"Beauty is only skin-deep" is never applicable to video games. Publishers must effectively market their games, and one of the most impactful ways to capture gamers' attention is through box art. This is especially crucial during this era when the only means of purchasing Game Boy Advance (GBA) games is through retail outlets. Unfortunately, some of the publishers failed this assignment spectacularly and betrayed the developers by coming up with terrible box art. Here are seven of the best games on the GBA with the worst box art.
Best Game Boy Advance Games with the Worst Boxart
7. River Ransom EX
River City Ransom EX is a remake of the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) classic, a game that stood out in the crowded side-scrolling beat 'em up genre. It managed to capture players' hearts as one of the best beat 'em ups ever made. While the game underwent various iterations on different systems in Japan, it never made it to the US. The Game Boy Advance brought the definitive version to the Americans.
The storyline revolves around Alex and Ryan, two friends turned rivals, tasked with reclaiming River City from the grip of ruthless gangs, led by the menacing Slick. With Alex's girlfriend held hostage, it's up to them to clean up the street.
River City Ransom EX deserves a spot on this list due to its inferior box art compared to both its previous and subsequent releases and versions of the game. While it's true that the cut magazine letters convey a sense of kidnapping, this concept is executed poorly in the cover art of this version. In contrast, the original cover art features the same concept from the reddish background as well as the text art. Yet it looks ugly, perhaps it is the anime-influenced American aesthetic instead of the realistic style in the original. It also looks so busy with a lot of texts with clashing font styles.
6. Butt Ugly Martians: B.K.M. Battles
This game, contrary to expectations it set because of its title and as can be gleaned from its cover art, actually leans more towards a shooter style reminiscent of titles like Bangai O or Metal Warriors. It offers three mechs that players can switch between during the game, each with varying stats (damage, armor, speed) and distinct colors (red, yellow, and blue). The game begins with a brief 3-minute tutorial explaining power-ups and the map system.
Players navigate through stages by collecting keys to progress further, eventually reaching a boss. The map displays key locations and gradually fills in explored areas. The gameplay is relatively straightforward, with the primary challenge being the persistent energy level across stages, which becomes increasingly difficult in later levels.
Despite the indeed butt ugly cover art, Butt Ugly Marians: B.K.M. Battles has decent graphics, really strong music, and acceptable core gameplay that admittedly lacks replay value. Nevertheless, this game is still worth playing after all these years.
5. Mazes of Fate
The art style on the cover of Mazes of Fate is actually quite impressive. However, it's the use of a rusty hue that makes everything appear unclear. Additionally, it doesn't help that the characters are either not facing forward or are in a side view, making them difficult to discern due to their terrible perspective and angle.
As for gameplay and production values, Mazes of Fate is a retro-style RPG that combines three different visual styles: an isometric view of the overworld and towns, a close-up view of the characters, and a first-person view of the dungeons. The game has a colorful and stylized low poly art style, dynamic lighting and shadows, water reflections, and ambient sounds. The game also has a catchy soundtrack that fits the fantasy theme.
This is no Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, but it channels the classic dungeon crawlers. It is also a lengthy game with several side quests. More importantly, it has good puzzle elements in its dungeon crawling.
4. Rebelstar: Tactical Command
Rebelstar: Tactical Command is a strategy RPG reminiscent of classics like X-Com and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. The gameplay revolves around turn-based combat on various battlefield settings where players strategically maneuver their units to engage the enemy. It offers a wealth of options and tactics, from multiple attack methods to character abilities and resource management. While the game provides a deep and engaging experience, it can be challenging, especially for newcomers to the strategy genre.
Its intriguing storyline, which unfolds across a series of missions is surprisingly good given the cover art. The Earth has been enslaved by aliens, and players follow the journey of protagonist Jorel as he joins a group of rebels and becomes entangled in a mysterious conspiracy. While the plot can be slow-moving it ultimately delivers an engaging narrative with unexpected twists.
Unfortunately, the naked blue aliens on the cover should deter not just the parents looking for games to gift their children, but also self-respecting adults. Some people may call the police when they see a person carrying the box of Rebelstar: Tactical Command.
3. ESPN Final Round Golf 2002
Did Konami just watermarked their own box art? How many "KONAMI" should be plastered on the box art so that gamers would be aware they are playing a Konami game? In all seriousness, ESPN Final Round Golf 2002's cover art is so bland. It is just a golf ball on the ground Saturn-like ring around it. And that is it.
It is just a shame that this is just the box art of one of the best sports games on the GBA. This game competes with various crazy good golf games like Mario Golf and various Tiger Woods titles which have amazing box art. ESPN Final Round Golf 2002 is grounded and offers original core gameplay and varied courses which are worth revisiting for how hefty in content this portable game is.
Is Banjo riding the sky so high he is now in heaven? The box art of Banjo Pilot looks like a watercolor drawing got wet. It is not commensurate with the quality of this racer at the time of its release compared unfavorably with Mario Kart. But the truth is, Banjo-Pilot is a great game that was just unfortunately misrepresented by its box art. Also, the rocky development of the game contributed to the game not reaching its potential.
The game’s main hook is the ability to fly in the air instead of driving on the ground. This adds some verticality and freedom to the gameplay, but also some confusion and chaos. The game’s tracks are varied and creative, but also short and linear. The game’s items are fun and useful, but also random and unfair. In short, it is indeed a Mario Kart clone.
While it did not push the kart racer in a new direction, Banjo-Pilot's graphics are just tantalizing. It is colorful and detailed. The music is also catchy and more than decent.
Just like ESPN Final Round Golf 2002, Sheep is an entry to our best-of list. It is a puzzle game which is unique in every way. The box art, unfortunately, is unique but not as a compliment. It is a victim of early 3D animation reminiscent of PlayStation 1 various intro movies. The graphics did not age well, and even at that time, that art style is just fugly even if the people should have known better given their fashion.
Sheep is a puzzle game that puts players in the role of a sheepdog who has to herd sheep through various levels full of dangers. The game has a whimsical setting and a novel concept that appeals to puzzle fans. The game challenges players to think strategically and skillfully as they face obstacles such as farm machinery, trapdoors, and hostile machines. The game has two modes: Normal and Arrange. In the Arrange mode, you have to train your sheep as well as guide them through the levels, adding an RPG-like element to the game.