Nintendo’s recent box-art is a big step up

Have you noticed how undeniably good Nintendo’s section in a game store looks in recent years? Whether you have or haven’t, you’ve probably unconsciously found yourself drawn to that shelf more than a couple of times.
This is in no small part thanks to the bold, bright, masterfully pieced together box-arts that first-party Nintendo Switch titles boast.

It wasn’t always this way, of course. With the release of the Switch, Nintendo seems to have put a much greater focus on presentation and ensuring that designers follow a definite formula of tightly packed, colourful covers.
The goal is to create a “busy” scene. I say busy rather loosely, as while these pieces are technically packed with information, there is a hell of an amount of clever use of space and colour at play here.
How it comes together at the end is rather unlike the approach most other companies go for however, often leaving no breathing room in the usual sense, but rather packing the scene to the brim and simply making some objects more important than others.
It takes real skill to pull off what they do, and seeing Nintendo take advantage of pushing their brand and identity in this way speaks volumes of the good mental shift that has happened in there lately.

As an example, have a look at the Mario Odyssey box-art:

At a glance, that’s a Mario game. No doubt about it.
Upon closer inspection, his hat has eyes now. This is the focal point of the cover, the most important piece of information. It cleverly overlaps Mario, meaning it’s near impossible not to look at both.
Now you’ve picked up the box and are interested so you look closer again, you see a city (radical shift in setting for a Mario game), you see a T-rex (radically out of place for a Mario game). It’s now clear to you that this is like no Mario you’ve played before. Looking further yet again you see snapshots of Mario in various colourful locales, reassuring you that not all has changed.

At this point you’ve probably read the title as well, as like the rest of the cover, it is bold, has a lot going on, and conveys its message with ease.

This all happens in the space of mere seconds, but these are all premeditated actions. The designers know exactly what they’re doing, and while previous Nintendo titles have of course done similar things, Switch covers have a very distinct approach to relaying information to the viewer.

Evolution through sequels

The Wii U brought about some real innovations from Nintendo, and while they were struggling to sell.. Well, anything. They did come out with some real good box-art.
Were they as good as the Switch designs are? Well, no, but it was a strong foot in the door of what was to come.

The easiest example to make is with the Mario Tennis games.
Ultra Smash released to a universal sigh, as most everything about it was wildly unfinished. This lack of finish even managed to leak into the cover art, somehow.
The entire thing feels as if it needed another year of work, and they couldn’t immediately bring in their cover designer and just told the art lead “Er, can you throw something together in a day or two?”.
I mean, c’mon, it looks like a demo disc.

When what is essentially the finished version of this same game later released on Switch under the moniker of Aces, it came boasting a damn fine cover.
As if to say “Oh yeah that’s right, don’t you for a second think we can’t design.”
Either that or Nintendo had to stop in and say “Hey, we’re going to handle this part ourselves.”.

Whatever the situation, the comparison is insane.
Ultra Smash’s desaturated, weirdly spaced, endlessly blue cover brings about the impression that you are going to be playing some very boring tennis.
While Aces on the other hand goes in the complete opposite direction, with the saturation dialed up to nine, a strong purple to compliment the bright yellow of the ball, and bright colours flashing in all directions.
The Switch’s signature busy look is well and truly at play here too, with details piled upon details. There’s a whole slew of information on display here, but the designer’s masterful use of leading lines makes it easy, and fun even, to consume.

Further examples

While not as dramatic as the comparison between the Mario Tennis games, the designers on the Splatoon team certainly upped their game for the sequel.
As with Ultra Smash, the original Splatoon’s cover had a strangely dull saturation level.
Given the fun, colourful nature of the game, you might expect some brighter colours. But alas, we get orange and blue, which should bounce off each-other beautifully, yet somehow come across on the dull side.
It’s an odd phenomenon but one that exists nonetheless. Regardless, I’m fond of this cover, but when compared to what we got with the next game, it’s hard not to criticize…

Splatoon 2 came with sunshine and fun to spare. I mean seriously, this cover is bursting at the brim with fun and creativity.
The shift to a pink and green colour scheme, the much more exaggerated motions of the characters, the overall focus, again, on packing the scene with information.
Small details such as the squids leaping in the direction of the kid characters, emphasising the perspective are a sight to behold.
Also, that square of light space between the two kids, perfectly separating and distinguishing them? That’s no happy accident.
Brilliant stuff!

Mariokart 8, upon release, boasted probably the best cover on the Wii U. I really liked it at the time, and honestly, still do. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, it gets its message across well.
Driving upside-down. Th-that’s essentially what it wants to tell you.

It wasn’t until the release of Mariokart 8 Deluxe that I realised how much better of a cover it could have! My goodness did they hit out of the ballpark with this one.
Deluxe’s cover is a child’ joy on Christmas morning captured and printed onto paper.
We’ve got yet another example of maxing out the details here, with some nice use of white space, which, on closer inspection, wait.. A lake? Lights? A city?! There’s so much going on here that you don’t see at first, it’s wonderful.
My favourite part, and what really makes this game feel new is the clever use of reflections.
Mario’s kart is hyper-shiny and reflecting the rainbow, helping tie it into the scene and title. The bob-omb, too! While it may seem like a small detail, the reflections on him feel very.. New, very modern. He’s also conveniently placed right underneath the end of the title, so you’ll definitely take in his shiny new coat of paint.

Probably my favourite Wii U box-art is the one for Yoshi’s Wooly World.
He’s just so goddamn adorable.
It’s honestly really well put together, and went for a much simpler feel.
It gets its points across well; 2D level at the front, player 2 in the back for multi-player, enemy to the side representing challenge, Bowser JR. hiding behind a stump to show that there is most likely a plot of some sort at play.
Also, yarn. Lots of yarn.

As much as I love this cover, they recently showed off what Yoshi’s Crafted World would be marketed with and holy hell, this is quite possibly the best video-game box-art ever made. It’s so nice.
I could honestly look at it for hours.
You’ve got that immediate big impact center, with our lovely sylvanian families-like Yoshi and the most adorable incarnation of Poochy to exist yet. Just look at that face.

Behind this is a similar design to Wooly World’s, but where there was once naught but a cloth behind, there is now textured board galore. The use of various textures and materials really helps with making individual, and otherwise similarly important assets jump out together all at once, essentially giving you a choice of things to pour your eyes over, in whatever order you so please.
Also, rather blatantly, the once simply blue background is now scattered with… Stuff! Just lots and lots of.. Stuff! Made me chuckle.
Either way, the combination of colours and textures here is beautiful, and this alone instills strong faith in me in the quality of the final product behind the art.

Leveled up

All in all, both the Wii U and Switch era featured some brilliant designs. I mean, who could forget the adorableness that is the Pikmin 3 cover!
What I’m trying to relay in this article is that Nintendo’s mentality when approaching covers and marketing material has become much more organised with the introduction of the Switch, and I’m all here for it.

Next time you walk into a game store, or the eShop even, take note of Nintendo’s first party offerings and look at their presentation perhaps compared to some others.
The unified design philosophies are a joy to behold, and have even been leaking into a lot of third-party material.
Makes me wonder if perhaps Nintendo has a brief they send out to developers, for designing such things.

Anyhow, I could go on all day, so I’ll stop myself here. I mean heck, we haven’t even touched on the backs of the boxes yet! Those too, have had a total re-arrange in design, and its brilliant stuff.
Brilliant stuff however, that we’ll be leaving for another time.

What do you think? Have you noticed the change in cover styles lately, do you perhaps not really care? Am I just a huge nerd? Let me know!

Also, my daily uploads are really not happening, apologies for that. This one took me two days of my free time, what with all the graphics to put together and whatnot. Hopefully things will kick into gear a bit more soon!


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Published by

Ryan McCarthy

I write about games a lot.

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