Welcome back to Box Art Brawl, the weekly contest where retro video game box art variants duke it out for your approval.
Last week we broke the 'rules' and featured a non-Nintendo platform example in the spiky blue form of Sonic the Hedgehog for the SEGA Mega Drive / Genesis. The hedgehog's first game cover is an iconic one all regions and it was a close run contest, but (and this one surprised us a bit) Europe turned out to be the fastest thing alive, winning the race with 42% of the vote. North American came in close behind with 37% while the Japanese cover came home at the back of the pack. Who'da-thunk-it? Congratulations to Sonic, commiserations to Sonic and Sonic.
This week Castlevania returns not only to our TV screens with the third series of the (rather good) animated Netflix show, but also to this poll-based crucible of public opinion with Castlevania - the 3D one on N64. This is the series' third appearance following #12 Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse and #26 Castlevania: Dracula X. Earlier this week we ranked all the Castlevania games available on Nintendo platforms, and despite earning our respect, the first N64 entry certainly doesn't stand alongside the greats in Konami's hallowed, hammy horror franchise. Still, a game doesn't need to be great to have great box art.
Contrary to popular opinion, it feels like a lovely night to have a curse, so why not take a stroll back to 1999, hmm?
"Real Action Adventure". None of that 'pretend action adventure' here, you understand! The Japanese cover gives an excellent first impression with Reinhardt and Carrie flanked by skeletons and a blood red, bat-filled sky providing the backdrop as the big bad's ugly mug peers into the middle distance. It's got all the elements you need for a great Castlevania cover, including a whip and a pointy-towered castle.
There’s an effective use of 3D renders to achieve a look similar to the painterly covers of old, although each element becomes more disparate the longer you look. Given the standard of the time when it came to pre-rendered game covers, the compositing job on this one is utterly commendable. It's hardly a vintage Tom duBois job, but it does a good job of emulating one.
The European version takes all the expected elements (minus a pair of ominous vampiric eyes) and turns Reinhardt into a Heath Ledger look-a-like. The fact that it doesn't reflect the look of the game at all may be a minus for some, although that wasn't an issue when it came to beautiful Castlevania covers in the past.
We especially like the way the whip needlessly flits around the logo and off towards the spires of the castle in the background. Say what you like about the game - this is top shelf stuff. No Dracula, though. Bin it.
The North American variant takes a leaf from the Japanese version, using renders to illustrate the cover. It employs the same fetching logo as the European version and we quite like the render of Reinhardt (similar, though not identical to the Japanese version), although the fact that so much of the cover's real estate is devoted to a blocky, low-poly castle is beyond us. The alcoves in the background to the left of Reinhardt's whip hand, for example, are obviously part of the texture. In-game, from a distance, with a squint, on a cloudy day, it would be passable. Something you'd want taking up a good chunk of your game's cover while sitting on a store shelf in 1999, though?
It makes you wonder that Konami was hoping to accomplish with this. On one hand it could be viewed as a valiant, honest attempt to give players a taste of the visuals they can expect when they fire up the cart in their Nintendo 64 entertainment system. On the other hand, crummy textures from the 32/64-bit era don't make for beautiful images. It's also missing the vital elements of bats and a vampire staring at you through the dark night sky. Minus points for that.
Despite all those stated faults, we still like this cover! Kinda like the game itself. Maybe it's the luscious red moon against the starry night sky. Maybe it's the needless-yet-classic white drop highlight around the castle. We suspect it's actually the protagonists magnificently bushy orange eyebrows. Whatever it is, we don't envy the decision you lot have to make this round.
Them's your choices this week, but which one whips you into a frenzy of enthusiasm? Give your favourite a click below and then whipcrack that 'Vote' button.
So, which did you go for? Share your opinions and defences of this brave game below, and we'll see you next time for round 34 of this most box art-iest of brawls.