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Cover Critic
The Cover Critic Meets His Maker
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on March 26, 2008   |   Episode 68 (Show Archive)  

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. But since I've never heard that expression used against video games I figure that it's open season on the box art you see every day. This is The Cover Critic, your guide to what's good and bad in the world of video game boxes. In this episode we cut out a big chunk of video game history and make fun of it. For example, this week we take a look at four old school Amiga games. Oh sure, not a lot of American gamers played with the Amiga, but that shouldn't keep us from looking at some of its worst covers. Oh, and when you're done looking at Volleyball Simulator and Shadow Dancer, you should check out our exclusive review of Soul Calibur IV. It's really worth your time. All this and more can be yours when you check out our newest episode of The Cover Critic!
Volleyball Simulator (Time Warp Production)
[ Amiga - 1988 - Final Rating: D ]
Have you ever wondered what was going through the mind of people on video game covers? Well you don't have to think too hard about the thoughts in this kid's mind. While it may look like he's having a good time watching green volleyball players (all men, for whatever reason) engage in an exciting match, the truth is that he's a blood thirsty sociopath that is just waiting to kill the poor athlete who can't get the ball over the net or blows a big play. What he does next is almost too gruesome to put into words. He starts with the small green-ish legs, breaking each in multiple locations. And then he takes a piece of paper and cuts a very thin slice all the way up the body. After he pours lemon juice all over the victim he puts them out of their misery by squishing their tiny little heads. Funny thing, they may have green skin, but their blood is just as red as ours. And you'll notice that this sick bastard appears to be floating out in the middle of space. Does that mean that, dare I say, this sick nut job is supposed to be God? Talk about taking Volleyball back to the Old Testament.

Perhaps I'm looking too far into this cover. Surely Time Warp wasn't trying to suggest that this sweater-wearing sicko is the big man upstairs. But that still doesn't explain why this guy looks so excited to mass murder two teams of volleyball players. Upon closer investigation it's clear that the gamer's joystick appears to be malfunctioning. Unless I'm seeing something that isn't there, this guy's control is sending electrical charges out and shocking the man. Could that be the reason for his Batman villain-style bloodlust? Could that be the reason that these green volleyball players have rallied together to create a weapon that will one day free them from the tyranny of this game player? Godspeed to you little volleyball players, Godspeed.

Bill's Tomato Game (Psygnosis)
[ Amiga - 1993 - Final Rating: C+ ]
When Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart write the famous song "Isn't It Romantic?" I bet they never thought that it would inspire two tomato lovers to go on a giant video game adventure. Yet that's just about the only way I can explain Bill's Tomato Game. Now I know I do a lot of joking in these columns, but there's just something very special about seeing two tomatoes holding hands running from what looks like a truck full of thousands of ambiguous fruits. The lady tomato (whose main distinction isn't her difference in genitalia or milk-supplying mammaries, but rather the fact that she has mascara on) looks concerned, but her boyfriend looks like he's ready for a big fight ahead. Good thing they have arms, though it does seem a bit odd that none of the other tomatoes in the picture have arms, legs, hands and feet. Weird.

But even though this cover is simply ridiculous, I'm actually a little disappointed this game didn't sell more units and spawn a hit franchise. I'm the kind of guy that wants to know what my fruits and vegetables are doing when I'm not around. The dark underbelly of these supposedly good-for-you foods is what I'm all about, especially when it comes to the inner species rivalry and all of the politics (I bet those eggplant elections are a real bitch). But in truth I would loved to have seen Jimmy's Rutabaga Game, Holly's Apple Game, and the awkwardly titled Barry's Cumquat Game. And maybe in those future installments Psygnosis could go ahead and explain why that squirrel in the tree looks like it was hit with enough volts of electricity to raise a dead camel from the grave.

Soul Calibur IV (Namco Bandai)
[ Xbox 360 - 2008 - Final Rating: D- ]
I know I'm going to receive a lot of flak for hating this Soul Calibur IV cover, but somebody has to fight against the good guys to make a valid point. If you're expecting funny from this cover review then move on to Body Blow Galactic, because I need to take the mood of this discussion down a bit. So let's get the basics out of the way first, what we're looking at is the Xbox 360 cover of Soul Calibur IV. As you can tell this version has the logo, two main Soul Calibur characters and a certain Frank Oz-voiced Muppet that was in something called Star Wars. I don't know, maybe you've heard of it, I hear it was a modest success. This is the "light side" version of Soul Calibur IV, believe it or not the PlayStation 3 owners get the "dark side" (which is exactly the same, but has a black cover and the appearance of Darth Vader instead of Yoda). For the most part my complaint against this cover is the same no matter which format it's on, but because the light side looks more washed out I decided to use that version as my review case.

So what's the problem with this cover? This is Soul Calibur IV, not Star Wars Calibur IV. By featuring Yoda on the cover it gives off the impression that Namco Bandai needs Star Wars to sell their game. And it's not just that Yoda's on the cover, his stubby mug is above the game's logo. Look, I have no problem with Namco Bandai using the Star Wars license to sell a few extra copies of Soul Calibur IV, but couldn't they have stuck a picture or a bullet point about Yoda showing up on the back of the box? Is there a reason to have this Star Wars character (what I find to be the least interesting aspect of this new one-on-one fighting game) front and center on the box art? What's more, the cover art is downright ugly. The characters are washed out by the blinding white light emanating from the sword. The whole thing is just very ugly. Very ugly indeed. It would have been nice if Namco Bandai could have found a more tactful way of including these characters on the cover, as it is it just looks like a crummy PhotoShop job. And trust me, I know something about crummy PhotoShop jobs ... that's what I'm best at.

Body Blow Galactic (Team 17)
[ Amiga - 1994 - Final Rating: D+ ]
Before there was Worms there was Body Blows, Team 17's bizarre action game. At least, I think it's an action game. I'll be honest with you, thanks to my rather limited exposure to the Amiga I have never actually played Body Blows or its sequel, Body Blows Galactic. After looking at this ridiculous cover art I'm actually a little bummed that playing Body Blows Galactic is not something I look back to fondly. Judging from the box art this game has everything ... well, everything except a background. Seriously guys, what happened to the background? I know this wasn't before the era of locations, so what's the big idea? Are they fighting in space? If that's the case then why isn't everybody floating (or dying)? And if they are in space then how is there a fire monster attacking them? Oh, this stuff boggles the mind.

Let's forget the lack of backgrounds for a minute and focus on these four (well, five) bad guys. Assuming these are the big bad guys in Body Blows Galactic, we have a demon made of fire, a Xena-like woman riding what looks like a poker chip, some dude in a trench coat and a T-Rex (with a smaller dinosaur of some sort). Okay, I'm stumped, I don't see a connection between these four ... well, outside of them all sucking. How on earth are you going to fight a fire monster? You're just two dudes with your hands; I don't see a fire extinguisher laying around anywhere. And what's up with the woman on the flying coin. If you've mastered the art of flying, then why not give that ability to something more comfortable ... like a boat or car or something. And then there are the dinosaurs, which clearly didn't get the memo that they've been dead for millions of years. The only one that is even remotely scary looking is the dude in the trench coat, and that's only because we don't know what he looks like. Who knows, maybe if we saw his face we would be surprised to find a six foot tall Tickle Me Elmo. Man, talk about scary.

Shadow Dancer (U.S. Gold)
[ Amiga - 1991 - Final Rating: C- ]
There's no doubt about it, Shadow Dancer is one of the best ninja-based 2D action games of all time. It mixed crazy weapon-based combat with the ability to order your dog into treacherous situations. Yet as much as I love Shadow Dancer, I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that when I see a cover like this. While I'm not going to say that the Shinobi series has had great art designs (from port to port the artwork has been all over the place), at the same time it's hard to look at a cover like this and see anything but a disaster of epic proportions. It's hard to take a game (any game) seriously when your character looks like that. Not only does he not look like the hero in the video game, but he also doesn't look like any of those cool ninjas you saw in the movies. Instead he looks like the kind of guy who made a costume out of the table cloth and spray painted his poor dog (no wonder the dog is pissed off). Judging from these pictures this guy has a train that rivals most young brides, and I hear in the ninja world that's considered a fashion faux pas.

And then there's the issue of whose game this is. That seems to depend on what part of the cover you're looking at. For example, if you're only looking at the top (where our poorly dressed hero and his dog are fighting a bunch of guys who have clearly given up) then you probably think this game is by Sega. Heck, it even says Sega in the lower right corner. But wait, it also says that it's "Marketed by U.S. Gold." What does that mean? Are they the publisher? Or did they only market this bad boy. From the looks of it they're the ones responsible for this ugly cover art (I refuse to believe Sega could do something this vile ... even after playing that recent Sonic the Hedgehog game on the Xbox 360). Either way, this is one of the ugliest covers around. I kind of wish there was a way where I could simply erase the memory of seeing this cover, but I know I can't (and now neither can you).


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