Classic Video Games Artwork

Any video game nerd will tell you of atrocities in the 1980's, #1 being E.T. for the Atari and almost destroying video games in general, and not too far down the list is the artwork that some games had the misfortune to be associated with.

Now, these aren't times of dazzling graphics, so they had to make ends meet and capture the audience by making the artwork extra realistic. But the artwork for the SEGA Master System games had amazing disparities when comparing it to  the Japanese artwork.

The Japanese box art and the box art used for releases elsewhere, respectively.

These aren't one-shots, these were the norm. Someone in SEGA's marketing team was PROUD of this decision!

Apparently they were cutting back costs with ink everywhere else except Japan.

Here's a more comprehensive list of what the author considers good games with awful artwork: SEGA Master System Box Art Disparity

You could blame a single company for making this mistake, or at least just its North American division. Most of these games originated from Japan, so they were on the right track designing artwork, something inspiring and eye-catching that was relevant to the product at hand. But what happens when Nintendo also drops the ball?

This is MegaMan, better known in Japan as RockMan. His first game was released in Japan in 1988 for the Japanese Family Computer (Famicom), which to us was the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) under this cover.

Pretty cutesy and yet faithful, of course you wouldn't know that this guy shoots other robots by looking at this cover, so someone in America told some vagabond with a pencil and some crayons:

"Here's this guy called Rockm--- no no, MEGAMAN, because he's powerful. This MEGAMAN is like some soldier from the future. He shoots bad robots and um, he wears blue I think. Think of McGyver fucking the cast of The Golden Girls. Show me something by noon tomorrow." 
And that something was:

(Click for larger image)
From big bulky shoulder pads, to a shooting stance that almost defies physics (it sure as hell defies logic), this walking pineapple has the ability to look two directions at once, not including the one he's pointing the gun at, and blow up miniature cities (or a normal-sized city with humungous palm trees).

The European version somehow managed to keeps its gritty and realistic edge over the Japanese one, while addressing the outfit, the shooting, the silly evil robots and it beautifully shows off Dr. Wily!  All this while not taking this MegaMan guy seriously. I mean, he looks like a French ballet dancer, but this thing is still pretty damn decent!

And just like Sega Master System's covers, this wasn't a one-off. MegaMan 2 brought forth more cringe-worthy characterization. Here's the Japanese one:

And now the North American one:

It looks as if they took a cue from the European artists. Or maybe someone was daring enough to PLAY THE FUCKING GAME before making artwork for it. Granted, this couldn't be truly American if they're not strong men with tight costumes. If you don't read the story on the back of the box or in the game's manual, what would make you believe any of these are robots? And why is MegaMan wearing a LEGO helmet?  Nevermind that, if this is the American one, considering Europe's last piece of Eden art, they surely have potential to be awesome! Right?!


He looks like a dildo wrapped in tin foil. There, I said it. And they also did play this one, because they included stage bosses on the cover this time around. The sad part is that there was communication along the way between these two divisions across the Atlantic Ocean. Want proof? Look at the font/logo for both games. 

Well, third time's the charm. Here's the North American version:

Ignore the fact MegaMan has Chucky's disturbing face and the muscles of a G.I. Joe, but he has maintained the "Shoot and look somewhere else" philosophy from the first game intact. Thing is, now he looks at the enemy's balls, with a smile that says anything but flaccid penis.

Let's look at the European (German in this case) and Japanese versions:

The same enemies, the same stance, but the exported version was touched up, some repainted segments, more luminance and if you look closely, they couldn't help but add muscles to MegaMan, alá Americano. The over-realistic Wily in the European version is not badly drawn, just out of place with the rest of the cartoony anime style.

From there on out, at least North America's MegaMan covers got a bit less worse, but they ALWAYS varied from the original. This trend has been used so much now, it even has its own page at TvTropes: American Kirby is Hardcore.

Now let's jump back to SEGA and a great game called Strider Hiryu or just plain Strider, and you decide which cover resembles more a game about a hi-tech futuristic ninja assassin.

I won't say much about young Kiefer Sutherland swinging a sword in tights, except that in his own cover's Strider logo the original sword is shown (the one with the extra horizontal handle). Now compare that with the one he's holding. Ouch.

But this seemed more like a trend than a line of coincidences. Next, the artwork for Wonder Boy on the Sega Master System, and the artwork for the same game but for the ZX Spectrum. A console so great I found out it existed as I started writing this article.

Bland gridlines, bland font, bland drawing, nothing new here.
I urge you to click on the ZX Spectrum version, it features the most disturbing face of a child having an orgasm while being half naked with the original April O'Neill hairstyle while supposedly mounting the world's biggest surf board that just happens to include wheels.

The list goes on and on but simple searching will turn up various lists.

But I'll forward to 2006, the following images were all over the web when Handre de Jager made its rounds on SomethingAwful and every old schooler deranged soul fell either in love or in a visual coma almost instantly. Bulging genitals, hairy extremities, mean faces, exaggerated gameplay elements, overly muscled characters and just overall testosterone overdose, it's all here.

Mega Man

Burger Time

Snow Bros.

Balloon Fight


Adventure Island

Kirby's Adventure

Super Mario Bros.

Platform Hero (explained below)

Handré de Jager's website is up and he's still doing weird things for the Internet, but most of these aren't available on his official website, for whatever reason. The following is an interview held by on 2006.
GSW: What's your name, location and background, firstly?

Handre: My name is Handré de Jager, I was born in 1986. I live in South Africa and I'm currently a graphic design student at the University of Stellenbosch.

GSW: When did you first doing these video game box art spoofs, and what made you think of the concept?

Handre: Well, the first one I did was the Mega Man one, as one can probably see. I'm not 100% on the exact completion date, but it must have been somewhere in November 2005. Multiple things inspired me to do it.

Firstly was the Mega Man 1 and 2 U.S. and European box art. The whole concept was completely bizarre. Megaman was portrayed as a middle-aged man in weird costumes, usually holding a gun. It also seemed way more serious than the games were intended to be.

Another inspiration was this site: I'm not sure what it's about, since it's Japanese, but it was linked to from Something Awful's front page once and the images of Super Mario Bros. 3 in it was amazingly funny to me.

GSW: Seems like a lot of the themes you keep expanding on are based around making very cartoon-like video game characters grotesque and overly 'real'. Are you trying to make any point on how absurd the game concepts are, or is it just more pure fun than that?

Handre: The absurdity of the game concepts do play an important role, but the main idea for me is to make the games as ugly and overly serious as possible in a humorous way. Of course there are completely ridiculous elements as well, like the bulging crotches and pubic hair which are mostly for cheap laughs. :)

I think in Western culture, especially a few years ago, the idea of the action hero was always a slightly older man. In Japanese games they were frequently children or cute little creatures. I think that's why some of the box art from the 80's and early 90's came out so incorrect. That is also an important aspect of most of my parodies - most of the people are middle-aged.

GSW: This all started on the SomethingAwful Forums, right? What kind of feedback have you had? Has anyone actually got upset about their favorite characters being besmirched, or felt that you were actually mentally disturbed in some way? :)

Handre: Haha. No, the feedback always seem really positive. Occasionally someone will say things like I ruined their childhood memories and so on, but I'm pretty sure they're saying it as more of a joke. That's how it appears to me anyway.

GSW: Oh, and just quickly, how do you make the pics?

Handre: Simply enough, with Photoshop and a tablet.

GSW: So I see you just posted Dig Dug recently - got any plans for other games? Have there been some games that people are begging you to do?

Handre: Well, my next project will be Platform Hero. It's not a real game, but a parody Flash animation of platform games in general created by Shmorky, from Something Awful. The requests I get the most are Bubble Bobble and Earthbound. I might do Bubble Bobble some day, but I doubt I'll get to Earthbound, but who knows. At the moment I'm pretty busy with my studies, so they won't be made as rapidly as a few months ago. I had a really long holiday back then, so I had loads of time.
And with that I conclude my journey of the awful alleys of cover artwork for early video games, but not before showing that CAPCOM acknowledges its awful heydays and plays along.

Official MegaMan 9 artwork

Official MegaMan 10 artwork

CAPCOM's being such a good sport about this, it even played around with the chance of pissing thousands of fans off by paying tribute to the awful original MegaMan artwork for the NES by including a fat old guy with similar clothing and with the name of MegaMan in Street Fighter X Tekken!