A good cover can be the difference between the success and failure of a video game. This was more the case in the past, but with the rise of digital sales, cover art isn’t as much of a factor as it used to be. Before online stores led to a more convenient life for gamers, there was a time when spending hours looking at the awesome covers in stores was part of what made being a gamer so special.
Deciding which video game to buy often depended on the quality of the cover art. The Sega Master System was interesting because the cover appeared to be drawn on a graph paper backing. Much of the cover art was frankly not very good but, in hindsight, it was also unique, which makes it special. This list will celebrate the excellent (and sometimes bizarre) coverage of forgotten Sega Master System games, as well as comparing the Japanese coverage to what the rest of the world has seen.
14 Double Hawk
Released in 1990, Double Hawk is a two-player shooter following the adventures of Jack Thomas & John Jackson. The gameplay is very similar (if not identical) to the arcade game Cabal where the player must avoid being shot while moving the reticle to shoot enemies.
The cover of Double Hawk isn’t too bad, but the most striking thing about it is how it draws inspiration from Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stallone’s work in particular is clearly based on one of his most famous characters, Rambo. This kind of artistic license was not uncommon in the 80s and 90s when artists copied footage from movies and used them for the cover of video games.
13 Hunting HQ
Arcade racing games such as out run & power drift were very popular in the late 80s. Hunting HQ came out in 1988 and tried to capitalize on the popularity of racing games, but also added a slight twist. Playing the role of two cops who drive a Porsche 928, the player must chase criminals who own their own sports cars. The twist is that once the cops catch up with the criminals, they then have to chase them off the road.
The Sega Master System version of Hunting HQ is generally well regarded as a good home conversion from the arcade. On the other hand, the cover is not very good at all! It’s a shame because there were great covers for other home versions that could have been used quite easily. PC cover art inspired by the movie 48 hourswith the main characters resembling Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy.
12 air rescue
air rescue is one of those rare Sega Master System games that has really good coverage. Released in 1992, the gameplay bears more than a passing resemblance to another Sega title called Choplifter.
There was an arcade version of air rescue released the same year, which took the perspective of a first-person view rather than Master Systems’ side-scrolling perspective. As the Sega Master System reached the end of its life cycle, air rescue is unlikely to have been experienced by a large audience.
11 Dual Dragon
Side-scrolling beat ’em up Dual Dragon is arguably one of the most influential games of this highly regarded genre. Brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee have been battling street punks for decades, and the success of Dual Dragon opened the flood gates for similar games to appear in arcades and later at home.
The Sega Master System cover art is actually pretty good filling the box with a dragon and the Lee brothers fighting off a group of enemies. The Japanese version exudes an almost supernatural style due to the facial expressions of the main characters.
ten Professional wrestling
Wrestling games have been popular for many years, especially those based on characters from the World Wrestling Federation, or WWE as it’s now known. Professional wrestling came out in 1986 and tried to capitalize on it with its sports entertainment version.
The cover art is downright weird, where it shows a headless person wearing a head that wouldn’t look out of place in a horror game. The Japanese cover is much more dynamic, which attempts to show the theatricality often associated with wrestling.
9 action fighter
action fighter is Sega’s version of the classic arcade game spy hunter. Both offer an overhead view of vehicles and have an element of the best James Bond-style car chases. Both also give the player the ability to control different vehicles.
action fighter starts with a motorcycle which then turns into a sports car. The car then has fender flares that resemble Matt Trakkers’ Thunderhawk vehicle from the MASK series. The game then turns into a vertical scrolling shoot ’em up. The American and European cover art is uninspiring to say the least. Again, the Japanese version is much more exciting and would no doubt have sold a few more copies had it been more widely released.
The adventures of ninja Joe Musashi have been well documented over the years in the shinobi series, making him one of the most iconic ninjas in video game history. Sega often added a bonus level in its games, and shinobi is no different. The Shinobi bonus level allows players to throw shurikens at ninjas before they reach Musashi.
The cover of shinobi isn’t too bad as it mirrors the attraction screen, which shows a masked ninja with shurikens flying around his head. However, the Japanese cover is much more interesting and shows a lot of action.
seven My hero
Released in 1986 for the Sega Master System, the cover of My hero is on point, to say the least. My hero is a side-scrolling beat ’em up where you punch and kick your face and it’s exactly what’s shown on the cover art.
The player takes control of Steven, who must save his girlfriend from the vicious street gangs who have taken her hostage. An interesting aspect of the game is the clothes that Steven wears. In many side-scrolling beat ’em ups, the main character will often be shirtless or showing off their muscles. In My heroSteven wears a suit and tie, which makes the martial arts he demonstrates even more impressive.
6 Black belt
Black belt is an interesting case where a game is virtually identical in terms of gameplay, but the story is fundamentally changed. In Japan, Black belt is known as Hokuto no Kenwhich is based on Fist of the North Star series.
This was changed for Western audiences when the game was renamed Black belt. Again, the western cover of Black belt is quite simplistic while the Japanese cover directly uses images of Fist of the North Star.
Run and shoot Quartet (also known as Dual target) gave the player a chance to test their skills while facing off against an army of enemies. As the name suggests, the arcade version allowed up to 4 players to participate, while the Sega Master System version was only a 2 player experience.
Again, the Sega Master System cover for Quartet is very simple and not particularly inspiring. To be honest, the PC conversion coverage was also poor. The Japanese version fared much better and would have given gamers a lot more reason to at least pick up the game and have a look before deciding to buy it.
4 out run
Yu Suzuki created amazing games and helped make Sega a dominant force in arcades. out run is rightly hailed as a classic racing game that has been ported to many systems and personal computers. Special mention should be made for the arcade cabinet, which like many Sega arcades was a thing of beauty.
The cover of the Sega Master System version of out run isn’t bad, but it’s very basic and cartoonish. It was a strange decision to use this piece of art, especially when OutRun 3-D (also released for the Sega Master System) has much better cover art.
3 master of darkness
master of darkness is Sega’s take on the Castlevania series. The story follows the impressively named Dr. Ferdinand Social, who investigates the murders committed by Jack The Ripper. The Ripper wants to resurrect Count Dracula, so it’s up to Ferdinand to prevent that from happening.
Released in 1993, towards the end of the Sega Master System’s life cycle, it seemed that the marketing of games for the console had improved considerably. The sleeve is superbly detailed and full of exciting images straight out of the box. The Master System version is arguably better than the Sega Game Gear cover art.
2 sword lord
Fantasy games were very popular in the 80s and 90s. Titles such as Golden axe and Dungeons & Dragons gave players a chance to play in worlds filled with adventures and monsters. The story of sword lord follows the heroic Landau, who must face evil and save his kingdom
Despite impressive graphics for the time, sword lord was not particularly well received by critics. On a positive note, the Western and Japanese covers had awesome cover art that captured the spirit of the fantasy titles.
1 secret order
secret order is an aerial shoot’em up that plays much like Capcom’s classic Commando. secret order is another one of those cases where the cover isn’t very good, but it’s not the most interesting story with this game. secret order is a true in-game adaptation of Rambo: First Blood, Part 2.
The Rambo license was used in North America, while the game was renamed secret order for the European market. The Japanese version of the game was called Ashura where the main character was an armed Buddhist monk. All versions played the same, but with various graphical differences.
MORE: Forgotten Nintendo GameCube Games That Have Awesome Coverage