Video game box art is almost never a good representation of the actual video game itself. They are typically snapshots of intense, muddled action sequences or the main characters looking impressively macho (or sexy, if it is a female). But some box art has artistic merit and awesomely represents the game inside.
In this week's list, we're going to look at some of the greatest examples of box art video games have to offer. They span many generations of console, with international and limited edition pieces included. These are the very best that we've ever seen, based on their artistic qualities and overall badassness. Enjoy!
Borderlands' artistic design was one of its strongest features -- the gritty, cel-shaded visuals with a slightly demonic bent wowed gamers and critics alike. The box art features a lunatic-looking Bandit mock blowing his mind onto the picture. From it sprawls a sandy mural showing a horde of bandits in action. It is obviously inspired, like the game itself, by Mad Max and other post-apocalyptic stories of the past.
9. Contra (NES)
One of gaming's most difficult titles ever also has some of the most iconic cover art to date. It features Bill & Lance, a duo of markedly hardass machine-gunners, standing before a pissed off Red Faction alien. It is a fairly simple design -- one that definitely demonstrates how many games of the era were presented -- but its very '80s look has appealed to gamers for ages, and remains one that is instantly recognizable to anyone who has even a fleeting interest in classic gaming.
8. Half-Life 2
This is a portrait of video gaming's baddest rock star. I don't want to go as far as to say this is like the Mona Lisa of box art, but the picture of Gordon Freeman is an absolutely beautiful one. He's got the baffling smirk, with a grim City 17 lurking in the background. Besides being an impressive visual rendering of the man, it is very clear that the intensity in his eyes mirrors the intensity of the game itself.
7. Mass Effect Collector's Edition
Mass Effect, despite being a fantastic game, boasts the kind of story that warrants a boring, macho picture of Commander Shepard striking a pose. Just like every other action game. But this limited edition cover art does badass a very different way. It shows the iconic N7 armor scarred and torn from combat. Simple, yes, but it manages to capture the heroic essence of the game, and remain aesthetically remarkable despite its simplicity.
6. Out of this World
A lot of box cover art from the 1990s was horrendous, but Interplay's Out of this World managed to have an epic, heroic landscape adorning the front of the box, like a painting. As with the game, this ahead-of-its-time front graphic is one that may have quietly influenced following games to take to its likeness.
5. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a much more mature iteration than the typical Legend of Zelda game. Its dark storylines and complicated character arcs are illustrated vividly on its cover. The grim Link, contrasted with his more vicious wolf form are backdropped by quiet, almost Gothic patterns. A more mature cover for a more mature game.
4. Ico Japan
The North American version of this box art is certainly nothing to be impressed by, but the Japanese box art is pretty stunning. The huge scale of the buildings and the desert and the watercolor sky that surround the escaping Ico and Yorda drive home the loneliness of their adventure. But, it also belies the unique bond that they develop as they scale the many obstacles evading the evils that track them.
3. Silent Hill 2
The dark, toxic world of Silent Hill 2 warrants an equally creepy cover. This low fidelity, grindhouse-horror inspired cover perfectly mimics the kind of blurry terror that rides hero James Sutherland as he traverses the forsaken town in search of his wife. Added to the actual picture, the sticky font adds a very nice touch.
2. BioShock 2 Limited Edition Box Cover
There's a strong sense of duality in the BioShock world. Gorgeous icons are smattered with blood, adorable little girls have yellow eyes and poke at corpses with needles. Nothing is truly beautiful, but it still arrests us as we take it in. This cover of BioShock 2 shows a butterfly painted from blood-stained hands -- a perfect representation of a Utopia bastardized by greed, lust, violence, and addiction.
1. Resident Evil 4 Wii UK
This Resident Evil 4 Wii UK cover art is simply the most amazing cover art we've ever seen -- it is stark, creepy, and its simple, monochromatic color scheme tells you exactly what you need to know: this game is going to be fucking rough. The ethereal silhouette of Dr. Salvador is a reminder of just how tense the game is, looks like a 1950s horror movie, and its total contrast from the typical Resident Evil cover makes it poster-worthy.