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Judging a Book by its Cover

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Why judge games on their gameplay merits when you can take one look at their box art and stop there. This time around I take a look at the beloved Mega Man on the NES.

For many a year it has been hotly debated if video games are considered art and rightly so! With the sheer amount of technical, musical and artistic talent that’s poured into so many games how could you argue? But it can also be argued that what makes a game great isn’t it’s artwork or graphics, but the gameplay. I get it!

I’ll tell you this much though, you can put all the time and effort into making the best game ever that all your friends, parents and grandparents will be talking about for the next 30 years, but first impression matter! I honestly don’t know how Mega Man on the NES survived passed it’s first month anniversary let alone ten sequels and an eleventh one on the way with box art like the original! Normally, I’d say “look at this little gem!” sarcastically, knowing little about the game and truly judging it by it’s cover alone, but in this case Mega Man really is a gem of the NES era. I love the franchise and this is why I’m traveling back to 1987 and being disappointed in you *points in general direction of San Francisco* Capcom USA!

Mega Man NES Cover
Source | GameFAQs (Front, Back)

I can just imagine, in 1987, looking at this hot mess on the shelf, cringing and moving on. But one look at that cover does display some enticing and bold statements, “State-of-the-Art” and “High Resolution Graphics”. Phrases that draw you in like Magnet Man’s magnet beam and gives you a big snuggly hug of deception or a Guts Man boulder to the face. In an age of coaxial connections and 15 inch CRT televisions I guess anything that’s not fuzzy white noise and VHS tape distortion is at least some sort of definition though high seems like a stretch. Obviously, it’s from the future of technological technology because there’s a sweet glowy blue and red grid in the background for all your bar graph and scatter plot needs. And in this far flung future of statistics you’ll need all the memory you can get to fit all those high definition 8 bits of color, one megabit of “high capacity” memory to be precise. It’s a good thing they nixed the save features on this cart and replaced it with a password system, otherwise, who knows if we’d actually be able to fit this game on the cartridge! Skewed glowy grids were Capcom’s priority, I can tell. I mean, look at Mega Man, he knows what I’m talking about!

Mega Man Face Zoom
Source | GameFAQs (Front Cover)

And then there’s the elephant in the room, that portrait. The perfect representation of this fantastic work of 1980’s modern fiction. We all know this game is about a determined man (robot?), with bad posture that either needs to poop or is supremely disappointed with the giant floating hamburger buns behind him. With his baggy, puffy blue shirt, crooked helmet and his iconic blue bomber yellow hockey padding protecting him. He’s more than ready to take on all this deluded dystopian world has to throw at him. It’s a good thing he has his Fisher Price Imaginext playsets in the background to keep him occupied while he waits for the next available helpless village or oil refinery to blow up.

What really kills me is that the European and Japanese versions of the Mega Man box art really hit the nail on the head (at least somewhat). At the minimum they were a better representation of what you were getting in the box. Unless what you were expecting to play as was a derpy, bootleg Judge Dredd, then I guess you’d be disappointed in a different regard. Capcom really didn’t have any excuse, they had all the talent they could want and they’ve been doing this kind of stuff for years already! I mean Keiji Inafune was one of the lead designers!! But nope, when Capcom decided to bring it over here, they were like “Hey, who has water colors and no talent?!” and that one guy in the back corner cubicle raised his hand. “Your hired!” yells Capcom USA execs, and all the stars and planets aligned and this beautiful mess was born.

Mega Man and Rockman
Source | GameFAQs (Mega Man (EU), Rockman (JP))

I mean come on guy in the back corner cubicle!! A pistol?? Really?!!! And I can’t say I recall Mega Man ever wearing yellow over his iconic blue. Did you even take a small peek at the gameplay, or a screenshot or maybe even consulted one of the people working on this game in your own freakin’ company!? Like maybe a designer? It could just be me, but that seems like it may give you some context.  

On top of it all, we can be rest assured that with Nintendo’s seal of quality stamped right on the box and despite the lack of effort and/or talent on the front of the box, what comes within will be a quality title. It’s a good thing 90% of us tossed that sturdy cardboard piece of kindling that was built to last the second we released it from it shrink wrapped prison of preservation. Otherwise, who knows how far the franchise would have made it.

Oh wait, then Mega Man 2 happened… But I’ll save that for another time…

What are some of the games you love but hesitate to display on your shelf? Would you wear a t-shirt with this fantastic piece of artwork emblazoned on its front?

** Cover art used in the header image at the top of the article courtesy of GameFAQs **