10 of the best retro game covers

When video game graphics were lacking it was left to your imagination to do the work – and these artists got it really fired up

The Adventures of Bayou Billy (1988 – NES)

Despite the, er, rural setting, The Adventures of Bayou Billy was released in Japan under the name Mad City. As you can glean from the rope belt and battered hat sported by Bayou Billy on the cover – and the young lady in Daisy Dukes – this game was the most yee-haw redneck thing to hit the small screen since The Dukes of Hazzard.

The gameplay saw you fighting, driving, and shooting your way through enemies in order to rescue a girl (that old chestnut). Rather brilliantly, it saw you swapping between the NES controller and the Zapper light gun for shoot out stages. Wearing that hick hat in your bedroom was optional.

Saboteur II (1989 – C64, IBM)

A ninja, hacking away at panthers while riding a motorbike. Saboteur II's cover threw in everything but the kitchen sink in its bid to win over adolescent video gamers. You play Necra, a second-generation ninja warrior hand-picked and trained in special weaponry and hand-to-hand combat – labeled a lone and ruthless killer. Back in the day, the game's 700 screens of action actually qualified as a selling point.

Ballistix (1989 – Amiga, Atari ST, Acorn, BBC Micro, C64, MS-DOS)

The cover artwork for Psygnosis games was something else, offering up visions of spaceships, chrome and lizard men that appeared to have wandered in from a prog rock album cover.

Ballistix is a case in point – no, it isn’t about robot demonic warriors dropping bombs on the innocent from the skies. Rather it’s a future sport that involves directing a puck into a goal by shooting small balls at it. These amazing covers really oversold the games back then, huh?

Renegade – The Hit Squad (1987 – ZX Spectrum, C64)

Its cover stars may look more like the Village People than The Warriors, but this early example of the side-scrolling beat-em-up lived up to the ultraviolence depicted in its artwork – even if it came on a tape and took minutes to load. And who knew there were so many spiked maces available on the streets of New York?

Operation Stealth (1990 – Amiga, Atari ST, MS-DOS)

You can always rely on the French to take creative thought to another plane – in this case a different universe inside a blazer. Delphine’s game cover mixes Miami Vice with Battlestar Galactica, though the game itself is more down-to-earth – it's a spy adventure in which Jim Glames tries to track down stolen F-19 stealth planes.

In the US, the game was actually released as a James Bond adventure, though why Britain's finest secret agent is taking orders from the CIA throughout is never explained.

Ork (1991 – Amiga, Atari ST)

Another prog-tastic effort from Psygnosis. Is that the asteroid-dwelling creature that tries to eat the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars? No, and fortunately George Lucas' lawyers didn't clock the homage – gaming was relatively below the radar back in the day.

The game saw you controlling the alien Ka-Kabul on planet Cisskei, solving puzzles and killing enemies. And in keeping with Psygnosis's tradition of referencing earlier games, the third level of Ork features Lemmings leaping off a cliff. At least they owned the rights to that one.

Skateboard Joust (1989 – ZX Spectrum, C64, Amstrad CPC)

The cover might show a jet-powered skater dude attacking flying demon monkeys, but the game itself was somewhat less ambitious. The 2D side-scroller used all its 48K graphics grunt to muster up a skate-shaped figure you could jump into Dalek looking bad guys. Easier said than done with the squidgy keys of the ZX Spectrum keyboard.

Stryx (1989 – PC, Amiga, Atari ST)

Yup, that sure does look like Forbidden Planet's Robby the Robot, but it’s not. Honest. It is, however, one of many villains standing in your cyborg way as you, Stryx, blast and jet-pack through this side-scrolling shooter to save humanity from the revolting robot population of Dome City.

Shadow of the Beast (1989 – Amiga)

This was a game changer – literally. If the warped alien cover didn’t catch your eye the enormous (for the time) £35 price tag would.

Fortunately, this was one game that lived up to the visions depicted on the cover – Shadow of the Beast was a huge graphical leap forward, with loads more colours than previous games and a whopping 12 levels of parallax scrolling backdrops, set to an eerie and moving soundtrack by David Whittaker. It was later ported to nearly every console and computer out there.

Ninja Scooter (1988 – ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC)

Ninjas just can't get enough of two-wheeled transport, it seems. Ninja Scooter's a simple side-scrolling jump and dodge game, but it's the so-bad-it's-a-work-of-genius artwork that elevates it to greatness. Our hero fends off flying skulls from his trusty steed, disregarding basic road safety by riding with both hands off the handlebars (and, er, putting spikes on his wheels).

The best bit? The word "simulator," implying that Ninja Scooter is a painstakingly accurate rendition of the art of ninja scootering.

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