One of the things I like best about really early video games is how much heavy lifting the illustrated cabinet or box art did when it came to conveying the tone and mood of the game itself, which often conveyed things like a car with something made on a grid of 8×8 fat pixels. The side art helped your imagination fill in the considerable gaps, and, generally, it worked. One early game, 1982’s Bump n’ Jump from Data East, I especially find fascinating because there were so many versions of the cabinet side art, marquee, box art, flyer art, and more, and they all seemed to show different kinds of cars. Nobody could make up their mind about what the cars in the actual game were supposed to be, so they just threw everything at it, and, incredibly, nothing that was shown even really came close to looking like the pixellated cars on the screen. Let’s look at some of the cars in the art, because there are some really bizarre choices.
First, here’s a screenshot of the game, the arcade version, so you can see the source material all the art is supposed to represent:
Those are pretty typical early ’80s video game graphics; something like 16 colors, screen resolution of around 200×240, and those cars seem to be open-wheel race cars of some kind, with hood graphics and roll bars.
Look up top there, at the main marquee and side art. Actually, let me show it again, to save you scrolling:
First, those cars look nothing like those in the game, and once we start looking at what those cars actually are, it gets so much weirder. The marquee has what looks like a ’50s-era pickup, a late-’60s Mustang flying above, something odd, streamlined and green, a yellow ’30s-era looking thing, and what seems to be a C3 Corvette.
If we look at the side art there, we get some more details, with our flying Mustang, C3 ‘Vette, and yellow car prominent, but the green car gets more detail and is revealed to be… a Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic? What the hell? That’s not a usual choice for a game about smashing your car into other cars and leaping over bodies of water, at least I didn’t think it was.
Let’s see what they did for the advertising flyers for the game:
Well, damn, now we have a whole new set of cars added. The yellow whateverthatis and the C3 ‘Vette and the airborne Mustang return on the front, but the rear adds a cute-ified… is that a Ferrari 308? Wait, no, duh, a Lamborghini Countach. And, of course, a Porsche 911. The artistically-enhanced screenshot there clearly shows open-wheel cars, and something that could be a Mustang?
How about the box art for the home versions? What do they show?
Man, did nobody talk to anyone else when they were designing these versions? The Intellivision (and the same art was used for the Atari 2600 port) has a quite recognizable 1980-ish Pontiac Trans Am, and then the rest of the cars are all oddly genericized blocky things. The Coleco version has what may be the most in-game accurate cars, open wheel buggy things with big roll cages, and the Nintendo version features a green Manx-ish dune buggy, a bit more angular and featuring what looks like a radiator behind the un-vented nose there.
Also, either that dune buggy is tiny or those people are huge. And watch your foot, lady.
I think the weirdest version has to be this one, for the Deco Cassette System, which was like an arcade cabinet that could change games with cartridges. The whole tone is different here:
Is that dude wearing like a caveman-leopard-skin top? Are they on a volcano now? He’s in some kind of rugged dune buggy/ATV thing, but look what else is racing: a six-wheeled Gremlin-looking thing, a dump truck, a freaking forklift, some blue sports car, and, I think most bonkersishly, a flapjacking Messerschmitt Kabineroller which I enlarged up there because, holy shit.
I have to hand it to these artists; why be accurate when you can have some real fun? I grew up around these machines and had no idea until now there was a freaking Messerschmitt hiding on one! Damn. What a world.