Most Impressive Game Box Cover Art from the 1980’s


It would be an understatement to indicate that the 1980’s was just another decade in the proliferation of home computer games. Rather, gamers from the era will be quick to point out that this decade was the most formulative in the beginning of the home computer and console games industry, and it set the stage for what would eventually become a worldwide phenomenon that today exceeds even the largest of entertainment industries including film and music.

What the hardware lacked in sophistication, the developers more than compensated for by sophistication in making use of the very limited availability in resources such as CPU speed, memory, graphics and sound capabilities, and input/output access speeds of the tape drives and floppy disc drives of the era. Access to the now ubiquitous Internet was at least a decade away, and therefore most of the software was purchased in a physical medium in the form of cartridges, cassette tapes, and floppy disks. Developers and publishers took advantage of the physical boxes that the medium was shipped in my providing compelling box cover art that depicted the essential themes from the game, and often included actual screenshots on the rear of the packaging for the prospective customers to further learn about the game upon initial inspection.

While it would be a daunting undertaking to enumerate all the spectacular game cover art from that bygone era, and some might submit that such an undertaking would be subjective at best, the box art from a few titles truly stands out. Below is a modest list of a few such extraordinarily exemplary artistic creations. The box art imagery for these games has been obtained from the web site.

Bruce Lee by Datasoft (1984)

Bruce Lee Box Cover Art

Bruce Lee was an amazing game where the protagonist, Bruce Lee, was tasked with fighting multiple Ninjas and the Green Yamo through multiple fighting chambers, while at the same time collecting the lanterns to proceed to the next level. The box cover art provides an excellent depiction of the fighting sequences that would take place in the traditional oriental venues depicted in the game. The running and Karate fighting game mechanics were extremely finely tuned for perfect gameplay using a 8-way digital joystick. The fast-paced sound of running, kicking, and fighting further enhanced the game atmosphere.

F-15 Strike Eagle by Microprose (1984)

F-15 Strike Eagle Box Cover Art

F-15 Strike Eagle was an arcade action flight simulator game developed by MicroProse. The cover art was a realistic looking hand drawn illustration of the US built F-15 Strike Eagle aircraft, a cutting edge fourth generation twin engine air superiority jet fighter that was developed in the 1970’s and continues to serve in multiple air force units throughout the world to this day.

The box cover image of the rapidly accelerating all weather capable jet with afterburning jet engines driving the fearsome fighter forward in overcast weather sets the stage for the adrenaline packed game, where the objective is to fly the fighter in hostile territories to complete various objectives. Other game marketing material lured the game player with catchy calls to action such as “Put a 20 million dollar thrill in your computer” ( , and “For fighter pilots – not sightseers” ( , with the latter being an apparent contrast with civilian flight simulators. The game featured a compact but functional cockpit with a state-of-the-art moving map, radar, and weapons load display panels, along with a heads-up display (HUD) indicating key flight parameters and a 3D rendering of the outside terrain, ground objects, and enemy aircraft.

Spy Hunter by Bally Midway (1983)

Sky Hunter Box Cover Art

Spy Hunter was originally released as an arcade game where it became highly popular. It was soon ported over to many of the game consoles and home computers. The game cover art accurately depicted the futuristic armed sportscar with machine guns.

By driving into a special equipment van, the car could also obtain surface-to-air missiles to fire at helicopters, as well as oil slicks and smoke screens to impede rapidly advancing enemy vehicles on the road. The box art also shows the speed boat that the car can convert into and continue the battle on the river adjacent to the road. The gameplay of this game was top notch due to fluid game animation, and a fast-scrolling landscape combined with the unique soundtrack to set the mood of the spy action game.

Impossible Mission by Epyx (1984)

Impossible Mission Box Cover Art

Impossible Mission was a game by Epyx that featured a very well animated spy character running between rooms accessible by hallways and elevators on a mission to break a code to access the control room belonging to Professor Elvin Atombender, an evil individual who is known to be accessing computers containing national security intelligence. The box cover shows the spy and the evil professor facing each other. As well it depicts the electrified cylinder-shaped robots who pose a constant hazard to the spy, and in the background, we see dangerous missiles in flight that could result on unspeakable catastrophes if the evil professor is able to access and tamper with the computers.

The cover art is drawn in neon colored outline drawing, which became the de facto illustration style for game cover art by Epyx for many of their games. This style of drawing quickly draws attention to the game themes with the bold color and contrasts and works well effectively to promote the Epyx brand, which was widely regarded as one of the topic action, sports, and platform game developers of the era. Impossible Mission was particularly well received due to its well-designed puzzles, fluid game play with large character animations, smooth transitions between game screens. The digitized speech sequences, including the iconic and haunting “Another visitor! Stay awhile. Stay forever!” phrase, were also among the first observed on home computers such as the Commodore 64.

Raid on Bungeling Bay by Broderbund (1984)

Raid on Bungeling Bay Box Cover Art

Raid on Bungeling Bay was a top down 2D scrolling action game, released initially in North America in 1984 for the Commodore 64 by Broderbund. The box cover art showed an ominous robot of advanced intelligence with glowing green eyes. This robot was a product of the industry military complex frantically working in factories spread across several islands to develop this frighting technology. Above the image of the killer robot’s face is a lone attack helicopter, as it flies low over the ocean between mountainous landscapes, with the sunset lurking behind it.

The game itself featured amazing 2D scrolling graphics with the helicopter in the centre portion of the screen. The helicopter would take off from an aircraft carrier and use its arsenal of missiles and bombs to destroy the factors, while at the same time evading and destroying enemy jets, gun turrets, missiles, and a battleship. The high detailed designs of the islands and the infrastructure, along with the challenging but achievable attack missions, made the gameplay very visually appealing.

The Duel : Test Drive II by Accolade (1989)

The Duel : Test Drive II Box Cover Art

The Duel : Test Drive II was the sequel to the highly popular Test Drive game released in 1987. The Duel’s cover art featured the highly advanced and rare Porsche 959 driving on one side of the road, being passed by a blurred image of a Ferrari F40 driving fast. The calligraphic and italic writing of the words The Duel and Accolade in white on black fonts was truly unique, and the depiction of the actual cars racing one another on a pure black asphalt road with a yellow solid line diving the two lanes.

The game featured amazing drivability from the simulated analog steering with digital inputs received from the joystick. The feel of speed on the road, the frightening approach of oncoming traffic, and the ever-present challenge of avoid speed traps set by the police made the game play quite exceptional. The varied terrains, ranging from desert landscape to mountain side driving at the edge of a cliff, and driving on grasslands with both hilly and flat terrain provided a spectacularly varied and exhilarating driving experience.

The Seven Cities of Gold by Electronic Arts (1984)

The Seven Cities of Gold Box Cover Art

The Seven Cities of Gold box cover art featured settlers from European continent arriving by ship to the New World, believing that they were enroute to the Orient, being met by native tribes in a potentially hostile engagement.

Electronic Arts, the publisher of the game, was at the time branding itself as a company that is really an association of electronic artists that have the common goal of fulfilling the potential of personal computing. To draw attention to the similarities with the traditional music and film industries with the rapidly evolving home computer industry, some of the game box covers were in fact in the same format as vinyl record covers. Games such as The Seven Cities of Gold took advantage of this game cover format, and the floppy disks used for the game medium fit quite conveniently in the flat packaging.

The game itself was one of the first horizontally and vertically scrolling 2D map discovery games with an open concept world consisting of a gigantic play area of more than 2500 screens. The game involved guiding a Spanish fleet of several ships and about 100 men with some trade goods and food. The object is to establish bases in the New World, for which the mapping was a realistic recreation of the Americas with many of the actual rivers and land to sea boundaries, and tactfully dealing with the native tribes to exchange the trade goods for gold. The game was well received by the game reviewers and received numerous awards.

The Last Ninja by Activision (1987)

The Last Ninja Box Cover Art

The box cover art for The Last Ninja featured an image of a man in a ninja mast where just the eyes are visible from the mask, where a gaze aimed squarely at the viewer shows an intense resolve. Above, the words The Last Ninja appear, with the Ninja word being much more prominent and presented in an ancient oriental script.

This game was extremely well developed, and it was one of the first 3D isometric type games on the computers of the generation. The player was controlled by turning in one of eight directions, and then moving in the selected direction. The ninja was required to navigate dangerous terrain and fight formidable foes using a combination of weapons including nunchaku, ninjato, shuriken, staff, and smoke bombs. Puzzles were solved by kneeling in key locations like shrines to Buddha, fountains, and places of worship. The poetic background music also helped to establish the mood of the game and create a suspenseful atmosphere.

Beach-Head II: The Dictator Strikes Back by Access Software (1985)

Beach-Head II : The Dictator Strikes Back Box Cover Art

Beach-Head II: The Dictator Strikes Back had an excellent hand drawn image of soldiers approaching a large, fortified structure with pillboxes on what could be an amphibious assault boat or sea to land troop transport. The villains are approaching with guns firing, and the assault helicopters from the allies’ side are firing also. Beach Head was a predecessor to this game, which was itself a very popular game with excellent choreography of the action sequences.

Beach Head II took the play to the next level with advanced features like digitized animations, persistent bullet trails, synthesized speech, 3D style graphics, and even advanced level artificial intelligence employed by the enemies. There were several uniquely designed levels including the allied paratrooper landing into a heavily defended enemy territory, a hostage rescue scene, a fly out of the hostages in an armed rescue helicopter, and a climactic knife throwing scene with the dictator facing off against the hero on wooden boardwalks with a frigid lake between them.

Elite by Firebird (1985)

Elite Box Cover Art

The cover art of Elite featured a gold-colored symbolic representation of a futuristic spacecraft shaped somewhat like a bird extending its wings, set against a pure black background. The emblem could be the designated logo of a federation of planets or an organization of traders. The bright image of the large golden emblem set against the black space background was somewhat reminiscent of the original Star Wars film from 1977 which used a similar play on colors for the opening credits.

The game Elite was quite revolutionary at the time and created the new genre of open world space trading and combat simulation games, which was followed by very successful hit games such as Wing Commander, Freelancer, Rebel Galaxy, Avorion, and others. Elite was one of the first games to offer real time 3D wireframe animation of objects in space with hidden line removal at reasonable frame rates. The combination of both strategy and action in the same game, along with original concepts such as a rich instrumental panel display and docking into a rotating space station made the game truly memorable.

Spelunker by Broderbund (1984)

Spelunker Box Cover Art

A Spelunker is defined as an individual who explores caves, which is what the Spelunker game is all about. The cover of Spelunker displayed a photography of a miner wearing a helmet with a spotlight, clearly working in one of the world’s most dangerous environments as seen by the sweat and grime on his face. The seriousness of the image sets the tone for the harsh and unwelcoming environments which the underground miners are exposed to on a regular basis.

The game involves navigation down a seemingly endless cave using a combination of elevators, stairs, small railcars, bridges, and ropes while jumping over hazards and using various weapons to retrieve objects. All the while, the oxygen supply continues to dwindle, and dangerous creatures such as bats and ghosts need to be avoided, as well as other problematic items like gaseous elements, toxic steam puffs, deep ridges, and boiling liquids. Dynamites, keys, and flares are used to destroy obstructions such as mounds, unlock gates, and startle flying bats.

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders by Lucasfilm Games (1988)

Zack McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders Box Cover Art

The cover box art of the Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders depicts a man in a full sleeved shirt with collar and tie holding a glass bowl containing a goldfish in one hand, and a large loaf of French bread in the other hand. Behind him is a woman casually holding a mask with eyeglasses and man’s nose and mustache. Beneath the standing man is a strange looking man with large googly eyes slumped over of an electric guitar, with a two-headed squirrel above him.

The well-drawn cover vividly draws the viewers’ attention to the comical and cult like aspects of the game, where a funny interplay between humans and supernatural creatures takes place to solve the unusual mysteries of the game. To further describe the plot, the phrase at the bottom of the box cover reads “Can one hack writer, two Yale coeds, and a stale load of French bread save the world from galactic conspiracy? Not without your help.”

This graphics adventure game uses the same game engine as this game’s famous predecessor, Maniac Mansion. It features a 2D environment in which the characters move in primarily a side scrolling window, with a set of action command words at the bottom such as Push, Pull, Open, Close, Give, Read, and so on. The mouse is used to select actions in the scene by building simple phrases using a set of verbs and nouns, and to direct the motion of the protagonist. The graphics are well drawn, and the story is light and entertaining with a good mix of puzzles and dialogue.

Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny by Origin Systems (1989)

Ultima V : Warriors of Destiny Box Cover Art

The box cover art for Ultima V : Warriors of Destiny featured a well-armed knight carrying a drawn long sword, with face and torso protected by metal wire mesh. Behind him, a middle-aged man with long hair on his knees, possible injured from an earlier altercation, attempts to extend a magic wand of sorts. In front, of the knight are large grim reaper figures wearing black gowns with hoods of the same color, their eyes glowing red and peering at the knight. The uneven terrain features a moss surface where the humidity has permitted it to flourish on even the trees.

This cover carefully sets the stage for the fifth installment of the now famous Ultima series, where the combination of tales of medieval heroism as it battles power foes, using earthly and supernatural capabilities. The game features a top down 2D 4-way scrolling landscape where the details emerge as the player moves in a turn-based fashion. There are many opportunities to interact with other creatures as well as inanimate signs. In this episode of the Ultima saga, the protagonist is tasked with battling the evil forces unleased by Blackthorn, a terrible person who has usurped the throne from the benevolent king, Lord British. This classic roleplaying game introduced many innovations such as time of day-based capabilities of the non-playable characters, and the ability to converse with them using four letter word prefixes. The reviews of this game were overwhelmingly favourable.

Karateka by Broderbund (1985)

Karateka Box Cover Art

Karateka’s cover art featured detailed hand drawn images of the protagonist Karateka who is an expert in the martial arts, Princess Mariko, the protagonist’s love interest, the horrendous warlord Akuma, and a fight scene in which the protagonist is delivering a fearsome kick to an attacker sent by Akuma. In the background we see images of a Japanese shrine high atop a mountain, and a traditional Torii. The word “karateka” is printed in red above the artwork in a Japanese style font. This image wonderfully depicts many of the key players in the game, and the images of these people alludes to a film like experience.

The game begins with a scrolling description of the situation, and an animated cutscene with excellent audio video synchronization. Then the karateka is launched into the first scene where the fight begins. The digitized video of the running, stances, and fighting moves is very pleasing to view, and the game offers a surprisingly simple yet pleasing fighting style with several types of attacks. The buildup of suspense created by a cutscene animation and a villain running towards the protagonist prior to the fight sequence feels like being in a martial arts movie. Combined with unique challenges such as the attack by the warlord’s bird of prey and a dropping portcullis make the gameplay truly memorable.