Monday, 20 August 2012

Books, Games, People. Sometimes We Just Like To Judge

As much as we shouldn't judge a game by it's cover, it's exactly what we do. Sometimes the cover doesn't do justice to the game in question and other times really appealing art work can deceive us; disguising utter tripe with seductive typeface and alluring imagery.

Psychologically, there are a number of things that designers do to draw us in, such as using large identifiable faces, easy to read typeface in central positions, etc to trick us to spend all our monies There are also certain designers who prey on our basest instincts... ahem... *cough* Dead Or Alive *cough*.

Ultimately, most box art sticks to a particular formula: title plus main character/s plus a logo. Sometimes this works perfectly and establishes a unique brand image, take for example the GTA franchise:

Rockstar know how to draw in an audience by keeping their titles bold, centered and stylised. A range of colourful eye catching imagery shows off what the player is likely to encounter during the game; cars, helicopters, gangs, women and action.

Other times, this "formula" can be tedious especially when sequels follow the same pattern as the original, such as the Call Of Duty franchise, the only change from one sequel to the next is the number of the title and a range in hue from sandy brown to muddy brown. Still, Activision are doing something right as it's still one of the most popular game franchises -I'm sure the game engine, storylines and addictive gameplay have nothing to do with it.

For the rest of us, interesting, eye catching art work can lead to us choosing a game we might not have necessarily chosen, conversely dull covers or uninspiring box art might cause us to miss out on a gem. Think of all the people who pass by the Final Fantasy series because the covers are so minimal (although arguably, very beautiful). Fools!

Some games constantly evolve with the times, like the Super Mario Bros. franchise (unlike the series itself) which has changed dramatically throughout the years. From a pixelated Mario shooting blocks to the sprawling colourful chaos of New Super Mario Bros. 2

Wait.. scratch that. That's actually Nintendo's modus operandi all over... take the same thing, add more colour and just polish it up a bit.

With this in mind, here's some covers that have stood out throughout the years, whether its championing a title or leading us astray:

The Legend of Zelda series set a precedent for all RPG titles to have simplistic, clean designs which work so well. The first incarnation was a simple shield featuring a lion, a heart container and a key. This was back when box art gave very little away about the game itself. Despite the success of The Legend of Zelda on the NES, I'd argue that The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past for the SNES possesses the most renowned box art of the franchise:

It retained the majestic gold background of the original but updated the shield to incorporate the Triforce, which is central to all Zelda games, it also added Link's sword latticed between the Z of Zelda, this is something which has continued over 20 years later and the fact that the typeface has barely changed throughout the years is a testament to just how iconic this cover is.

Doom is the ultimate bad-ass cover, it's striking, incredibly cool over-the-top nature is very reminiscent of 80's action flicks. And like most film posters of that era, this completely misrepresents the gameplay but captures its essence. To explain, the cover details countless red hell beast things that could be interpreted as the Red Pig Demons and The Imps but they're a bit non-descript. Then there's the fact there are two space marines! I don't remember any friendly dude helping me fight the horde. I remember shooting a lot of dudes. Crap... maybe one of them was on my side. Sorry wavy guy. You will be missed.

Final Fantasy covers often get criticised for being 'boring' but I adore them for their simplicity and elegance. Possibly the most stunning of the franchise is FFVI, the box art on the SNES version of this game is intricate, stylish and intriguing whereas the updated Playstation version is closer to its more recent incarnations. Only Squaresoft could take the absence of colour and turn it into a unique selling point and an interesting design feature. As iconic as The Beatles White Album? Maybe.

The European edition of Ico is absolutely stunning and I have no idea why the cover was changed for the US version because it surpasses in every way. The game is often thought of as a work of art as opposed to a game but in my opinion the two can often go hand in hand - much like the young protagonists in the game.

Red Dead Redemption is the perfect amalgamation of Western cinema and storytelling so the cover needs to reflect that. Bright, bold and stylised the cover retains the familiar Rockstar traits while still evoking that requisite period feel. The additional expansion release, Undead Nightmare is a pastiche of the original cover with a unique zombie twist and it works beautifully.

Speaking of the 'Z' word, Valve's zombie killing franchise Left 4 Dead stands out from conventional game covers due to its lack of the usual single protagonist. Yet, Valve decided that showing all four characters would make the cover overly crowded so the design team adopted a more interesting approach. By showing off the gnawed, decaying hand of the games main antagonist, players may not instantly know what type of game to expect but the eye-catching, flashy and visceral images are just too glorious to pass by.

Left 4 Dead proves that sometimes putting a main character centre stage on the cover isn't necessary, much like Super Bust-A-Move 2 (or as I like to call it, Super-Creepy-Babyface-In-Shades 2) is one of those bizarre covers that sticks with you whether you've played it or not. Despite the fact that it's a simple puzzle game with no babies, no busting of moves... fine, I bought it for novelty value. It does however go to show that the weirder the cover, the more memorable it can be.

The same can be said of Katamari Damacy which has a cover unlike most conventional games. Considering the game itself came about from a school project, the box art resembles something an artsy graphic design student might come up when presented with the design brief: 'Create an ad for an environmental concern campaign'.

This style gives it a uniqueness which other game covers lack. As a piece of art, I imagine it would look great in a lofty apartment or quirky coffee shop somewhere. This game might not be one that all gamers will want to play but the cover will certainly intrigue them whether they like the tween sugar-coated design or simply want to know what the hell it's about! Judging from the cover, if I didn't know the Katamari series I'd guess it was about two cows on a magical journey to a junkyard in Japan. What? I said it was a guess.
 If ridiculous images are then perhaps the most hilarious video game box art ever is Phalanx. The Hyper-Speed Shoot-Out In Space as it's described on the box appears to involve a hillbilly Santa on his day off playing a banjo on his day off! Maybe the in-game music is reminiscent of a banjo? Nope. Not at all... When I first saw this cover, I thought it was fake. Interestingly and rather alarmingly, no one at Nintendo thought to question its relevance back then.

 These days a misleading cover could get a company into trouble for false advertising. Space shoot-out... pfft. I wish this games protagonist was a hillbilly armed with a banjo in space! It practically sells itself.

I could happily ramble on about almost every single cover ever released but I'm already well over my word count and I'm sure I'd still miss of plenty of gems, so by all means voice your thoughts in the comments section below and if you can find a copy, go buy Phalanx, throw away the game, and frame the cover in your home. Be the envy of all your friends.

In fact, be like banjo man, just look into his eyes.

This guy is the embodiment of cool.

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