Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Box Art Brawls #3 - Capcom 'Vs' Series Part 1

It's been a long time since I did one of these and I'm not sure why. I've certainly had my lazy patches with this blog and during those phases, I tend to post the same sort of things (purchases, small reviews etc.) so something requiring a little more research such as a good old box art face-off has fallen by the wayside. But now this series is back with a vengeance and so vengeful in fact that the return will have to be split into two parts. This is because I have decided to cover Capcom's hallowed 'Vs' series of fighting games which pitched its Street Fighter (and later on, other Capcom characters) against those of Marvel, SNK and even Tatsunoko. Taking arcades and the home consoles of fighting game connoissseurs by storm, this fabulous line of 2D fighting games emerged in what I like to refer to as the 'Golden Age' of fighting games - a period where the 2D sprites had never been more beautiful, the music never more soulful and the presentation never more perfect. There are a lot of games in this series though and an equally large number of covers to get through so in this first part, I will just cover X-Men: Children of the Atom, Marvel Superheroes, X-Men Vs Street Fighter and Marvel Superheroes Vs Street Fighter. Who will survive? Engage!

X-Men: Children of the Atom

PAL Playstation
US Playstation
PAL Saturn
US Saturn
Japanese Saturn

The first thing to note is that there is no Japanese Playstation version of the game so I haven't got a cover for that. If I'm mistaken then please let me know but I couldn't find one during my research. There is also a PC version which has the same cover art as the western PS1/Saturn ports but slapped onto one of the classic big cardboard boxes. I would have also included this one for completeness' sake but there wasn't a decent scan around - only photographs.

Anyway, the art used for the western Playstation and Saturn ports is pretty terrible if you ask me. The composition is poor and the depictions of the characters are also awful with questionable anatomy. Look at Pyslocke for example and remember that she is supposed to be one of the more attractive female comicbook characters! Worse still, each version is blighted by uses of borders or marketing quotes. The PAL Saturn cover is probably the "least worst" but even that has a multi-language boxout to ruin the proceedings. The PAL Playstation cover - bizzarely - has the game's subtitle separate from the cover art and located in the black border...what the hell were they smoking? A big "#1 Arcade Smash" statement and a second orangey-yellow inner border complete a decidedly rubbish cover. The US counterpart at least bins the shoddy borders but in the process gains a Wordart-style tag line that was seemingly dragged-and-dropped at random onto the cover.


The North American Saturn version is the winner for the absolute worst of the bunch however. There's a massive white border, the familiar "#1 Arcade Smash" strapline, a huge ESRB logo and a big review scores boxout that just takes the piss. This little contest is simply a massacre because the Japanese Saturn cover laughs at the western attempts. It's uncluttered for one and - more importantly - sells itself with gorgeous artwork by Akiman. The anatomy is spot-on, the composition dramatic and the colours very comic book-like. What a shame then that a deal wasn't struck to use this cover for all versions.

Marvel Superheroes


PAL Playstation
US Playstation
Japanese Playstation
PAL Saturn
US Saturn
Japanese Saturn

This time, the western artwork strikes back but first, let's look at the differences between the western Playstation and Saturn versions in general. The taller, portrait design of the Saturn cover is the true version of the artwork whereas the Playstation versions are squashed into a square with the bottom completely cut off. Interestingly, the US Playstation cover deletes Blackheart, replaces him with Ironman and slots Wolverine into the bottom left of the image. All of the western covers gain a little extra kudos this time around for being neater and sans clutter but the US versions of both the Playstation and Saturn editions are compromised by a huge border on the PS1 cover and a massive ESRB logo for the Saturn. Out of the bunch, the PAL Saturn cover is the champion.

As for the Japanese covers, the Playstation version edges it this time for being a little more 'bare' and zoomed-out so it's a straight battle between PAL Saturn and NTSC-J Playstation. The Japanese Playstation cover scores points for awesome-looking characters in the background but then loses a few for the odd composition of everybody being faded out while Captain America hogs the scene. Also, what's with the lazy expression on his face? Can he be bothered to fight? Nah, let Ironman sort it all out this time... It's not a bad cover at all but it lacks drama. The PAL Saturn cover by contrast is really cool and looks like it was produced in the early 90's Marvel style. It's a little edgy and makes me want to guess that it was by Humberto Ramos but I may be wrong. In any case, I think the PAL Saturn cover is the winner in the Marvel Superheroes slugfest.

X-Men vs Street Fighter

PAL Playstation

US Playstation
Japanese Playstation
Japanese Saturn

All of these covers share a similar flaw. Unlike The Japanese Sega Saturn release of Children of the Atom (with its superb purposely-designed art), none of these covers use an original piece of artwork. Instead, they simply group together a bunch of individual character artworks and arrange them differently. Both the PAL and US Playstation versions opted to use just four characters and then arrange them in a disjointed way that just isn't exciting. Also, Akuma seems huge and out of proportion for some reason but this criticism can also be levelled at both the Japanese editions. The US Playstation cover is the worst here in my opinion for it's ugly 'Fighters Edge' branding, a line of releases by Capcom in the USA that allowed buyers to save up tokens and earn rewards (if I remember rightly). It just looks like an ugly budget re-release and I'm not sure if there is a 'standard' version. I couldn't find one anyway.

The two Japanese covers use the same arrangement trick but here, many more characters are grouped together to fill the cover to the max. Things still look a little disjointed but it's a bit more convincing this time at the least. Also, Ken looks like he's peering around Cammy to perv on her? Not sure what's happening there! Of the two, I'd go for the Saturn version simply for the slightly less intrusive border and more filled out cover. Arranging individual character art might be a cheap way to get a cover out of the door but at least the art itself is fantastic and yet another selection of Akiman goodness.

Marvel Superheroes Vs Street Fighter

PAL Playstation
US Playstation
Japanese Playstation
Japanese Saturn
Japanese Saturn 4MB RAM Bundle

Right, let's kick off by eliminating the crappy PAL and US Playstation covers. Way to sell the game guys; let's just have the logo on the cover and nothing else. Dull to the extreme and not even worth discussing. The Japanese Playstation and Saturn covers are - at first glance - the same but take another look at the Saturn cover and notice how the art sort of wraps around at the corners with the same characters appearing twice. Of the two, I'd say the Playstation 'EX Edition' edges it for doing without the repetition. It's also another case of arranging individual character art but in fairness, if you'd never seen the artwork for the game, you probably wouldn't know.

The absolute winner however is the second of the Saturn covers which comes from the bundle edition containing the mandatory 4MB RAM expansion cartridge. This is PROPER artwork and absolutely stunning. It's only achilles heel are the two vertical black borders either side of the art but since this cover is adapted from a portrait-style arcade poster then it's understandable. What a cover.

Well, that concludes Part 1 of this Capcom VS series Boxart Brawl. Bar a surprise win for the western MSH cover, it's yet another instance of awesome Japanese cover art stomping all over PAL/US editions. One has to wonder why Japan has amazing covers like these but when the game(s) head West, some fool decides to cobble together a far less exciting version then nuke any attractivity with huge tag lines or logos. Look forward to Part 2 where I will be covering Marvel Vs Capcom, Capcom Vs SNK, the sequels to both and Tatsunoko Vs Capcom!


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