Dungeons & Dragons Box Art Special

by The Video Game Critic

The Dungeons & Dragons board game was a major influence on early computer games. I loved it as a kid but it sucked how you had to have a group of people around to play it. I fantasized about one day being able to play a computerized version of the game all by myself, never knowing what might be lurking behind the next door.

Mattel's Intellivision was the first to fully embrace the D&D franchise, releasing a pair of excellent licensed adventure titles. Considering the high quality of the illustrated D&D books, it made sense the games boasted similar amazing cover art.

Over the years I noticed swords-and-sorcery fantasy games lent themselves imaginative, intricately-detailed artwork. This special celebrates the good, bad, and ugly of D&D-inspired box art.

While combing through my collection for games that might fit the bill, I noticed the older systems tend to have far more elaborate artwork. It really got you pumped up to play the game! Modern box cover art seems like an afterthought by comparison.

I tried to stick with the art I found most interesting, but it was like a pandora's box. There are just so many awesome-looking fantasy video game boxes out there. Some of the D&D-licensed games look astonishing! If these don't make you want to get a Commodore 64, nothing will.

Each box cover is rated by gems, ranging from spectacular (5) to weak (1). You'll also find commentary from myself and my friend Sudz. Enjoy!

Adventure (Atari 2600, 1980)

Adventure box art

This illustration nicely embodies the essense of the game. I like how the angular paths of the game are explained away as hedge mazes. In noticed some elves trapped in the maze, but their rescuers don't seem to be in much of a hurry!

Read my full review for Adventure

Quest For The Rings (Odyssey 2, 1981)

Quest for the Rings box

This box cover infuses the trademark Odyssey 2 "dark" visual scheme with an epic, multi-layer battle. There's a lot of action in multiple locations, all unified under the wings of a fire-breathing dragon. It's just about perfect.

Sudz: Is that knight holding a light saber? Looks like he needs it to block all that dragon vomit!

Read my full review for Quest For The Rings

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Intellivision, 1982)

AD&D box

This box sets the tone for the series, not only for its attention to detail, but "windows" that indicate a deep, layered gaming experience lie ahead. That green dragon looks a little cowardly however, as though he's surrendering at the first sign of danger!

Sudz: I partially agree, but it looks more like the knight interrupted the poor dragon when he was trying to take a dump! I also like the "FOR COLOR TV VIEWING ONLY" warning on the bottom. What happens to those who fail to heed this warning? I assume they never lived long enough to tell the tale!

Read my full review for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin
(Intellivision, 1982)

Treasure of Tarmin box

This second game reprises the same winning style of the first, except with a better variety of creatures. The orc and scorpion look scary as hell, and I like how the grim reaper appears to be pulling the strings of it all. The illustration in the left right doesn't feature a monster but the castle seems to suggest an increased focus more on exploration.

Sudz: If only the picture of the green Orc was expanded further down, you would see he was in the act of pleasuring himself. Also, what's up with the guy fighting the scorpion? With that modern outfit you'd think he just fell out of the Gap!

Read my full review for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin

Tower of Doom (Intellivision, 1986)

tower of doom box

The skeleton presiding over this one makes for one of the creepiest game boxes I've ever seen. The mere sight sends shivers down my spine!

Read my full review for Tower of Doom

Thunder Castle (Intellivision, 1982)

Thunder Castle box

This is a pretty cool illustration that captures the spirit of the game as you creep through dungeons with a huge dragon lurking around the bend. I'm not sure who the "good guys" are in this one, if any!

Read my full review for Thunder Castle

Crypts of Chaos (Atari 2600, 1982)

Crypt of Chaos box

This type of illustration is the kind you'd expect from a D&D game. It's rich with detail and kind of dark, although a bit to tell what's happening. The woman is dressed like Princess Leia, and the guy looks like he's about to strike her down for some reason.

Sudz: You beat me too it; why the heck is Luke about to lop off the head of Leah?!?! To bury his embarrassing secret that he made out with his own sister?

Read my full review for Crypts of Chaos

Dragonfire (Atari 2600, 1982)

Dragonfire box

This may be the coolest-looking dragon I've ever seen on a box cover. It looks so realistic! Could this be a close-up photograph of a toy? The smoke and lighting really sell it. Simple but effective.

Read my full review for Dragonfire

Wizard of Wor (Atari 2600, 1982)

Wizard of Wor box

This is an exceptionally scary rendering of two villains featured in the game. On the left is the flying Warluck, and on the right is the Wizard of Wor himself. I like this cover a lot, because it blends great artwork with the actual game screen.

Read my full review for Wizard of Wor

Swords & Serpents (Intellivision, 1983)

Swords and Serpents box

In stark contrast to Dragonfire, Imagic really dropped the ball with this one. The fearsome knight looks more like a twelve-year-old in a costume. And what's the deal with that castle? "It's just a model." Shhhh!

Read my full review for Swords & Serpents

Telengard (Atari 8-bit, 1983)

telengard box art

I would like to review this game but it comes on cassette tape, and I haven't been up for that since the 80's! Anyway, this art has a very "classic" look to it which I like very much.

Find Telengard on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Ultima (Atari 8-bit, 1983)

ultima box art

Once again, very elegant and classic. Looks like the cover of a D&D manual.

Find Ultima on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Necromancer (Atari 8-bit, 1983)

necromancer box art

I don't think it's great, but there's a lot going on here and good use of color. Much better than the lame re-issued 1987 cover, featured further down.

Sudz: Yeah, this earlier artwork is WAY better than the later one. That tree looks like he's about to vomit in terror.

Find Necromancer on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Exodus: Ultima III (Atari 8-bit, 1983)

Exodus box

I remember seeing this illustration as an ad in an old Atari magazine and I was mesmerized! What a formidable-looking demon this is! Then I saw screenshots of the actual game and my enthusiasm waned considerably!

Find Exodus: Ultima III on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Phantasie (Commodore 64, 1985)

phantasie box art

This one is just okay. The colors are washed out and it's hard to make out what that big structure is in the back. Some kind of rock with a dragon perched on top?

Sudz: I rather like this one actually, that spear with the four barbs on it at the front right looks downright badass, but I agree that it also kind of looks like something a high schooler drew while killing time in detention class.

Find Phantasie on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Gemstone Warrior (Commodore 64, 1985)

gemstone warrior box art

Now this is frickin' amazing. You got this warrior reaching for a gem while strangling a cyclops with ghosts converging from all sides and hands reaching up below. It's like the exciting climax of the best movie you never saw.

Find Gemstone Warrior on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Gemstone Healer (Commodore 64, 1986)

gemstone healer box art

Gemstone Healer takes things down a notch. This guy thinks he can just grab this gem but there are all sorts of creatures waiting for him to do so.

Sudz: Agreed, the art isn't as exciting as Gemstone Warrior but then again "Warrior" is always more exciting than "Healer"! Did you notice that the horrible 'thing' that the dude was strangling to death on the cover of Gemstone Warrior is the same 'thing' lurking in the background of Gemstone Healer?

Find Gemstone Healer on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Wizard's Crown (Commodore 64, 1986)

wizard's crown box art

It's kind of refreshing to have a bright outdoor scene. Is it just me or does the brown creature look like Sloth from Goonies?

Sudz: I liked this one a bit more than you I think, but at first glance I thought that rather than a woman wrapping gauze around the guy's chest, it looked like she was about to draw a blade across his neck to put him out of his misery. Did you notice the dead creature in the water at the warriors' feet, with the hilt of a sword sticking out of its chest and blood around it? Awesome!

Find Wizard's Crown on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Rings of Zilfin (Commodore 64, 1986)

rings of zilfin box art

The coloring is nice but not much to see here. Okay Zilfin, you made your point!
Your rings are kind of a big deal! WE GET IT.

Read my full review for Swords & Serpents

Legacy of the Ancients (Commodore 64, 1987)

legacy of the ancients box art

Lots of detail here but I'm not sure I know what I'm looking at.

Find Legacy of the Ancients on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Necromancer (Atari XEGS, 1987)

Necromancer box

So Atari decided to "redo" the artwork of the original Necromancer release? This is far worse. Those trees don't look scary at all. I guess they're rooting for the bugs? I would be too.

Read my full review for Necromancer

Phantasy Star (Sega Master System, 1987)

Phantasy Star box art

Sega Master System games were known for their sparse artwork but this one isn't bad. The girl in the front is kind of cute! Is that a dude in the back sporting a steel bra?! Not judging. Okay, judging.

Find Phantasy Star on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

The Eternal Dagger (Commodore 64, 1987)

eternal dagger box art

Now this is pretty original. You got some warriors steeping through a portal to crash some party a wizard is throwing. I like the green color scheme.

Find The Eternal Dagger on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nikademus (Commodore 64, 1987)

phantasie iii box art

Great battle scene here but Nikademus looks more like a superhero in that get-up of his.

Sudz: Not only does the bad guy look more like a superhero with his outfit, but did you notice that little Tinkerbell looking fairy coming at him on the right side of the box? Nikademus is holding his own against three buff warriors, Gandolf, and some chick on the ground he gave a roofy to... what's that little fairy think he's gonna do with that swizzle stick he's holding?

Find Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nikademus on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Realms of Darkness (Commodore 64, 1987)

realms of darkness box art

This may be the most compelling argument yet how men should always wear pants. Always!

Sudz: What a sausage fest. Where's the hot medieval princess/sorceress? I have no clue if there's one in the game, but they could have at least pretended and put one on the damn box.

Find Realms of Darkness on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Exodus III (NES, 1987)

Exodus NES box

Wow this is pretty lame. Most of the fighters look like kids, and the monsters look like they were doodled on the fly.

Sudz: This is what you get when you pay the local community college art student two sheets of hash brownies to do your game cover.

Find Exodus III on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Crossbow (Atari 7800, 1988)

Crossbow box

If anything, this cover probably disuaded people from buying this game. The swordsman looks like an accountant, and the other characters are oddly proportioned. The scariest part of this picture is that mushroom!

Sudz: This one made me literally laugh out loud. That cast of characters look like an escaped troop of carnies. Ms. Huge Head, the world's smallest man (or the world's largest child - take your pick), and a 70's porn star dressed in green. At least the midget is trying to hold down Ms. Huge Head's loincloth in an attempt to maintain her modesty.

Read my full review for Crossbow

Dark Chambers (Atari 2600, 1988)

Dark Chambers box

This is emblematic of the cheesy artwork during Atari's later years. The quality is just not there, and that big ugly "Atari Advantage" graphic doesn't help. I hate how they tried to incorporate a lot of random characters with zero rhyme or reason.

Sudz: At first glance I thought the 15-year-old warrior on the front was looking at his watch to see how much longer he needs to hold that pose until the artists were through painting him. Upon closer inspection, I see he's actually reaching for his sword.

Read my full review for Dark Chambers

Heroes of the Lance (NES, 1988)

Heroes of the Lance box

Now this is more like it! Two dragons tangled in mortal combat in the open skies. Good use of contrast gives the image an exciting, kinetic look.

Find Heroes of the Lance on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Legend of Blacksilver (Commodore 64, 1988)

blacksilver box

So... you got the hero, monster, hottie, and villain. Check check check check! All that's missing is the obligatory distant castle. Oh wait.

Sudz: How they didn't get sued for using Arnold's likeness from Conan the Barbarian is completely beyond me.

Find Legend of Blacksilver on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

AD&D Pool of Radiance (Commodore 64, 1988)

pool of radiance box

Is it just me or does it look like that dragon is just kind of going through the motions? How could his fire breath possibly miss at that two-foot range?!

Find AD&D Pool of Radiance on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Golvellius: Valley of Doom
(Sega Master System, 1988)

Golvellius box

I like the way the characters are rendered but what the heck is that thing approaching on the horizon? A gaseous cloud? Is he planning on fighting that with his sword?

Sudz: I'm not sure if he plans on fighting that dark cloud with that sword, or if he's just going to put that chick down because he doesn't have time for her nonsense.

Read my full review for Golvellius: Valley of Doom

8 Eyes (NES, 1989)

8 Eyes box

Not a fan of men in tights, but this illustration has a cool "layering" quality to it. That fierce skeleton in pursuit of our hero looks like something straight out of a Ray Harryhausen film, which is high praise. In addition, it's easy to miss the ominous prescence wielding a sword in the foreground.

Read my full review for 8 Eyes

AD&D Curse of the Azure Bonds
(Commodore 64, 1989)

curse of the azure bonds box

Sexy redhead? No complaints here. The creature on the left looks very dignified, and that tower on the right looks worthy of exploration. Speaking of which, did I mention the hot chick?

Find AD&D Curse of the Azure Bonds on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Dungeon Explorer (Turbografx-16, 1989)

Dungeon Explorer box

Oh dear. Seeing three people standing around on the edge of a cliff doesn't exactly scream adventure. Why are they glowing? It looks like the guy in white is taking a leak! That shows you how much he thinks of this game.

Sudz: What a wasted opportunity. They don't even bother showing a freakin' dungeon on the cover, just a few randos standing around with a castle in the distance. Dude is definitely grabbing his junk.

Find Dungeon Explorer on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Ultima: Quest for the Avatar (NES, 1989)

Ultima Quest box

This guy finds himself in a dangerous predicament and it looks fantastic to behold. I love the sharpness of this illustration and use of bold color.

Find Ultima: Quest for the Avatar on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Swords and Serpents (NES, 1990)

swords and serpents box

Cool poses, but do these guys realize they are in the mouth of some kind of enormous monster? Also, who comes to a sword fight dressed in a G-string?!

Sudz: See? Was it really that hard to put a hot chick in minimal clothing on a cover?

Find Swords and Serpents on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

AD&D Secret of the Silver Blades (Commodore 64, 1990)

secret of the silver blades box

Snow always looks good in video games, even if it's just the cover art. This is no exception.

Find AD&D Secret of the Silver Blades on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Double Dungeons (Turbografx-16, 1990)

Double Dungeons box

There's something about the style of this one that doesn't do it for me. The characters look too shiny and clean. That skeleton looks like a Halloween decoration for Pete's sake!

Sudz: Agree completely, this artwork looks like an SNL skit or something. Like they had an open casting call for it and these weirdos are the only ones who showed up, so they were hired by default.

Read my full review for Double Dungeons

Dragon's Curse (Turbografx-16, 1990)

Dragon's Curse box

Things have just gone from bad to worse. Who was the Turbografx marketing department, and were they paid for their services?

Sudz: A better cover than Double Dungeon, but not by much. That dragon needs to get on some serious meal planning, he looks like he's all bloated and is probably retaining water.

Read my full review for Dragon's Curse

AD&D Pools of Darkness (Commodore 64, 1991)

pools of darkness box

These are just some wild-looking chicks looking for a good time!

Find AD&D Pools of Darkness on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Dragon Strike (NES, 1992)

Dragon Strike box

Another exciting aerial dragon battle, although not quite as striking as Heroes of the Lance.

Read my full review for Dragon Strike

Dungeon Master: Theron's Quest (CD)
(Turbografx-16, 1993)

Dungeon Master box

Funny how all three of these warriors appear to be panicing in the complete absence of danger! It almost looks like two of them are playing a practical joke on the guy in the center!

Sudz: I'm not sure what's happening here, other than the dude wearing almost nothing is about to fall backwards onto a grate, and the chick in the nightgown is content to just watch it happen while providing plenty of light so she doesn't miss anything.

Read my full review for Dungeon Master: Theron's Quest (CD)

Dungeons & Dragons: Order of the Griffon
(Turbografx-16, 1992)

Order of the Griffon box

Now this is what it's all about! Not only do we have a diverse party engaged in combat, but the dragon is of the skeletal, undead sort! Now there's something you don't see every day! Absolutely spectacular.

Read my full review for Dungeons & Dragons: Order of the Griffon

Dungeon Master II: Skullkeep (1994)

Dungeon Master 2 box

I bet after building this castle, the designer sat back, looking at his work, and said "I think I forgot something!"

Find Dungeon Master II: Skullkeep on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder
(Super Nintendo, 1994)

Eye of the Beholder SNES box

Beholders are one of the scariest beasts in all of D&D. Fortunately for this warrior, there are plenty of weak spots to choose from!

Find Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder
(Sega CD, 1994)

Eye of the Beholder box

There is something positively alarming about this cover! It has a real "in your face" quality that makes you want to run like hell!

Read my full review for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder

Slayer (3DO, 1994)

Slayer box

Being a D&D-licensed game, this resembles the cover of one of the official D&D hardback books.

Read my full review for Slayer

DeathKeep (3DO, 1995)

Deathkeep box

I hate when demons just kind of jump out at you like that.

Sudz: Why is he thrusting his crotch into our faces?

Read my full review for DeathKeep

Virtual Hydlide (Saturn, 1995)
PAL Version

Virtual Hydlide PAL box

This actually looks pretty decent, with psuedo-3D characters and cool lighting. I think I want to play this.

Find Virtual Hydlide on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Virtual Hydlide (Saturn, 1995)
Japanese Version

Virtual Hydlide Japanese box

This is the same game? On second thought, I don't think I want to play this.

Find Virtual Hydlide on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Diablo (Playstation, 1998)

Diablo box

Here's another piece of art consisting of just a demon in the dark, but this has got to be one of the most ferocious, utterly terrifying creatures I've ever seen! "This foe is beyond any of you... RUN!!"

Read my full review for Diablo

Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder
(Game Boy Advance, 2002)

Eye of the Beholder box

This looks scary as [expletive], and completely belies the chunky, low-definition graphics of the actual game.

Find Eye of the Beholder on eBay, Amazon, YouTube

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen (Playstation 3, 2013)

Dragon's Dogma box

I think this one borrows from the Balrog scene of the Lord of the Rings films, and why the hell not? I love that scene.

Read my full review for Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

Dragon's Crown (Playstation 3, 2013)

Dragon Crown box

So... what am I looking at here exactly? I see a few character classes but in general this image looks like a dull, muddled mess.

Sudz: Daddy like! We not only get a hot witch, but a hot red headed witch!! Hubba hubba. I love the little off-the-shoulder number she's wearing, too.

Read my full review for Dragon's Crown

Gem graphics courtesy of Graphic River

Thunder Castle cover art courtesy of VideoGameGeek

Heroes of the Lance cover art courtesy of Wikipedia

Cover art courtesy of MobyGames:
Crypts of Chaos
Legacy of the Ancients
Legend of Blacksilver
Wizard's Crown
The Eternal Dagger
Rings of Zilfin
Gemstone Warrior
Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nikademus
Gemstone Healer
Realms of Darkness
AD&D Pools of Radiance
AD&D Secret of the Silver Blades
AD&D Curse of the Azure Bonds
AD&D Pool of Radiance
Ultima: Quest for the Avatar
Exodus: Ultima III
Virtual Hydlide
D&D: Eye of the Beholder
Phantasy Star
Swords and Serpents

Special thanks to Sudz and Matchstick.

If you enjoyed this article you can find many, many more at The Critic's Archive.