, but I don't think I can really hold a candle to it. 2) If I could, I'd totally go back and talk about why things "won" over others, but I was worried about the article getting too dense. Now that I'm aware that there may be people out there willing to read it, though, I'll keep it in mind for next time. (Ha. Next time.) 3) You caught me on the Awesome cover. That was almost a pure case of "Man, the game is just called 'Awesome'... how could it NOT go farther in this battle?!" Also, staring at that cover for as long as I did I STILL have no idea what the game is about and, though I doubt I'll ever play it, I'm convinced it will live up to its name. Awesome (ha ha ha) comment, though, really appreciated it! @CH3BURASHKA - The US Ico cover was a tragedy in print form! @MattOfSteel - We have a lot more fun talking shit here at GR than warm and fuzzy stuff. I mean, we dedicated an entire week to it. Thanks for your input, though! @FireCoroner - Please see my response to santaclouse37 above. I think I may have covered your question in there. @criticalkate - I've maybe seen a portion of one Star Trek movie and am way more familiar with Star Wars, so that's what I was drawing from. When I referenced the Star Wars posters it was towards the general look and feel of the set rather than a direct rip. Many posters in that time period have the same visual language, but after checking out the older Star Trek stuff you and a few other people mentioned I have to agree... MJ definitely wanted to be aboard a starship at some point. Thanks for the comment!
  • Eliath - May 20, 2011 11:15 p.m.

    While I fundamentally agree with your choices I must say that my fanboy rage requires me to tell you that you are wrong and Secret of Mana wins. Thanks.
  • criticalkate - May 20, 2011 10:46 p.m.

    Sorry, I never noticed the similarity between the Moonwalker art and the Star Wars posters, because the similarity isn't there. I believe you've just confused the Star Wars movie posters for the Star Trek movie posters. Take a look at the first handful of Star Trek movie poster, as well as the first Superman movie poster, and you'll see the real inspiration for the Moonwalker art (the artist being emulated by that game cover, btw, is named Bob Peak).
  • FrozenImplosion - May 20, 2011 8:15 p.m.

    I have to disagree with many of the picks, yet still an very interesting article idea.
  • JamesT - May 20, 2011 5:33 p.m.

    I actually think they're yanking our chain with the Ico vs. GTA entry. The description for it is a dead giveaway, describing the Vice City cover to a T and not really applying to the Ico cover. (besides the color pallete comment).
  • 510BrotherPanda - May 20, 2011 5:26 p.m.

    No love for Giorgio de Chirico-style artwork, Cheryll??? Maybe it's just me, but I feel that this article is more about the design aesthetic than the box art itself... ...And probably because I'm not a graphic designer myself, I've never been a fan of the Grand Theft Auto series' covers. All I see is "another bunch of mob/party pictures mushed together into comic book windows". Or the background design of a Windows-type phone. One or the other.
  • FantasticMrStarFox - May 20, 2011 5:13 p.m.

    Call me cynical but I've never really liked the GTA series. Awesome article as always.
  • 93bleach - May 20, 2011 3:53 p.m.

    Actually the michael Jackson cover is almost an exact rip off of the poster for Star Trek: The Search for Spock
  • FlyinMX - May 20, 2011 2:37 p.m.

    Fun fact: Ico's box art is based on the art style of early 1900s artist Giorgio de Chirico. Actually that makes it a tough pill to swallow that it lost, to GTA of all things, and I haven't even played the game!
  • Y2Ken - May 20, 2011 2:35 p.m.

    I wonder how Dave H feels about Secret of Mana getting booted in the first round, seem to remember he's a big fan of it. The game in particular, but I would surmise that he has reasoning why the boxart is amazing. Personally I'd pick Resistance 3.
  • AirickG - May 20, 2011 12:55 p.m.

    On second thought I don't hate this article, just disagree with the outcome
  • HankVenture - May 20, 2011 12:46 p.m.

    @santa.. ok, I forgive you..... this time.....*ground hog stare*

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