In my last post, I gave some examples of Turbografx-16 box art pulled from my personal collection that I felt did not live up to either the source artwork of the original PC-Engine versions or the quality of the gameplay that could be found within. However, as the lifespan of the TG-16 continued into the early 90s, some artwork improved enough to do a solid to exceptional job of highlighting what made the games unique, fun and worth buying. That is not to say that some of the later releases on the TG-16 didn’t have some awful art, Neutopia II comes to mind, but these mid to later releases (1991-1993) tended to be of higher quality than the 89-90 first run of games. The easy assumption to make is that those games were rushed to market and proper time was not taken to create proper artwork for the North American market and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was indeed the root cause for most of the poorly drawn, amateurish looking graphics used for the game’s box and manual covers.
While looking through my own Turbografx-16 collection, these are five games with artwork that I felt did a good job providing eye catching and pleasing artwork for potential buyers to identify with.
Look! It’s Arnold Schwarzenegger from the movie “Commando” holding an enormous knife, a cache of ammo and a grenade on his chest! Look, there’s a couple of military helicopters in the background as a nod to the popular TV show “Airwolf”! Look, there’s a fire red sky with smoke indicating lots of cool explosions and destruction in our wake! Look down! There’s a couple of tanks on the ground as well! Holy shit this is going to be an amazing game!
It’s our favorite bald, big-headed mascot, Bonk! In his latest adventure he’s using that noggin’ of his to bash unsuspecting dinosaurs in a lush prehistoric environment. If you’re NEC, you want the character of Bonk to be front and center on anything you’re promoting for the TG-16, which was exactly what they did for the original “Bonk’s Adventure”. With “Bonk’s Revenge”, there is a little more to the cover than just a picture of Bonk, which makes it an improvement. It may not be the most exciting cover art out there, but at least its a well drawn image.
While I thought the artwork for the sequel, “Legendary Axe II”, was laughable, the original game’s artwork has a much more interesting look. First, you have a character on the cover that actually looks like your guy, flowing red hair, loin cloth and all. He’s facing off with an enormous spider monster, which you have to assume you will be fighting at some point in the game (you do…kinda…but the proportion is way off here). There are skulls lying on the ground indicating many have tried, yet failed to defeat this arachnid beast. But you, brave warrior, will succeed…..for only $49.99.
It’s hard to screw up the artwork featuring a character as inherently cool as a ninja, although Sega did just that with their box art for their blandly titled, “The Ninja”. NEC would not make the same mistake with their excellent version of “Ninja Gaiden”, titled “Ninja Spirit”. The cover art is bright and colorful without being loud and obnoxious. Front and center is the titular ninja, named Moonlight, with various ninja shadows immediately behind him as a nod to the game’s best gimmick, the spirits that follow your character around, providing additional attacking power. There is also a menacing looking beast that is your ultimate nemesis, located in the background, showing his fangs to make sure you know you’re in for a fight. There are also shadowy enemies peeking around the corners of the two columns on either side of the art for a subtle, added touch. This is a great cover that certainly gives off an impression of a well made and exciting action platformer, which “Ninja Spirit” is.
Thankfully, one of my all time favorite TG-16 games has one of my favorite box arts as well. “Splatterhouse” is of course, the horror themed beat ’em up action title with lots of memorable enemies and gross-out moments. Your character is the possessed Rick, searching for his girlfriend inside a terrifying mansion with a dark past. None of this is exactly spelled out for you on the cover, however. What you’re treated to is a picture of Rick and his terror mask, i.e. a Jason Voorhees hockey mask ripped right off of the “Friday the 13th” killer’s deformed head, wielding a 2×4 aimed at an enemy. The enemy shown on the cover is none other than chainsaw-hand guy, arguably the most terrifying boss in the game. He’s actually bigger and badder in the game than he appears on the cover, but it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver in my opinion (see the “Legendary Axe” box art above for the opposite example). The word “Splatterhouse” is written in a disgusting green color that matches the slime that covers one wall and a portion of the floor. The bottom third of each letter in the game’s title drips with red blood, foreshadowing for the potential buyer this will be a gruesome and bloody affair. If this cover doesn’t get you psyched up to play “Splatterhouse”, then gross and violent brawlers aren’t your genre.
So there you have it. The good, the bad, the pathetic. I know there is some really bad cover art for games that I did not discuss because they are not in my collection, e.g. “Last Alert”, “Dragon’s Curse” and “Vigilante”. There are also games with excellent cover art that I will probably never own copies of, e.g. “Magical Chase” & “Legend of Hero Tonma” but thankfully the internet has retained bright, crisp looking copies for all to see and stare at in both awe and in some cases ridicule for all time.