In the dark days before Amazon, Best Buy, and even (shudder) GameStop, there was only one place in town to go for video games: Toys R’ Us. You might’ve been lucky enough to have an Egghead Software or other tiny electronics shop, but out in my neck of the woods we had no such luck. It was Geoffery Giraffe or it was jack shit.
The thing was, Toys R’ Us had a very specific system for obtaining their video games. You had to first travel to an aisle inside the store where row after row of paper tags hung, each accompanied by a glossy color printout of a cover. In these days before widespread video game publications (The Wizard was one long Super Mario Bros. 3 quick look feature remember) often all you had to go on was this little snippet of an image on the cover. Often they would feature something that represented the game pretty well, even if the game itself was batshit insane. “I’m going to play an anthropomorphic tomato princess who’s trying to rescue the Salad Kingdom. I get that. Good cover design Hudson Soft.”
Other times though…you weren’t so lucky. In honor of the rampant upset over the recently announced Bioshock Infinite cover, I wanted to take a moment to remind all you young whippersnappers just how good you guys have it by presenting five of the most misleading video game covers of all time.
It was bad enough being the only kid around whose parents felt that the Sega Master System was an adequate replacement for a NES, but the moment when you opened this bad boy on your birthday was a real kick in the teeth. “Geez Mom, thanks for the microwave simulator. Intense hand burning action? Watch out for the steam!”
Thing was, Zillion was easily one of the best games for the system. Sega’s answer to Metroid, it was an epic cyberpunk adventure through a massive complex that didn’t actually have a save system despite taking what felt like weeks to beat. A true classic despite having box art that was bad even by Sega Master System standards.
2. Dragon Power
While not especially misleading at first glance (the game does indeed involve totally boss flying kicks and dragons) this one is insidious. You’d be at school, talking about all the cool cartoons from that Saturday when your buddy with a Japan connection would bring up Dragon Ball. It being the late 80s, you would have not seen it yet, but everything would sound slightly familiar.
Kid with a monkey tail? Extendable staff? Flying around on a cloud?
“Whoa guys, they made a Dragon Power cartoon?”
I still haven’t lived that one down. Fuck you Dragon Power.
I know, this is a classic example of terrible cover design, but how could I not mention it. I bought this game thinking it’d be a totally sweet banjo simulator and I was SORELY DISAPPOINTED. Between that and the fact that Harmonix still haven’t returned my emails about a banjo / washing board / jug / upside down wash bin Rock Band set, I’m starting to think people don’t share my love of downhome improvised bluegrass.
4. Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Just look at that cover, how could that not be a totally sweet samurai game? Stoic Chinese dudes, a ninja, a dude on a red horse, even a smoking hot geisha babe! Next thing you’ll tell me that Seven Samurai isn’t an action packed summer blockbuster!
Of course, as we all noticed far too late, the sticker on the front does plainly inform us that this is a strategy game and not in fact the world’s COOLEST game. As an adult I can appreciate the series’ taut balance of military tactics and diplomacy, but back then I just cried myself to sleep after realizing I had bought a glorified version of Risk with even more difficult to pronounce names.
5. Mobile Light Force
I don’t even know what’s going on here. Seriously. Charlie’s Angels fighting flying robots and explosions: The Game? It’s easily one of the most generic pieces of cover art in existence, and to make matters even worse, it has nothing to do with the game proper.
Originally titled Gunbird, Mobile Light Force is actually a shoot ‘em up in the same vein as Raiden. The characters include a 13-year old British witch, a giant robot, a German with a jetpack, and an older gay gentleman. None of them wear leather (at least, not during the game) and none of them is a lady whose facial features are slightly off.
Just thinking about all the Charlie’s Angels fans who ended up with this one in their stockings instead of the officially branded title bums me out a little. Wait, no it doesn’t, that game was fucking awful. Dodged a bullet there kids.
So when you’re walking through Best Buy come March and your eyes fall upon the somewhat generic looking cover of Bioshock Infinite, take a moment and think about how much worse it could’ve been. It could’ve had a stern looking Nazi general on the cover being attacked by werewolves in maid outfits.
Actually, I want to play that game. Atlus, get on it.