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A Qucik Analysis of NES Cover Art Through September 1987
A Qucik Analysis of NES Cover Art Through September 1987
Chris Osborne
Published by theichibun
A Qucik Analysis of NES Cover Art Through September 1987

One of the things that I'm really starting to appreciate about the NES is how the publishers had a pretty consistent box style for their games. I'm sure this will change since I'm only up to September of 1987, but it is a pretty neat phenomenon.

Nintendo has the black box with stylized game simulated art and puts the name under that. The series icon lets you know exactly what type of game you'll be playing. There's no mystery about what the game is or what it will look like.

So far there have been 3 deviations from this formula though. Kid Icarus and Metroid have a silver box instead of black along with a stripe across the upper left corner letting you know that you'll be able to use a password to continue your game. And The Legend of Zelda has a gold background with a shield that in no way could ever look like that in the game.

Tecmo games also feature a black background, or rather a black fading to gray at the bottom background. But instead of stylized game footage these games instead feature art inspired by the game. Where Nintendo has pixelated art on the cover, Tecmo has the type of art that Nintendo put in the instruction manuals.

Konami games roughly follow the template set up by Nintendo's Black Box model. There's a gray frame with artwork that extends out into the frame. One thing that I really like though is that instead of the frame just ending right where the game image begins there's a small space where the frame is placed over the game image so it's almost like looking at it through a chain link fence.

SNK games also feature a gray frame. The difference here is that the covers are almost giving us a glance at what the covers will look like in the future. The game image is placed entirely in the frame, and the only overlap at all is the SNK logo and Nintendo Seal of Quality covering part of both the game image and gray frame.

Capcom games games feature some game inspired art placed over two off center grids that appear to be floating in empty space. The only other key element is the game title above the game art, done in a font that matches up with the game.

Bandai is an interesting publisher to look at. Two of their games feature basically the same style as the covers of Tecmo games; black background which fades to gray on the bottom. These games however have actual game screen shots on the cover with a stylized game sprite on top of that game image.

Athletic World however has an entirely different cover structure. Almost pink top, blue and white stripped rectangle turned at an angle, game footage image, they're all there. The most interesting aspect is the pair of stylized characters on the box. It's not really the fact that there's two people there, it's that the art style are totally different. Judging by the quality of Bandai games I'd guess that they either couldn't decide which to use or promised two different people they'd be able to make the cover of a game.

Taito games feature some game art that escapes it's little box, much like Konami games. The biggest difference here is the background. Much like Tecmo and Bandai it's based on the idea of having a gradient. But while the other two went grayscale for the background, Taito went from Red at the top through orange to yellow in the middle and on to green at the bottom of the box. The title of each game used a font that matched up with the game, much like Capcom. Unlike Capcom however, the text was always white with a back outline.

Data East, despite the quality of the actual games, might have had the best concept when it came to box art. Their games consistently featured game art in the middle of the cover and a title that matched the game which extended up into the frame. On all but one game the Nintendo Logo and the fact that this was for the NES was at the top of the box with the Data East logo and Nintendo Seal of Quality on the bottom. Side Pocket placed all of these at the top of the box and pushed the game art down.

If those were the only differences then Data East wouldn't be so special. But they weren't.

Data East boxes have a frame around the game art. But in this case, the frame is a different color for every game. Actual colors too, not black switching to gray like Nintendo tried to do.

It's interesting how the different publishers all decided to stay pretty consistent with their cover styles. I'm also a fan of the fact that each style is so distinct that even a very basic description would let someone know which publisher you're talking about. The only problems would be between SNK and Konami (where there's still that window blinds effect distinguishing them), and Bandai and Tecmo (where Tecmo basically ripped off the cover structure by using essentially the same background style).

Things will change in the "future." But for now, let's be happy that things are so consistent.
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By Megas75 on 03-05-2011, 12:42 AM
I always thought the NES had some of the best boxart, hell even the original Megaman boxart, as hideous as it was, was pretty cool for its time
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By Aether_Fenris on 03-05-2011, 10:32 PM
you should add a picture example of each. Makes good filler and keeps ADD people like me reading. haha.
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By Mario on 03-10-2011, 09:35 AM
Yes need some boxart to compliment your article.
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By theichibun on 03-10-2011, 11:06 AM
Updated. I really wish I could get the text to wrap around the image, but I guess I'll have to live with it like this.
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By Azure Dragonius on 03-10-2011, 11:25 AM
Great article, I really liked reading it and seeing all the different NES boxarts. There's one thing you messed up on, though, if I could throw it in here for you. "The ony problems would be between SNK and Konami"
Just a little typo, nothing huge.
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By theichibun on 03-10-2011, 01:16 PM
Ha, thanks. That's what happens when I put stuff out there without having my editor look at it first.
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By Misdirection on 06-17-2013, 10:34 PM
Really interesting read. Back in them days it truly was each company doing their own thing. Now, it's one console, one template design. I always appreciate it when designers make their work immediately stand out, so this really grabbed my attention. I never knew that the gray box art meant it was a password game.
I agree with the above, it might be nice to add samples of the designs you are talking about. Nice article, though. i enjoyed it.
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art, box, cover, nes, nintendo

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