Mega Man 3 Alt
Image: sumb1else / Capcom

Early Mega Man box art — specifically the North American versions of Mega Man box art — are infamous for being a bit, well, off. And we're being exceptionally generous when we say 'a bit'; the NA cover used for the original game is renowned for being one of the worst examples of video game box art ever created and even Capcom designers themselves have been known to voice their dismay at the decisions made in those early NES days. We'd beg to differ that it's the worst box art ever, although there's no denying it is absolutely atrocious.

By the time Mega Man 3 rolled around, things had settled down a bit and the North American Mega Man adorning the 8-bit classic's cover is much closer to the Rockman we know and love. Sure, his face is a little impish, but compared to 1 and 2, it's close to being acceptable.

Recently a production cell featuring an alternate version of the North American art — possibly a layout design before the final artwork was created — was sold via online auction. As you can see above (and below), this version features the same exact layout as the finalised art, with minor differences across the board. Specifically, check out the detail on the flooring and the lighting in this preliminary version, plus the main character's face:

In the description the seller detailed how it was originally purchased from "years ago from someone on the now-closed NintentoAge site who got it directly from someone involved in the marketing of the game". Here's some more detail on the cell from the same item description:

It’s roughly 5” tall and is extra cool because it features the box art without any of the game title, Capcom logo, and promotional stripe over it. This might be one of the only ways to see the full format of just the artwork. The most interesting thing about this piece is that it features an unused version of the art. If you look at Mega Man’s face, you’ll see his eyes are different from the final box art. Who knows if there any other copies of this version anywhere else.

It’s possible that this piece was used to create the layout for the final production box art. Most pieces like this are either locked away somewhere and nobody knows about them, or often they are destroyed, so this is truly a unique piece.

The cell ended up selling for $566 plus shipping — not bad for a piece of 8-bit Mega Man history. We certainly hope the new owner takes good care of it.

We've taken a look at early Mega Man box art as part of our Box Art Brawl series (which will return someday, we promise!) — feel free to peruse the varying levels of horror at your leisure:

Like this version of the Mega Man 3 box art? Where would you display this lovely little bit of NES history if you'd put in a winning bid? Let us know below.

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