All information on this site is through my own findings and is believed to be correct. Any corrections, errors or admissions that need to be made, or artists that would like to be involved in BOX=ART, please feel free to contact me.
BOX=ART copyright ©2013 Adam Gidney. All rights reserved. Hosted by Dathorn.
BOX=ART quick menus
BOX=ART is a site dedicated to the history of video game box art/ cover art and the artists responsible for them.
Box arts are profiled from a variety of angles using high quality scans and with the intention of acknowledging the men and women who have played such a major role in shaping our gaming experiences.
Not only for video game enthusiasts, BOX=ART is for all who enjoy quality artwork.
Box art design in the beginning 80’s was created without Nintendo’s famously tight grip around its intellectual property (IP). Nintendo, like the rest of its Japanese contemporaries, developed arcade games and licensed them for American home use to stateside publishers such as Atari (VCS/2600) and Coleco (Intellivision).
Cover arts would be heavily westernised as American artists took control of box art duties. They’d redesign early Nintendo characters, such as Donkey Kong and Jumpman (Mario) so to better appeal to children who would have been quite alien towards Japanese character art.
In 1983 Nintendo of Japan released its first console, the hugely successful Famicom. Its early box arts for titles such as Donkey Kong and Popeye would set the tone for future releases, namely the use of bold, simple colour and an emphasis on cheerful characterisation.
The global success that Nintendo achieved by the mid-90’s through its character-rich games, demonstrated that the video game industry alone was limiting the company’s potential brand strategy. And so Mario and cohorts went on to advertise everything from clothing, to cereal, to board games.
This branding would effect how first-party box arts looked over the years. Cover arts for the big-hitters - Mario, Yoshi, Metroid, Donkey Kong, Star Fox - depicted clear, colourful, non-offensive designs that would not usually artistically confine themselves to a certain part of the world’s cultural taste. They were universally appealing.
Art style was never heavily region specific (such as Manga), and box art content in the main always clearly emphasised the lead character over everything else (see, Super Mario 64, Kirby’s Air Ride and Metroid Prime). Pre Nintendo 64 era, everything from coloured pen to air-spray can be seen used in box art design. Post Nintendo 64, computer generated art was Nintendo’s preferred media.
Yet another embodiment can be found in Nintendo’s branding: the fact that few stylistic changes have been made over the years to their most important characters, points towards the timeliness of their designs.
>Excitebike (JP) Famicom.
>F-Zero (JP) Super Famicom.
>Super Mario Bros. 3 (EU/ NA) NES.
>Super Mario USA (JP) Famicom. (YK)
>Super Metroid (worldwide) SNES/ Super Famicom.
>The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (EU) Nintendo 64.
>Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (EU/ NA) Game Boy Color. (YK)
>Sin and Punishment (JP) Nintendo 64.
Notable Nintendo box artists (first-party)
>Shinya Sano (SS)
>Yasuko Takahashi (YT)
>Yasuo Inoue (YI)
Sources and further reading:
Related BOX=ART pages.
>Advance Wars (EU/ NA) Game Boy Advance.
>Golden Sun (worldwide) Game Boy Advance.
>Metroid Fusion (worldwide) Game Boy Advance. (SS)
>The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (worldwide) Wii.
>Xenoblade Chronicles (worldwide) Wii.
>Zangeki no Reginleiv (JP) Wii.
>The Last Story (worldwide) Wii.
>Pandora’s Tower (worldwide) Wii.
>Fire Emblem: Awakening (worldwide) 3DS
>Yoichi Kotabe (YK)
>Yusuke Nakano (YN)
The world’s oldest video game company; Nintendo is home to some of the most successful and longest-running games in history, whilst responsible for some of the industries most iconic and beloved box arts.
Super Mario Bros. released in 1985 marked a pivotal point in video game history. Designer Shigeru Miyamoto would pen the plumber’s debut Japanese cover and helped popularise the bustling, character-full style of box art that series, such as Rockman, Adventure Island and Wonderboy later adopted. It would be a different story for Super Mario Bros’. US and EU equivalent, with their pixelated in-game shot dominating their respective box arts.
This styalistic difference wasn’t western unoriginality but rather ingenuity on Nintendo of America’s (NOA) part. Coming fresh off the back of the video game crash of 1983, NOA deliberately distanced itself from the mistakes companies Atari, Coleco and Matel had made, and one of these mistakes was misleading box arts that had led to public distrust.
With this in mind NES cover arts showed you exactly what you were buying. The front had a pixel shot showing the game’s graphical quality (see Super Mario Bros, Excitebike, Duck Hunt). It then included a description of what type of game it was (adventure, sport, educational), and finally, and quite brilliantly, was adorned the “Nintendo Seal of Quality”, a gold badge proudly proclaiming the Nintendo difference. By the end of 1987 with the “Nintendo quality” firmly instilled in the public mind box arts become more painterly once again.
A point made to the credit of Nintendo’s talented character designers. Their achievements were in the creation of timely and global designs that have not needed to evolve with public taste. Mario today looks as he did back in 1990, the same can also be said about other characters from many first-party franchises, such as Kirby, Fox McCloud and Luigi.
Outside of developing, Nintendo has had a long history in publishing other company’s games. Cover arts in general show greater levels of daring both in the variety of art styles and content (see, Odama, Sin and Punishment, Wario World - JP ver, Zangeki no Reginliev, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower).
Nintendo do of course rely on artists not restricted by their brand-centric characters, but artists who still have Nintendo’s family focus, and importantly, non-offensive guidelines to respect.
Updated - 11/06/15, by Adam Gidney
Notable box arts published by Nintendo.
Super Mario Bros.| By Shigeru Miyamoto| 1985| Famicom| The debut Super Mario box art by series father Miyamoto. Almost all the character art would be changed by Yoiche Kotabe for the follow up, most notably Bowsers.
F-Zero| 1990| Super Famicom.
Cubivore| 2002| Gamecube. The Wonderful 101 | 2013| Wii U. The Last Story| By Kimihiko Fujisaka| 2011| Wii.
Sin & Punishment| By Yasushi Suzuki| 2000| Nintendo 64| The artists first box art.
The Legend of Zelda| By Timothy Girvin| 1987| NES| Girvin would reject the the style of character led box art the Japanese equivalent exuded and instead opted for a more heroic and symbolic design. It would endue in the West for many sequels over the coming years.
Metroid Fusion| By Shinya Sano| 2002| Game Boy Advance.
Fire Emblem Awakening| By Yusuke Kozaki| 2012| Nintendo 3DS.
Kirby Super Star| 1996| Super Famicom.
Super Mario Bros. 2| 1988| NES.
Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire| By Greg Winters| 1996| Nintendo 64.
Duck Hunt| 1985| NES| One of many early western NES box arts styled with pixel art. As soon as customer confidence in what the NES offered was high enough Nintendo decorated its box arts with traditional art, starting with The Legend of Zelda.