NES Black Boxes
28 November 2010
Updated 25 August 2011

I used to look at Nintendo's early box art with great disdain. After all, the game shots look worse than the in-game graphics. Then I read an excellent 1up feature written by Frank Cifaldi on the launch of the NES. Two points in particular stuck with me, forcing me to look at these black boxes in a new light.

Following the video game crash of 1983, American retailers were very skeptical of stocking any new video games. Therefore, Nintendo took great pains to avoid putting any references to "video games" on these boxes. Pretty hilarious to think that one of Nintendo's core marketing strategies was to not call their product by its real name.

What really surprised me, though, was the philosophy behind this chunky and pixelated box art. Nintendo wanted to be very up front about what sort of graphics consumers were getting. By showing such honest pictures on the box, it made it hard for people to be unpleasantly surprised or disappointed when they fired up the actual game. This approach was in stark contrast to what Atari's had been, where games often had excellent hand drawn box art, yet the games graphics hardly looked anything like what they were supposed to represent.

The black boxes may have taken a strange path to achieve their iconic look, but you can't deny that they really catch your eye, and you can imagine how they'd grab your attention on cluttered store shelves.

According to my calculations, Nintendo released 30 black box games, and you'll find all of the U.S. versions below. Enjoy!

(Since posting the original feature, I've learned that Matthew Henzel apparently first uploaded the high quality scans for the NES black box games in circa 2001. Anyway, I wanted to give credit where credit is due. You can Matt's website here, and he also has a very nice montage of all 30 black boxes.)