It’s fair to say that video games have become an art form unto themselves. It is also fair to say that the cover art for some games is much more than a simple advertisement — they can be works of art in their own right. Much like album cover artwork stands on its own to be admired and appreciated by music fans, so too does the cover art for video games. And there has been amazing cover art for video games since the industry really took off in the 1970s. From the first time video games needed to be advertised, companies have been using cover art to help sell them. A great piece of cover art can be the difference between having a best-selling game or a bit of a flop. It’s become a bit of a lost art these days, it seems, but here is a list of the greatest video game cover art of all-time.
10. Doom (1993)
While it might look a little ho-hum today, back in 1993, Doom‘s cover art was considered provocative – even a little dangerous. The cover image of a space marine battling an army of Hell demons had more than a few parents worried about what their kids were up to, and did nothing to dispel the notion that video games were becoming increasingly violent. However, what may have been lost a bit in the debate over this cover is the fact that the art provides a perfect description of what people can expect from this video game — that is, lots of shooting and killing. It was Doom, after all, the breakout first-person-shooter game – showing developers and gamers alike what was possible with this genre. It’s also a pretty badass image, if we do say so ourselves.
9. Final Fantasy VII (1997)
It’s the huge sword that really sells this cover art. Really, can you get around that massive sword and what it implies? Known as the Buster Sword, this cover art gets gamers excited at the prospect of swinging that 300 pound behemoth at an untold numbers of enemies. Of course, the cover art also shows the Shinra Headquarters that Final Fantasy VII players infiltrate, and the entire cover art is white and that gives it a dreamy quality that is appropriate for the franchise. But again, it ends up being the Buster Sword that really sells this video game cover art for us. After all, who can look at this box cover and not want to play this game – swinging that sword and taking out villains. This cover art complimented the game inside, with Final Fantasy VII being one of the best and most successful entries in this franchise.
8. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
You see it all in the cover art of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The cover for this game, first released in 2004, shows the cars, cops, gang members, and women that players will meet in Rockstar’s sandbox version of fictional Los Angeles. It gives an excellent glimpse into the world that awaits and makes gamers want to jump right into this game with both feet. Of course, it also plays on people’s expectations for a Grand Theft Auto game – that being violence, crime, and general debauchery. And all of the images are displayed in a cartoon style that is both fun, yet still adult enough to remind people that these games are not for kids. The entire West Coast gang-based plot of San Andreas is featured on the cover art, with a drive-by, gambling, prostitute, and police helicopter all represented. The cover art is like a microcosm of the inner world of this game. Honorable mention to Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City for pioneering this now-iconic cover style, which is still used today.
7. Halo 4 (2012)
The Halo franchise has featured a lot of great box art over the years, but the cover of 2012’s Halo 4 is considered the best. The image of Master Chief emerging from battle, bathed in white light, and holding a high-tech shotgun in his hand is a pure classic, to say the least. It depicts the epicness of Halo battles and plays on fan expectations for this series. By the time Halo 4 arrived, Master Chief and Halo gameplay were well-known to gamers all over the world, and the series was mythic to many of its fans. Halo 4 delivered a cover that reflected this fact, placing Master Chief front and center and making him look like a true hero in the process. Sadly, the game inside was not as good as the cover art, and many fans of the series consider Halo 4 a disappointment relative to others in the series. But this failing cannot be blamed on the great cover art.
6. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008) — Alternate Cover
A great example of conceptual art is the cover of the 2008 game Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. The depiction of an older and world weary Snake is really well done. While the image of an older Snake surprised some gamers, who were used to seeing a more vigorous version of the protagonist, old Snake looks really cool. The cover art gives the impression that gamers are in for something different with this version of Metal Gear Solid. While the North American cover was much more boring, this European alternate cover really blew gamers away. The glowing red eye of Snake created a sense of mystery and hints at the excitement that awaits in this game. A great example of art work deepening the world of an already established video game brand.
5. Resident Evil 4 (2007)
Another superior example of conceptual or interpretive cover art involves the 2007 installment of the Resident Evil franchise, the fourth in the long-running zombie shooter. Another cartoonish cover art that plays on the expectations of terror and horror when it comes to playing Resident Evil games. The image of a dark woods and a hooded character holding what appears to be a chainsaw is foreboding and creepy, and let’s people know that the game inside will be decidedly unsettling. The cover art for this game is also subtle and almost teases gamers to enter the Resident Evil world and find out what’s in store for them. Rather than gruesome, gross, or predictable, this cover art is spooky and just a bit mysterious. It’s also a bit of a tribute to classic slasher films, with those dark woods and a chainsaw wielding maniac. This cover art almost seems like the calm before the storm.
4. Space Invaders (1980)
In reality, gamers played a collection of blips shooting smaller blips at other blips in this primitive video game for the Atari 2600 game console. But in their minds, gamers in 80s were piloting a space ship and defending Earth from hordes of invading aliens in the classic game Space Invaders. And that is exactly what the cover art of the game showcases – futuristic spaceships arriving and attacking humanity. Never mind what the actual game play or graphics were like. The cover art of the breakout hit Space Invaders perfectly depicts what the game was about and fills in the images people had, or should have had, in their heads when it came to this video game. Great video game cover art is, first and foremost, imaginative. And this game nails it.
3. Super Mario 64 (1996)
There have been so many Mario games over the years, and so many wonderfully colorful covers. But the cover art for the 1996 game Super Mario 64 is the most charming among the lot. It shows a larger than life Mario, who appears to be flying right out of the game and towards us. The character looks even happier than usual in this image, and the sky and castle in the background show that this game is all about fantasy and fun. Of course, Super Mario 64 is hands down one of the very best Mario games ever produced, so perhaps our impressions of this game are somewhat colored. But we think this is one of the best cover arts ever.
2. Twisted Metal: Black (2001)
People who don’t play video games, and gamers who have never played a Twisted Metal game, are probably still familiar with the cover art for the 2001 title Twisted Metal: Black. And that’s saying something. Maybe it is the image of a demented clown, or the eerie black background, but the cover art for this game has become legendary and familiar to a whole cross-section of people who have no interest in, or involvement with, video games. To be sure, the game itself is pretty psychotic. And the image of the clinically insane clown character known as Sweet Tooth on the cover art captures that perfectly, as does the prominent “Mature” game rating tag. But you know a video game has great cover art when it transcends the game it is advertising.
1. Pac-Man (1982)
A game as iconic as the 1982 Atari 2600 title Pac-Man deserves some impressive art. And the cover for this game delivers – with a larger than life Pac-Man looming over the notorious ghosts and gobbling down a power pill from the game. Not only is this cover art a classic, but it also perfectly illustrates what the game is about. It captures not only the essence of Pac-Man but also the game play. It is a literal translation of the game onto the cover art, and it works wonderfully. Pac-Man was a sensation when released in 1982, and this cover art helped to sell the game and cement the iconic image of the character in the minds of a generation of gamers. This cover art does what the best cover art is supposed to do – catch your eye, advertise the game inside, build on people’s expectations, and demonstrate what the game is all about. Nailed it.