Old game box art vol. 1

A while I ago, I wrote about a poster collection made about old Atari game boxes as well as a book written about the Art of Atari. These two books shed some light on how Atari aimed to use artists to convey something grander of the games that were graphically limited. The art of those game boxes was often far more enticing than the actual presentation of those games and this was a trend that continued well into the 1990's. The better the games started to look, the less their marketing revolved around images that tried at times to convey the abstraction of the game to the potential buyers.

Nowadays, the developers can show videos of their games, but there was a time when graphics of the games consisted of a handful of blocky pixels and limited colour palette. Showing the games in action didn't by itself get the marketing very far, they needed something extra. And that extra was the art for the boxes the games were sold in, as those boxes could arouse ideas despite still having actual game screenshots on them. The imagination of the players did what the technology could not.

So that in mind, I began to think about all the game art I saw as a kid when my main computer was Amstrad CPC 464. More than reading reviews, games were bought by looking at game art, be it a game you saw in a store or in an advertisement. This especially, because all my friends had Commodore 64's, meaning that copying wasn't an option, despite the game base itself was similar.

From here starts a little series, where I'm going to display some of that fantastic game art, which caught my eye as a kid. It all might not be technically great or even extremely original, but it was art that sold the titles. Also, I'll display art that might have made me want a game, but end up not getting it because it wasn't released for Amstrad.

These scans have been scrounged from the net, from usual places like MobyGames, as I don't own any of these titles anymore.

James Clavell's Shôgun (1986)

A game based on the Clavell's thick historical novel of the same name also shares the cover for the first edition of the book, which I believe was painted by Edward Vebell. It is a simple, yet effective image, catching the eye and imagination, shifting you to the feudal Japan by simply showing a hilt of a Katana.  The game itself looks pretty good as well. Amstrad was capable of producing colourful, nice art, despite often its capabilities were underused.

Personally, I didn't get to enjoy the nice colour palette of Amstrad, as I only had a green screen monitor for it. Later on, I did learn, that there were connectors you could have used to attach the computer on a regular TV and get colours that way, but that's a tad late information considering the computer itself was ages back ditched away from a way of 8088 PC.

To this day I have no idea what you have to do in the game. It's some sort of an adventure/strategy game, but I don't really know how to proceed in it. I tried it on an emulator a while back, and even now I just didn't get it. Do note, that this isn't the text adventure version that was released in 1988, but an earlier adaptation.

Apparently, the idea is to get the title of Shôgun, but I never did understand how to achieve that goal. The couple of times I tried to play it as a kid left me dumbfounded and I just ran back and forth, trying to pick up things, shooting some weird sun shaped spheres.

There's a strategy to all of it, I'm sure, but I never did manage to crack it. Manual could help, but I've not seen it anywhere and back when I actually wanted to play it, my English wasn't that great.

Beach-Head II (1985)

Back in the day, Beach-Head II was among my favourite games. It was a simple arcade style game, where you try to mow your way to the end boss, the dictator, or if you play as the dictator, get rid of the allied troops trying to take you down.

Graphically the game doesn't get even close to the action-packed, dramatic, macho war scene used as the box art, but for a moment or two, you can almost imagine the game being something like that. There's a couple of different versions of the box art, but that I'm most familiar with was done, to my knowledge, by Oliver Frey.

Depending on which side you choose,  the first thing you do is either paratroop soldiers to attack or try to kill as many as you can. Then you try to get to the enemy base or try to defend it and finally you get to have a knife fight with the dictator or try to fend off the attacker. The levels can be played in a two-player mode, where one is the dictator, the other is the allied. It's not a complex game, but it was, at least back then, entertaining enough, so I did play it quite a bit.

I don't recall ever playing the game through, but I do think I managed to get to the final level to fight the dictator. The game itself isn't long, very few of these old arcade titles are, but they do make up the lack of length with difficulty.

Reading old magazine reviews do put the graphics of the game in an interesting perspective, as one review stated that Beach-Head II had state of the art graphics and animation. Mabe they were, but as for the atmosphere goes, they were a far cry from what the nice box art conveyed.

Rimrunner (1988)

Here's a game I never played, as it was never published to Amstrad. I did see the artwork in a game magazine, where it was also mentioned as coming to Amstrad as well, but that never happened. I'm not certain, but the art might be done by Gary Carr. He did the graphics for the game, so it's not an out there idea for him the be responsible for the cover art as well. If you know otherwise, throw me a message.

As for the game itself, it is a sidescrolling shooter, where you control some sort of a shotgun fielding ant-man riding a dinosaur, like the box art shows. And that in itself made me want to play the game. Had it been released to Amstrad, I probably would have wanted it.

Googling about the game informed me, that Rimrunner was planned to be released on other platforms besides Commodore 64, but those versions were canned and only some prototype versions of them exist. I guess the weird looking alien ant didn't sell as well as the developers hoped.

And that's that for the time being.