Nintendo phased out their aesthetically pleasing but uniformly basic looking black box designs in early 1987 after the release of “Pro Wrestling”, “Slalom” and “Volleyball” that Spring. They served their purpose by showcasing an honest representation of what the game’s graphics actually looked like as opposed to those beautifully drawn yet comically inaccurate Atari game boxes. That doesn’t mean Nintendo was completely done with the concept of categorizing their games into series to help clarify the style of gameplay for each title. What eventually fell by the wayside, besides the black box design, was the color coding aspect that was assigned to each game series category. This color coding was used for both the series icon on the box cover and the game’s title which was printed on the cover and the sides of the box. These color coded titles made for a really clean look when you were lining the boxes on shelves as long as you grouped them by series and not alphabetically.
Nintendo showed off their new style of boxes as well as introducing their new game series, adventure, with the releases of “Kid Icarus”, “Metroid”, and “The Legend of Zelda”, in the Summer of 1987. “Kid Icarus” and “Metroid” were silver boxes with the word “adventure” printed in pink and a silhouette of a man swinging over a body of water on a rope, “Pitfall” style. The silver boxes really stand out against the rest of the black box titles and gives these games an aura of being special. “The Legend of Zelda” was categorized as an adventure title in “The Official Nintendo Player’s Guide”, but the pink icon isn’t found anywhere on the box, nor is the title of the game printed in pink.
“Get ready for the action and adventure of Greek Mythology translated to the Video Age.”
“Kid Icarus” was the first of these three iconic adventure series titles released in the summer of ’87. The cover of the box shows the game’s hero, Pit, floating in the air (giving you the impression that he can fly) while a brown and yellow enemy floats in front of him. There’s a green blob (a bush) between them and a yellow and orange blob (an explosion of sorts) directly below Pit. There’s also what appears to be a layer of clouds above and a column to the right of the brown/yellow enemy. None of these images provide a whole lot of clarity to what the game is about but the back of the box certainly helps.
By flipping the box over, you are treated to four screens of action showing off, in context, Pit standing on the ground (not flying or floating) surrounded by columns, clouds, and odd looking enemies, including what appear to be floating mouths. The climbing aspect of the vertical levels is present on a couple of the screen shots. Also present is a photo of one of the later horizontal ice stage levels as well as a shot of Pit wielding a hammer in one of the palace levels. In all, the box really highlights the colorful and interesting level design for “Kid Icarus” and certainly does a nice job of selling the game to a prospective buyer. Unfortunately, “Kid Icarus” wasn’t the game changer that its other silver boxed adventure brother, “Metroid”, has been remembered as 30 years later.
“It’s you against the evil Mother Brain in the thrilling battle of Metroid!”
I don’t know what it was about “Metroid”, but I was instantly intrigued the moment I saw that box. I’ve always enjoyed space themed television shows and movies and had an interest in astrology and constellations as a kid, so I was inherently part of this game’s key demographic. Additionally, I had the opportunity to pore over and read the “Metroid” manual several months before I would even play it for the first time, so the extra information that the manual provided (backstory, maps of the planet Zebes and it’s various terrains, enemy and weapon lists), just increased my desire to play ten-fold.
As for the box itself, the front has a large, nicely drawn pixelated photo of Samus shooting her arm cannon at what appears to be a yellow Zoomer while a tough as nails Ripper is placed right in front of her, at shin level. The back of the box is intended to show off the game’s graphics and level designs and does a decent job of this. I do think that while the inclusion of various photos of Samus traversing colorful but sort of samey looking levels accurately reflects the gameplay, it is understood now that this has been one of the gripes against “Metroid” for all these years. A screen shot of Samus battling one of the mini-bosses might have made for a nice photo, or possibly one of Samus showing off her unique powers that the items and weapons that she gains throughout the game provide her. I suppose looking back, it’s easier to critique what Nintendo might have done to promote the game differently but it ultimately didn’t matter since “Metroid” was a runaway success and a hugely popular and influential title.
With that said, there was no game that could compete with golden boxed “The Legend of Zelda” in terms of influence and popularity from the moment it was released. While “Metroid” and “Kid Icarus” certainly ushered in a new era for the NES with the adventure series and silver boxes/silver game labels, Nintendo took that approach to new extremes when “The Legend of Zelda” was released by offering the game with a gold colored box and matching gold cartridge. The front of the “Zelda” box is the first of Nintendo’s “series” games to not include a drawn sprite based picture representing the game’s graphics as well as not including a photo of the series icon in the lower left corner. Instead, the “Zelda” box contains a graphic of what appears to be a crest of sorts, with four quadrants and pictures in three of those quadrants. In the lower left quadrant has a picture of a lion, the lower right has a heart, the upper right has a key and the upper left has an empty space. When the “Zelda” cartridge is inserted into the box properly, you can see the ridged section of the cart showing through this hole which then becomes part of the crest. It’s a very cool effect that had a lot of impact and wow factor while the games sat on the store shelves. There was no mistaking that distinct golden colored box for anything other than what it was, the best game available for the system at the time.
“Experience the challenge of endless adventure.”
The back of the box also deviates from the typical four screen shot approach of earlier NES games. Instead, we are given only two screen shots to help us decipher what “Zelda” is all about. First is a shot of Link battling Zola, with her head popping out of the water while both red and blue colored Octoroks surround him. Link is holding bombs in the B-button spot and holding his sword in the A-button spot. The box indicates that this is the Overworld section of the game where you must explore to discover hidden treasures.
The second photo is of Link in the Underworld, or labyrinth, portion of the game. In this particular screenshot, Link is located in the level-5 labyrinth and he is colored a light shade of blue, indicating that he is in possession of the blue ring. He’s thrusting his sword towards a Gibdo (the mummy man) while bats (aka Keese) and Pols Voice (aka the creature with big ears and whiskers that hates loud noises) hover around him. There’s also a key in the room and a locked door on the left. Link is holding a blue candle in the B-button spot and the white sword in the A-button spot. Link has accumulated 12 heart containers so he’s progressed nicely to get where he is by the time this screen shot was taken.
The back of the box also claims that “The Legend of Zelda” is the most challenging video game Nintendo ever created and included inside is the “Maps of Hyrule”, which is better known as the “Maps and Strategies” pamphlet. Additionally, the box indicates that the cartridge has special “extended playing power” capabilities, programmed to remember everything you find on your journey, so you never have to start your search empty-handed. Of course this is just Nintendo’s fancy way of saying that “Zelda” comes with a battery that allows you to save your game progress to the cartridge itself. The inclusion of a battery back-up save feature had never been attempted before, so I can understand why Nintendo didn’t want to cause confusion for the buyer. At the time, we didn’t care how it was accomplished, we just cared that “The Legend of Zelda” offered a new gaming experience that none of us had ever witnessed….and it all started with that eye catching golden box.