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Before the HD-era, box art served as both an introduction and an expansion to a game's world. Like a great movie poster or album cover, great box art has the power to encapsulate and influence your views of the product it's promoting.
Despite Nintendo trying their best to suffocate Super Nintendo covers with all sorts of ugly logos and formatting standards, some gems were still made. Along with 25 of the very best, I will show you 25 of the very worst.
Continue forth for some amazing (and some amazingly bad) SNES box art.
Before we jump headfirst into these two lists, I need to establish some rules.
As we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Super Nintendo's U.S. release, I won't be covering European or Japanese covers. This pains me to no extent, since some of the most memorable, detailed covers came from these regions. Just compare Final Fantasy's U.S. cover to it's original Japanese cover:
It's also important to note that this list contains only original SNES art. Great covers like those of Flashback and Doom were eliminated due to being recreations of previous releases on other platforms.
This best of list is based purely on aesthetics -- nostalgia doesn't factor in, or at least I try to keep mine at bay as best as I could. I looked over the 750+ U.S. SNES carts and these are the best of the best. These are the game covers I want to have posters of that both my current self and my 10-year-old self can agree on being great.
Without further ado...here's the top 25 best SNES box covers:
The creepy, yet somehow still cute, cover of this overlooked Euro-platformer paints a memorable image of its world, despite not correlating to the one within the cart. Also, clay figures are neat.
24) Final Fight
As homoerotic as it is awesome. Man, that Freddy Mercury 'stache is incredulous!
23) Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts
I love how this cover reverses the nature of Arthur and the ghouls. Here, Arthur looks like a total badass and the ghouls look all sorts of goofy. Especially those hunchback zombie-trolls in the background. Poor guys.
22) Liberty or Death
Makes me proud to be an American AND a strategy gamer. However, I prefer the Japanese version if only because it's awesome to see the Japanese text juxtaposed with the image.
Call it goofy and misleading, but Phalanx set itself apart with its unconventional box cover. I've had many conversations where people have asked, "What's that shooter with the guy holding the banjo on the cover?"
20) Contra III: The Alien Wars
This looks less like a cover and more like awesome fan art. I love how various levels, enemies and bosses from the game are all worked into an excellently drawn picture.
19) Super Mario World
Mario covers always retain a charming simplicity, but the addition of Yoshi sets this one over-the-top. I love how his eyes always seem to be saying, "You know you want to hit this!" and "Dude, I'm so wasted!" at the same time.
Although Lagoon's haunting soundtrack had something to do with it, it's really the box cover that caused the game to give me nightmares as a kid.
17) The Legend of the Mystical Ninja
In an effort to separate itself from the series' intrinsic Japanese qualities, Konami created this bizarre cover that is fascinating. It's neither Western nor Eastern -- it's just bizarre and oddly charming. Don't you want to reach out and pinch Goemon's munchkin cheeks?
16) Fatal Fury
I love the covers of Street Fighter II and World Heroes 2, but you can't beat Fatal Fury. It doesn't make me want to dragon punch an opponent in the face, but it's elegant approach to displaying dudes ready to fight is appreciated.
15) The Simpsons: Bart's Nightmare
Pyramid-head Maggie, gorilla Homer and butterfly Marge. These are dreams, not nightmares.
14) Soul Blazer
While Enix had some fantastic anime box art in the East -- as was common for 16-bit RPGs -- they created some wonderfully imaginative painted vistas for their Western counterparts. Expect to see more of Enix below.
13) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Conceptually, this cover is about as dull as it gets. It's basically a logo. Yet the color scheme and detailed shield lend the cover a majesty that hints at the adventure within.
12) Gradius III
There are some epic shmup covers in the SNES catalog, but you can't beat escaping from the clutches of a giant space salamander. The color palette that draws your eyes downward and the shading on the ship are what sets this one apart, though.
11) Dino City
After viewing this cover, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
10) Dungeon Master
The perspective and lighting on this cover creates such a dynamic, surreal image. It feels alive in a way few SNES covers do -- as a result, it's pretty terrifying.
There are lots of covers like this one, but the shading and use of space gives Ninjawarriors an intangible quality of superiority. It also helps that the character design is excellent in this great beat 'em up.
8) Wizardry V: Heart of the Maelstrom
The original Wizardy V cover, for computers, is a bit of an eyesore, so it's refreshing that Capcom went with such a restrained, simple logo for its SNES port. The use of red, for the dragon's mouth and eyes, along with the spiral design just draw your eyes to the middle. If I was the type of guy that got tattoos of dragons on my body, this would be a serious contender.
7) Lord of Darkness
Koei has a history of making unbelievably detailed paintings for its SNES strategy titles, but this late addition in the Nobunaga's Ambition series is by far my favorite.
6) College Slam
What could have been a hilariously bad cover was made into a horrifying, memorable one due to attention to detail. I'd love to play a basketball game where the balls are self-aware and have teeth. You could unlock abilities to possess the ball to eat off a player's arm. It'd be like Mortal Kombat meets NBA Jam.
5) Chrono Trigger
This marks one of the rare times in Square's history where the U.S. cover far surpasses its Japanese one.
4) The 7th Saga
Here comes the Enix love fest. Believe it or not, I don't even like these next three games.
3) Brain Lord
The most epic, evil floating castle ever. EVER!!!
2) Paladin's Quest
This cover is so damn good that I repeatedly put the game into my SNES as a kid, fully aware that it's a crap RPG that I wouldn't play more than 30 minutes. Looking at this makes me want to re-spark the cycle.
1) Secret of Mana
Before games focused on achievements, explosions and gore, Squaresoft spoiled SNES-owning, RPG fans with some of the best games in the genre. Secret of Mana is, without a doubt, one of them.
In recent years, RPG covers have reduced themselves to the same ugly trend of home video box covers: close-ups of characters crowding every possible space of the box. In contrast, Secret of Mana displays a serene backdrop where the characters are shown in miniature. The use of scale, along with color, is mesmerizing and quickly reminds me of what I love about the game: it's world.
Before consoles became able to process three-dimensional worlds, developers had to establish the atmosphere and setting of a game with every tool at their disposal. Every time I look at this cover, I am quickly reminded of the world's brightly rendered forests, quirky woodland creatures and the mystical Mana Tree displayed on the cover.
It's a cover that fills you with a sense of wonder and inspires your own imagination to fill in the blanks of the characters and their world that the 16-bit SNES couldn't do for you.
Now, for your amusement: here are the 25 worst SNES covers I came across while researching the above list. Some will dumbfound you, some will make you nauseous, and some may even give you an unexpected erection.
Same rules of the above list apply here.
Here are the top 25 worst SNES box covers:
25) Mecarobot Golf
Solution: Replace him with a robot. A robot that is very serious about golf and destroying humanity.
24) Brawl Brothers
"Oh yeah, simultaneous two player action!"
23) WCW Super Brawl Wrestling
"Hey, man. Don't make fun of my brother. He's special, alright! Now, go sniff his finger. It will make him happy."
22) X-Kaliber 2097
Wouldn't that make the game "X X-Kaliber 2097"? I'm so confused! "Morph-shredding moves in cutting edge grooves!" -- OH GAWD, I'M EVEN MORE CONFUSED NOW!
21) Mountain Bike Rally
I keep reading it as "excrement."
Darn you, you mean time-warping witch! Don't warp Pac-Man while he's at his local 7-Eleven's glory hole!
19) Super Caesars Palace
"Haha ... errr, okay. Can I leave your basement now? This photoshoot is over, right? I mean, this wasn't what you said in the classified ad. You didn't mention anything about a basement in your mom's house or the Vaseline or ... what are you doing with that shovel? Wait! Ahhhhh ... "
18) Time Trax
Laser pens were pretty cool in the '90s. They still are pretty cool. It takes a real sleazy-looking Val Kilmer stand-in to make them lame.
17) Barbie Super Model
In the very least, cover up the white border. I mean, c'mon! THIS IS BASIC!
16) Packy & Marlon
I only talk diabetes with the cool kids at recess. Sorry.
15) The Lawnmower Man
Who said you couldn't have not-fantastically-creepy CGI faces in the '90s?
14) Tuff E Nuff
"Hi, I'd like to pre-order a copy of Hey Punk! Are You Tuff E Nuff? Master the Moves to Master Me!"
"I don't understand the words you just said. Are you coming onto me or something?"
13) Tecmo Secret of the Stars
Tecmo presents Tecmo, which, by the way, is part of the Tecmo RPG series. It stars these fugly brats.
12) Captain Novolin
Despite their disgruntled faces, donuts are your friend. Eat lots of them.
11) Fun 'n Games
But, HEY!, you can't say it doesn't have style ... and games and paint and music. What the hell is this?!?
10) Wolfenstein 3-D
Nazi-killer by day, glam rock superstar by night.
9) Dino Dini's Soccer
This is why you don't let the acid freak with Photoshop design your box art.
8) Michael Jordan Chaos in the Windy City
It puts Shaq Fu to shame.
7) Putty Squad
Even for mid-'90s CGI, this is off-the-wall amounts of awkward. Is that a cat surfing up a castle on an American flag? Just what in the hell is going on here?
6) Rival Turf!
"Hey, bro, you're not coming into my mom's dental clinic, unless you prove that you are a solid bro and go get us some Hot Pockets."
5) Super Buster Bros.
After you've been abandoned in the Arctic to shoot pink balls out of the sky for eternity, you eventually give-up on having any fashion sense.
It's amazing to think the processing power in 1993 could handle this many Photoshop filters.
3) TKO Super Championship Boxing
The longer I stare at this image, the more I hate the world and everything in it. Especially Photoshop filters.
2) John Madden Football
"I love football but not as much as I love having a football forced into my rectum. YEAH, GO ME!"
1) Street Hockey '95
How do you make a street hockey playin', angel dust luvin' Rastafarian more street? Give him some fake bad teeth, cyber-punk shades, a shell bracelet, and MORE angel dust.
Hope you all enjoyed (and found some new images to spam on Destructoid posts)! Speaking of which, share your own good and bad SNES box art in the comments below!