The Sega Master System was first released in 1985, but wasn’t available until June 1986 in North America. This was Sega’s direct competitor to the Nintendo Entertainment System. Unfortunately for Sega however, Nintendo and even Sony beat them in terms of success. The Genesis, Saturn and Dreamcast would come after the Master System, but lost to the Super Nintendo, the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, and the PlayStation 2, respectively. This is not to say that it was a bad system because in fact, it was a great system. Games came on what’s known as “Sega Cards” and regular cartridges. So without critiquing the system itself, let’s take a look at the box art, which probably holds the record of the worst covers in video game history.
Our first example is Choplifter, a horizontal shooter game that was originally released on the Apple II home computer, but later ported to at least 10 other platforms, including the NES and Atari 5200 and 7800. This is what a typical Master System cover looks like: a boring, grid for the background, the Sega logo, the title of the game and one drawing that’s supposed to represent the game. In respect, it’s not so much that these covers are bad, they’re just way too plain to be considered good.
Next up is Pro Wrestling, released exclusively for the Master System in 1986. Now this one isn’t just plain, this one is actually bad. Why is his head not on his body! Why is he holding it? No, better yet, why is he in a headlock with his own head? His own head! None of this makes any sense at all and I am confused beyond belief. Nice cleavage, by the way.
Now we have Fantasy Zone II, another shooter first released in 1987. So it’s a spaceship shooting at a red hamburger with eyes. And would you know, that’s not even the full title? The complete name is Fantasy Zone II: The Tears of Opa-Opa. Okay, I think the title is actually as bad as the cover (maybe bad video game titles should be a new feature). This blows my mind. What, there isn’t room for the full name? All that gray, bland grid and there’s no room for the title?
On the left we have Black Belt, a fighting game based off of the anime Fist of the North Star. It’s a disembodied leg kicking nothing, but there’s a hit marker anyway! Why is it so bad? Why is it so bland? That’s what we got in North America. Now take a look at the cover on the right. That’s the cover for the Japanese version (the Master System was first known as the Mark III in Japan). Look at how much better and more detailed it is! We get this piece of crap, but they get that?! And it comes on a gold cartridge! I don’t know what that means, but it’s freakin’ gold!
Finally, we have the worst one. This is My Hero, a beat ‘em up first released in arcades in 1985 and released on the Master System the next year. Please explain to me why the actual game card is the cover. The cover is supposed to be different! You’re supposed to see the cover, then open up the game and see something else! This is just lazy. At least the others tried; they were actually drawn. All they did was draw one little picture on the card, but was that too much? They couldn’t draw something for the cover? Or at least put the same drawing on the cover, but not the actual card?