Author: John Legendoffzelda
I like Super Nintendo box-art. The layouts are clean, and the title illustrations at the center are particularly interesting. At least, I have more fun thinking about the title illustrations than, say, the blocks of hype-text next to them. (I have organized the types I notice the most, though: Nintendo and Enix’s conceptual blurbs, Square’s statistical bullet-points, and Konami’s wordy sentences. I like seeing that a style goes hand-in-hand with a company in this regard). So, here are some scattered observations of mine on various Super Nintendo box-art designs.
The interesting thing about the Super Mario World box-art is that it’s sort of an inside joke. The most prevalent colors in the game’s title illustration are red, yellow, blue and green. Those same four colors are in the game’s logo as well, but the joke goes deeper than that; the Super Nintendo’s Japanese logo, or otherwise the Super Famicom’s logo, is a stylization of the Super Famicom’s four face buttons, and you know what colors they are? Red, yellow, blue and green. North American audiences most likely picked up first on the fact that the game’s box art continued a Super Mario theme of Mario doing something cool; jumping through the air on Mario 2’s box, flying with a Tanooki tail on Mario 3’s box, and riding a dinosaur while wearing a superhero cape here. They may have also noticed the correlating four-tone color scheme in the logo and the picture of Mario riding that dinosaur. But what makes this box-art an inside joke is the fact that the color scheme also correlates with both the Super Famicom’s logo and controller design, something that average North Americans might not have even known back then. Without ever realizing it, the illustration on the box shows the designer considers Super Mario World to be emblematic of the Super Nintendo itself. That’s high praise.
There it is. With a stark red-on-beige design, the word “ZELDA” beckons from the box. The “Z” wraps around a battle-scarred sword, and lies against a noble shield. Both the shield and sword bear the image of the Triforce, the crux of this game and its famous predecessors. The logo forThe Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is sort of a grand update of the box-art for the first two games in the series. What the designer did was repurposed two images – the shield from 1987’s The Legend of Zelda illustration and the sword from 1988’s Zelda II illustration – into a new image for the future. (A “link” to the “past”, that’s neat.) The designer, in throwing back to the original red-against-beige design of the first game, also highlights the importance of the word “ZELDA”; this illustration lets you know this is a Zelda game, part of what was at the time a phenomenally successful five-year-old franchise started by a game that sold 2 million copies by 1988 . All following games in this franchise used this logo as a template, always putting the most emphasis on “ZELDA”, as well as pronouncing the “Z”. It’s a beautiful, unique and above all recognizable name. This iconic illustration has started a tradition that acts as the herald for a great video game experience.
In color theory, at least what I picked up in my eighth grade art class, the spectrum is split into two sides: warm colors (red, orange, yellow) and cool colors (green, blue, purple). Now, my favorite color is yellow, so I sort of favor warm colors. But in the case of over-saturation, as with the box-art illustrations for Super Metroid and Super R-Type, I do not prefer warm colors at all. These illustrations are conceptually the same; near the bottom-left corner is the protagonist, valiantly firing some kind of sci-fi beam. Taking up the whole right side is a monstrous alien, roaring in retaliation. The top-left corner houses the title logo, indicating what this whole frenzy is called. Super Metroid’s illustration is harder on my eyes; there’s searing red, orange, and yellow everywhere in the foreground. (It’s definitely a design choice; Samus is in her orange Varia Suit, rather than her purple Gravity Suit.) It isn’t helped, either, by the “Only For Nintendo” message in the top-right, which just looks like someone defiled the box. No, I like Super R-Type’s blue and purple instead, along with the darker shade of red in the cool neon-sign logo. The alien also has better teeth than Ridley.
The NA box-art for Final Fantasy II (IV) isn’t well regarded when compared to the SFC box-art, and, yes, the SFC art avoids terrible mistakes like the NA art’s junky logo. (Replacing the “T” in “FANTASY” with a sword looks really amateurish; especially when the sword glints with light in a way that makes it look like it’s been chewed on). Nevertheless, I think it deserves just a little more respect. Final Fantasy II (IV), aside from being among the most revered Super Nintendo games, is one of the biggest games (sales-wise) released for it (1,440,000 copies in Japan alone ), and for the NA region that statement is based on that daring image. No one would think back in November 1991 that one of the most worthwhile games for the Super Nintendo was sold with box-art that had a McDonald’s color scheme and only showed pulpy text that read “FINAL FANTASY II”. But it sold anyway, and it sold for this reason: it was a sequel to Final Fantasy. North Americans remembered the popular NES game from the year before that sold 400,000 copies , and because the title said it was a second Final Fantasy, by association it must be good. It’s the same principle behind the A Link to the Past box-art.
The illustration for Joe and Mac presents a funny scenario, if you think about it. It doesn’t look like much at first, just two men about to attack a dinosaur. This wouldn’t be out of place in a TV cartoon, maybe some irreverent show doing a limp spoof of The Flintstones. But here’s the funny part: look at how big that dinosaur is! Joe and Mac aren’t even any bigger than its eyeball! I’ve seen Jurassic Park, and from what that movie tells me, human beings are bigger than that in relation to Tyrannosaurus Rexes! All of this is excusable, of course, because it’s jokey and part of a fantasy. Even the T-Rex seems perturbed by this inaccuracy; he’s sort of furrowing his brow as if to say “Hey, what’s going on?” The question is, though, what’s he more concerned about; that Joe and Mac are so small, or that they’re doing motion blurs? The logo is sublime as well; its use of neon-pink taken right from a Vanilla Ice video, along with the head designs that make Joe and Mac look like Stu Pickles, perfectly mires this game in the early 1990s.
Donkey Kong Country was one of the first video games to use pre-rendered 3D graphics. As a consequence, I hate its box-art; the same holds for Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. Neither of these illustrations have any form; they look like home-video box covers of animated films, where the priority seems to be to put as many important characters in one image as the designer can. They just look cluttered, and they don’t seem to want to convey anything other than that the Super Nintendo can do 3D, just like Jurassic Park or Terminator 2. A person would have to pore over these boxes more than once just to take in every last detail, such as: Hey, that’s Kaptain K. Rool on the DKC2 box, below the small green parrot! Some 3D-parading box-art illustrations since Donkey Kong Country and its sequel have been better, and some have been worse. I won’t call these two illustrations any sort of death knell – but I will call them obnoxious and hard to look at.
Kirby Super Star’s box-art illustration has always soothed me. What I always notice is the use of negative space, a rich black peppered with happy yellow stars. (This is how yellow is done; it should be pleasant, not the fiery sheen of Super Metroid.) The designer here creates two interesting moods with this illustration, I notice. There’s simplicity, befitting the happy nature of Kirby games, but there’s also humility. Appearing right around the debut of the Nintendo 64 and its technological marvels, all Super Star can offer us in comparison is an enticing logo. No more flash than that. What I also notice is Kirby’s cute pink body offsetting the gleaming gold, but I like the point about negative space better. It gives me more to think about.
These are all the thoughts I can conjure up about Super Nintendo box-art for the time being. I thought I would have more to say – and I do have more thoughts on other box-art illustrations – but I guess I couldn’t articulate them well enough. If anybody here wants a follow-up to this, I’m happy to oblige. I really like this stuff.
Images for Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong Country 2, Final Fantasy IV (NA), Kirby Super Star, Super Mario World,Super Metroid provided by “Super Nintendo Entertainment System box art (North America)” category page, Nintendo Wiki.
Image for Joe and Mac provided by “hmmisee”, Giantbomb.
Image for Final Fantasy IV (SFC) provided by “Final Fantasy IV Box Shot for SNES”, GameFAQs.
Image for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past provided by “20 years later, The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past still shines”, Examiner.com.
Image for Super R-Type provided by “SNES-Super-R-Type-Front”, Retro Game Guide.
- Sheff, David (1993). Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children. Random House. p. 172.
- “Japan Platinum Game Chart”. The Magic Box. Retrieved 2008-05-22.
- Fear, Ed (2007-12-13). “Sakaguchi discusses the development of Final Fantasy”. Develop. Intent Media. Retrieved 2008-10-16.