Judging a game by its cover

Box pop. 

You know the old saying, I'm sure, just as if you're of a certain vintage with a passion for a certain medium you'll know it's one that doesn't hold much weight. There was a time, before the internet, before digital storefronts and before bricks and mortar video game shops had crumbled to dust that a cover was all you had to go by, so judge a videogame by it you damn well would. It's one of the reasons game covers of the 80s and 90s popped, and why so many have lingered in our minds over the years since; it's those covers your eyes would return to on the train back as you hungrily tore through cellophane and thumbed through the manual, committing every detail to memory before you'd got the game home.

I've been reminded of all that while thumbing through Game Boy: The Box Art Collection, a typically handsome release from publisher Bitmap Books that provides a tour through the back catalogue of that most iconic of machines. It's an education in parts - to my shame I'd never heard of the Dead Heat Fighters games until coming across their glorious approximations of SNK's 90s greats - as well as a nostalgia trip, but above all that it's a shortcut to that most sacred of things; having this in your hands feels like getting instant access to an enviable collection of your own.

It's not so much the breadth of what's on offer here - though it does boast a rich amount, drawing from western releases as well as Japanese originals - but the presentation. Each box is scanned individually, what's on offer the result of a collaboration between collectors, the love that's put into each collection evident in every little crease and tear, and every water stain on a Japanese curio you'd never heard of, and you suspect was the prize for some long and arduous hunt.

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Game Boy: The Box Art Collection is a follow-up to the equally worthwhile Super Famicom edition, though this time it's emboldened by the addition of screenshots - often serving something that's in stark contrast or an out there abstract of what's on the cover - and supporting interviews with collectors, as well as an evocative foreword from Jean Jacques Calbayrac, also known as gameboycameraman, an Instagram artist who takes one of the handheld's most fascinating add-ons to some interesting places.

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What this book does so well, though, is put those covers in the spotlight, allowing what's now something of a lost art to have its moment. I hope it's not doing these games too much of a disservice, but so often the box art and the game it suggested in your imagination would trump what you'd eventually play, and in Game Boy: The Box Art Collection there's a whole generation's worth of these bold, beautiful things. What a thrill to have so many of them all in one place.

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About the author

Martin Robinson

Martin Robinson

Deputy Editor

Martin is Eurogamer's features and reviews editor. He has a Gradius 2 arcade board and likes to play racing games with special boots and gloves on.

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