Worst video game covers of all time

Back in the days before YouTube, there were only a couple of ways to know what any video game was actually about. You could borrow it from a kid at school, read about it in a magazine, or (if there were absolutely no other options) you had to go against all conventional knowledge and judge the game by its cover. Some video games have covers that are exciting works of art enticing you into the action, but others have covers so bad that it's a miracle they sold any copies at all. Here are a few of the worst video game covers of all time.

Mega Man

When it comes to terrible box art, Mega Man is the champion. Even though Capcom pretty much revolutionized the run-and-gun genre with the series, the first game's U.S. version has one of the ugliest packages of all time: a splay-legged, oddly proportioned hero stands in a tropical wonderland, twisted gun at the ready, prepared for anything. Nothing on the cover represents anything in the game, and it gives off a distinct "8th grade art project" vibe. It may have scored bronze at the local Kreative Kidz Art Jamboree, but it has no place as a video game cover.

This Mega Man is so bad that he's actually become a running joke. "Fat" Mega Man or "Bad Box Art" Mega Man's most notable appearance is in Street Fighter x Tekken, where he's properly depicted as an overweight, middle-aged man with a crooked helmet. He almost made an appearance in Mega Man Universe, too, before the game was canceled. Either way, lopsided Mega Man is regarded as the worst mistake in Nintendo game art history, and rightfully so. That dopey dude isn't conquering any mad scientists any time soon.

Legend of the Ghost Lion

While the Famicom version of Legend of the Ghost Lion got a cool, '80s anime cover (much like Mega Man), the U.S. Nintendo version decided to take another creative direction. Instead, the game most critics agree is a bad Dragon Warrior ripoff got a cover that didn't say "fantasy adventure" as much as "aerobics tape." Sure, the promise of a lion that's also a ghost sets up the premise for an incredible adventure, but the early '90s fitness model in stretchpants and a headband pretty much kills the action-y, swordfighting vibe. At its best, it's almost the cover for a forgettable soft-rock band, but at its worst, it just looks like a game about cardio and crunches.

Palamedes

With apologies to publisher Taito, almost everything about Palamedes is hot trash. You're not getting a great start when your game is about playing dice, but depicting a series of sentient dice curbstomping a player in front of a creepy, baby-blue background is no way to entice anyone into your sad, sad game. Sure, Taito gets bonus points for at least trying to make a dice game look like it's exciting, and even more bonus points for not being afraid to get weird, but it quickly loses every point earned by putting the game's instructions on the cart itself, instead of a label. You know, the cart that's immediately trapped in the unviewable, hot darkness of the NES once you plug it in. It may be a slightly interesting puzzle game, but damn, everything about it is ugly.

Mr. Gimmick

Once again, the rest of the world gets shafted when it comes to a great video game. When it came to the limited processing power of the Famicom, the Japanese version of Mr. Gimmick broke through barriers in both programming and music. Basically, it's a Super NES game crammed into a Nintendo cart.

Not only did the release of Mr. Gimmick outside Japan never hit the States, but it was also incompatible with American NES systems due to the fact that it was only formally released in PAL format. The game's elaborate soundtrack was simplified, which is a unique crime against gaming, but worst of all, the game's adorable protagonist, Yumetaro, was absolutely destroyed for the non-Japan release. Instead of being depicted as a lovable, horned ball, the Nintendo Yumetaro is a screaming, dead-eyed, distorted ball of terror escaping a formless vortex. As far as video game heroes go, this Mr. Gimmick seems more prepared for the sweet release of the grave than an adventure.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

There are many, many strange NES adaptations of R-rated films, but even stranger than Hudson Hawk or The Untouchables is Bram Stoker's Dracula. Nintendo wasn't afraid to cater to a slightly older audience with titles like Taboo: The Sixth Sense, but a film about a weird, psychic, quasi-demonic rapist went above and beyond Nintendo fare. However, for a movie about a shape-shifting monster, ancient evil, topless Victorian ladies, and even an awesome Tom Waits cameo, Nintendo chose a blurry, underexposed shot of Drac's castle for the cover. Or at least we're meant to assume it's his castle; the photo is so poor that it's impossible to make out any details. Of course, a game based on the well-known legend of Dracula probably sells itself, but this cover gets an D for effort. And for Dracula. And for "Don't bother with this Castlevania ripoff."

Road Runner

By most accounts, Atari's Road Runner is a pretty average game, with a weirdly grating soundtrack and uninteresting play, but somehow Tengen's home version of the arcade game managed to be extra terrible. Tengen, an offshoot of Atari, was probably the most prolific producer of unlicensed NES games, and it produced more games of higher quality than anyone else when it came to off-brand Nintendo. But when it came to Tengen's version of Road Runner, Tengen couldn't get the license to publish for the Nintendo and couldn't even use the game's legit artwork like it could for other home releases. The result looks like a $25 tattoo: a terribly traced version of the real thing, and very, very wrong.

Fire 'N Ice

A wizard. A princess. A sprawling Super Mario Bros. 3-like map. A gargantuan megaboss covered in the bones of his enemies. The perfect recipe for probably the most epic video game cover of all time, right?

Instead, Tecmo went with the theme "wet Tetris" for its Fire 'N Ice cover. Instead of even fully showing the eternal conflict between the titular fire and ice, Tecmo decided to slap a big, green warning label across the game instructing you not to play it, lest you become addicted. Granted, Tetris-mania was still in full swing in 1993, despite the best efforts of Dr. Mario to conquer the disease in 1990, but actively warning against addiction, at the height of the Just Say No! campaign, all while obscuring the game's only visible graphics, was a bonehead move. And not the cool kind of bonehead the game's actual boss has.

Captain America and the Avengers

In 1991, Marvel Comics was employing a pretty solid stable of revolutionary comic book artists, so there's absolutely no reason the company should have allowed the home port of Captain America and the Avengers to be a terrible collage of clip-art. It happened anyway. While the arcade version allows players to choose from four different heroes, Nintendo's version only lets you pick between Captain America and Hawkeye. Yes, Hawkeye. Over Iron Man.

To top off the crap package, Data East took a scribble, cut out four superheroes from their comics, and slapped them just about anywhere they wanted on the cover, with Iron Man desperately trying to jockey into position between Nintendo's logo and the unnecessarily enormous black box that bears the game's title. It's an education in what not to do when you're designing, and possibly for what happens when you wait until the last minute to turn in your game art homework. It's not pretty.

Eliminator Boat Duel

You're a super cool boat owner who's just tripped on the world's most intense acid. Your goal is to make your way through an aquatic, psychedelic dreamscape without killing yourself or your glamorous, bikini'd passenger. Oh, and there's an occasional lake shark.

At least that's what the technicolor disaster that is the cover of Eliminator Boat Duel wants you to think, with its weird mix of photography, illustration, and bizarre rainbow filters. Instead, you're just a jerk on a boat, trying to drive your boat faster than other boat jerks, and in the end, you get the pretty, blonde girl as your trophy. It's standard racing fare, but the game's nightmarish cover is a visual abomination by any account.