Before the widespread use of the internet as a place to review, preview, and hype new videogames, and back when the best print media was Nintendo Power and that was, ah, short-sighted, getting word out about your new game was an uphill slope. All too often, a catchy game box and its cover design could be the ultimate factor that really brought in sales.
In the days of big cardboard boxes holding two floppy disks, that box was the primary bait to get kids to take your game off the shelf and give it a whirl. Unfortunately, not everyone computer game company’s art department seemed to receive that memo. Here’s 10 old DOS games that really needed to hire an art director who wasn’t “my nephew, who’s like the best artist in his junior high” or, more simply, “terrible.”
10) Dark Castle
“Can you survive…” Really, the question is, “How long can you survive before that elf starts making you offers to do some wrestling photography in his basement.” There’s so much to love about this, from the tumor on the elf’s chest to the old man in a robe who proves without a doubt that this artist has no idea how cloaks work. Kinda sits on your head, but drapes over your shoulder, but it also kind of wraps around your chest, and there’s another part for your other shoulder…I’d also like to point out that the ellipses on the scroll continue past the fold in the scroll, meaning that within those folds are probably another four periods. “Can you survive……..”
9) Galdregons Domain
This is what DeviantArt would have been full of had it been around when the first Conan movie came out. It’s really bad layout, with the interesting thing (sexy woman on a divan being threatened by the Shroud of Turin) pushed to the back while extra chromosome barbarian looks confused and not eager to help. Crystal goblet and candle on flower petals must be super important too, although I would never buy this game and find out. Artists, here’s a fun game — find the light source!
8) The Magic Candle
Combines the thrill of questing with the thrill of walking around an art gallery. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and say that the candle is probably magic, and not just really big, but the composition is just flaccid. All I get from this is that a clubfoot fetus thing is the doorkeeper to a land where perspective is lost. And people show up to see a candle. I would also like to point out that this game spawned TWO sequels, both of them with significantly better cover design.
7) Top Shots: Bad Cat
I can’t look at the cat’s dead eyes without giggling like the Riddler masturbating. Ideally, your box art should be inviting to the consumer, which means put your best foot forward. This does not do that. This is a cat who may be extremely high/drunk who has gotten a hold of a lighter, but is just flipping it with nothing to light. He sure is a bad cat. ‘Nam left us with a lot of bad cats on our nation’s streets.
Lavender font immediately removes any machismo this game was trying to convey. Granted, it’s called “Airball” which isn’t very descriptive or even that interesting. Quake was a neat title, a word you don’t hear often but it’s always in a badass context. Airball is typically associated with basketball players failing a shot. From a viewer perspective, this game is about as exciting as trying to fall asleep when you’ve had just a little too much caffeine. Because if this is a shot of gameplay? Fuck that noise, I’m just buying a whiffleball set.
5) Geheimprojekt DMSO
If there was a contest for the least engaging videogame box cover, not only would this game win, but the designers would be shot to prevent this from happening again. That bomber jacket may say, “I’m trouble!” but the daft expression and the ho-hum chemistry problems on the blackboard say, “This is going to end up, unused, in a German school’s computer lab.” “Geheimprojekt” translates as “secret project” in English, but no project is that secret if it’s that well lit. I imagine this as a stuffy chemistry tutorial with problems like, “Our hero’s in trouble! He’s strapped to a bomb! Correctly fill in the answers to these 20 problems about covalent bonds to free our hero!”
4) Alien Incident
“Boss, I came up with a killer computer image of a creepy house getting zapped by aliens. We’ve got our box cover!”
“I dunno. Will people get that it’s about aliens?”
“The title is Alien Incident. So they’ll probably put two and two together.”
“Do we have ghosts in the game?”
“No… we… wait, ghosts? This is an alien game. Why would you need ghosts?”
“I’m gonna add some ghosts.”
3) Street Sports: Soccer
Feet are hard to draw. Ask Rob Liefeld. Getting the right angles is super hard, and the foot on the right with the sweat pants is just wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I don’t know why the guy’s shoe says “KKK” on it, or why the goalie’s shirt is tucked in and his face is sliding off his head. And I don’t care. Remarkably enough, the other games in this series didn’t use illustrations done by a kindergarten art teacher’s student teacher, but used some okay photography instead.
I said “okay,” not “good.”
2) Moses: Old Testament Adventure #1
“And lo, Moses performed many miracles that day. He received the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai, and they continued to stretch and skew in different proportions, they not being of a consistent size. And Moses dislocated his arm to hold them. The Children of Israel couldn’t see it well, but it looked like his arm was jutting from his hip. And behold! The mountain background with… snow on it… in the desert… became awash in indistinct blues and oranges! And the Lord saw that Moses’s hands were tiny, and said it was good.”