We discuss box art a lot at GamesRadar. From our yearly worst box art feature, to our most hated clichés, to misleading covers it tends to come off like all we do is talk about what we dislike. And, while it’s generally more entertaining to bitch and moan about things, you know what’s better? Unadulterated, warm and fuzzy, completely nonsensical love. Here we’ve compiled GamesRadar’s most loved box art chosen for reasons as deep as childhood nostalgia to as shallow as “Cows!”
Admission: I have never played Kingdom Hearts. I own the game, but I’ve never even popped the disc into my PS2. Why? Because I’m afraid. Scared that the actual experience of Kingdom Hearts will never live up to the wild expectations I’ve built in my head, expectations based on this box art and the feelings of wonder and nostalgia it stirs within my geeky soul.
Square. Disney. Square. Disney. No companies other than Nintendo and maybe Sierra (obligatory Gabriel Knight reference!) had a greater impact on me as a child… and here they are together in a single image. Not fan art, but an official product that sold well enough to earn a sequel. I don’t even have a clear idea what Donald and Goofy do in Kingdom Hearts, but seeing them portrayed as heroic Final Fantasy-esque characters instead of goofy theme park mascots makes me indescribably happy every time I look at my still shrink-wrapped copy of the game. Like a wrapped Christmas gift, this box art ignites my imagination – opening it would only ruin the magic.
While it wasn't quite as good as FFIV or Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana's cool combat system and colorful sprites still made it one of the SNES's true classics. As is often the case with JRPGs, Secret of Mana’s story revolved around the well-worn idea of the chosen heroes uniting against an evil force trying to exploit nature. The box art depicts the Hero, the Girl and the Sprite child standing before the Mana Tree, the source of the world’s life energy. The massive scale of the tree vs. the tiny heroes and the beautiful detail of the tree and the flora do a great job of communicating the game’s core without using a single world: Nature’s vast power and beauty may be much greater than you, but you’re the only ones who can save it. Incontrovertible proof that most 90s Japanese game devs were hippies.
I had a whole argument ready about this box art and its place in history. How box art in the 2600 age invariably looked like a Norman Rockwell sketch, a coloring book picture, or just an experiment in repainted toys gone wrong, and this blew them all away. But I don’t need any of that.
Look at this box art. Just look at it. It’s a fly. But not just any fly. A space fly, made of pure metal and with red, glowing-ish eyes. It’s clearly bigger than the already awesome drill missile/rocket in the foreground. And it’s rapid-fire vomiting something that looks like either Nerf balls or very small stars – which actually totally rocks either way. Yars’ gameplay has faded over the years, but this box art is still pure magic. I’d buy this game today if I saw this balls-out, sci-fi nerdgasmic heavy metal image on the case – and if you wouldn’t, I don’t care to know you.
Why’s this the best? One word: simplicity. Sure it could have been a detailed, fancy action piece showing off lovely art of all the new enemies and power-ups (and in fact the Japanese box art did), but in America they cut straight to what was essential. The message was, “Mario can fucking fly now,” and the world was ready to listen. That one fact immediately changed everything you thought a Mario game could be.
Using bright, basic yellow for the background and blue for the title made it stand out all the more. The cartoony art of Mario is timeless and the look on his face conveys the excitement that’s waiting inside that box if only your parents would buy it for you. Its only shortcoming is the brief description in the bottom right about it being the most exciting Mario ever. The box art already conveyed that in an instant.
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