10. The Orange Box (PC/360/PS3, released Oct. 10)
This one's a special travesty, because The Orange Box is arguably the single best videogame product released this year - but publisher EA decided to shovel it into a box that's impossible for anyone but a dyed-in-the-wool Half-Life fan to get excited about. The weird, action-free compromise between minimalist design and chunks of character art comes off looking like nothing so much as a piece of productivity software, designed to catch the eye of balding men in ties and shirtsleeves at an office-supply store. To illustrate what we mean, here's what The Orange Box looks like through the eyes of someone who doesn't follow the game industry and glances at it on a shelf:
Software guru/Norton Utilities spokesmodel Peter Norton (with a beard)
Product logo, or possibly an indicator that AOL Instant Messenger is included
"Regular guy" with knowing grin who uses this product to facilitate his small-business operations
A bunch of boring words in a decidedly non-awesome font
Or, to put a finer point on it:
9. Carnival Games (Wii, released Aug. 28)
You know how, when you die, your friends and family appear and coax you toward a bright light? Yeah, this giant-clawed carnie and his leering gallery of awful are the last thing you'll see after you've reached it. This is what we call "bait and switch."
8. Mercury Meltdown Revolution (Wii, released Oct. 5)
We know the kids love to play with mercury, but putting a pear-shaped blob on the cover of your game alongside nothing else probably isn't the best way to get people to fork over their cash. On the other hand, it's still a better idea than trying to use designer Archer Maclean's name to sell the thing.
7. Billy the Wizard: Rocket Broomstick Racing (Wii, released Sept. 28)
"Oh, jolly good! I do believe I see Harry Potter down there! Quickly, wand - Accio coattails!"
6. John Deere Harvest in the Heartland (DS, released Nov. 20)
The direction here seems to have been, "make it look like Harvest Moon, only boring, hideous, Fisher Price-y and more reflective of cornfed Middle American values. Oh, but keep the big eyes. The kids like big eyes, right?"
UPDATE: Publisher Destineer has dropped us a line to let us know that the above image is not, in fact, the final box art for Harvest in the Heartland, and has asked us to please hate the following box instead:
We applaud them for being good sports, but come on - that box is nowhere near as horrible. Although we do wonder what happened to the farmer's wife. And also what's in that suspiciously heavy hay bale...
Holy crap, we're buying this right now.