Not nearly enough attention is paid to good cover art, on both the publisher and the consumer side. Like with films or novels, good cover design should cast an artful eye towards conveying the contents of the game in an eye-catching way. As a collector, good cover art matters to me. It's something that can get me interested in a disc-based game, tipping me into a buying decision. It's something that I value years later when I peruse my collection, feeling the warm rush of nostalgia wash over me and reminding me of everything I loved about a game.
In a sea of mediocre (or worse) cover art, good cover design matters and it should be celebrated! Here is a look at 10 of the finest cover designs 2014 has had to offer!
For the purposes of this list I have selected physical games only, as the digital frontier is still sorting itself out.
Coming from Level 5, the developer of charming games like the Professor Layton series and Dragon Quest VIII and IX, it should be no surprise that their recent 3DS release has cover art bursting to the seams with personality. Fantasy Life is a lot like a blend of Nintendo's life sim Animal Crossing with design elements from Dragon Quest IX, and its cover art captures an appropriate spirit of adventure perfectly. Animated and whimsical, you can look at the cover design for a long time and continuously pick out new details in the foreground and background that you have never noticed before.
The Last of Us Remastered
Naughty Dog's The Last of Us was almost unanimously praised as THE defining game experience of 2013. When selecting the design for the game's PlayStation 4 remaster, they wisely chose something minimalistic. The monochrome color scheme and the expressions on Joel and Ellie's faces speak for themselves, setting a grim emotional tone. Absolutely classy.
Dark Souls II
Another monochrome selection that stands out for similar reasons. From Software's Dark Souls games are known for their scathing challenge, impeccable balance, and horrific aesthetic, and Dark Souls II's simple, elegant design conveys a palpable sense of foreboding and desperation.
Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix
Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy illustrator Tetsuya Nomura gets a lot of grief for his patented "zippers-and-hairspray" aesthetic, but it's worth remembering that he is an incredibly talented illustrator regardless of how you think his work translates into 3D models. The cover design for Kingdom Hearts' latest HD collection is a bold, busy reminder of that fact. His distinctive designs, all spiky hair and sullen expressions, are framed inside dozens of keyblades and the games' antagonists lord over the proceedings, with Xehanort practically holding the logo in the greasy palms of his hands.
Bonus points for recognizing the fact that most people are interested in this for the chance to play Birth By Sleep in HD by giving it the most real estate.
One of the weirdest games of 2014 also provides one the year's most compelling cover designs. The blood-crazed demi-goddess Zero kneels down in a space littered with flowers and blood, her dragon Mikhail's tail drawing the eye up his body to his distinctive face. The composition is fantastic, Mikhail's shape guiding your view over the whole of the piece, and the colors contrast exceptionally, creating a dim, melancholic tone without the need for resorting to monochrome as in earlier selections.
Super Smash Bros. 3DS
Super Smash Bros. cover art has long been a tricky business: taking an "all-stars" approach in a game where half the appeal is seeing recognizable characters beating each other senseless is pretty much a requirement, but it has long led to art that looks too busy for its own good. Even this year's Wii U version falls prey to the challenge, multiple characters exploding aimlessly out of the logo and into the viewer's face. The 3DS version though? Classy business. Angling everyone towards the upper right creates a sense of organized drama, with Link's iconic Master Sword leading the charge against an invisible foe.
It's exciting while looking surprisingly clean despite featuring over 10 characters, and it's impossible not to imagine an epic, colorful fight breaking out after simply glancing at this sharp cover design.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2's cover art explodes off the screen with its bold, bloody reds contrasted against the monochrome background. Gabriel looks incredible, fully selling the promise of finally being able to take the reigns of the Dragon himself, and his posture and color scheme exude power. Myriad foes populate the background, but their smoky presence denotes their insignificance when measured against the blood in the foreground, which is a horrific entity all its own that fuels Dracula's terrible power. Classy, eye-catching, and filled with enough meaning to those who have played the game to remain interesting. Kudos MercurySteam and Konami!
The Dynasty Warriors' 14-year old brand of 1 vs. Many hack & slash gameplay is well worn at this point, but injecting the formula with iconic characters and locations from Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda series has gone a long way towards giving it new life. Regardless of your thoughts on the gameplay, few can argue how exceedingly strong Hyrule Warriors' cover design is.
Link's pose is incredibly dynamic, his angled legs drawing the eye to the cold colors in the bottom right; the eyes follow his stance up to Princess Zelda, doing battle in warm tones framed by his scarf; that same scarf brings the eye back up to Link's face, and the angle of the sword finally brings things full circle to the imposing dragon in the upper right. This is a phenomenally done "action" piece, and it is one of the most eye-catching designs I have seen in years.
Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remaster
Square Enix has done an outstanding job with their remasters, with their Kingdom Hearts collections and this being a cut above similar releases. The cover art for Final Fantasy X / X-2 HD Remaster's limited edition is an absolutely lovely CG render of one of my favorite concept art pieces from the original game:
Like the remaster itself, this cover design takes something that was already beautiful and gives it a stunning, modern touch.
From the warm tones of the ruined background contrasting against the cold tones of the titan and the soldier in the foreground to the soldier's distinctive "perch" atop his iconic titan, Titanfall's cover art makes a statement. Since the moment Respawn released this artwork I was in love, but one of the defining aspects of it is that it isn't an "action shot", which is uncommon among first-person shooters. There is no grim-faced soldier in front of an exploding, generic military landscape. Titanfall's art allows the distinctive design of its soldiers and its mecha to take center stage, and it's all the better for it.