You may have heard that Barry Sanders will grace the cover of Madden NFL 25 when it hits shelves on Aug. 27. The legendary Lions running back garnered nearly 60 percent of the vote in the final round of fan balloting to beat out Minnesota's Adrian Peterson for the honor.
The classy, classic cover design is worthy of the series' 25th anniversary edition -- and emblematic of the formulaic approach most sports games have embraced for their box art in recent years.
Yet aesthetic conservatism wasn't always the norm. There was a time when box designers let their freak flags fly, often with disastrous consequences. These games came from that time.
1. Slam City with Scottie Pippen (Sega CD/Sega 32X, 1994)
How could a game that opened with this impossibly '90s rap number possibly go wrong?
2. Ninja Golf (Atari 7800, 1990)
Because nothing evokes the ancient samurai spirit like a Saturday on the links.
3. Metro-Cross (Atari ST, 1985)
I can't even.
4. Tommy Lasorda Baseball (Sega Genesis, 1989)
The impressive depth of what was the first 16-bit baseball cartridge on the market is largely offset by this indisputably creepy rendering of the then-Dodgers skipper.
5. Karnaaj Rally (Game Boy Advance, 2002)
This combat racing game was in fact well received by critics. The cover art? Not so much.
6. Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City (SNES, 1994)
Even Nintendo Power rated this cheesy yarn—in which Jordan must rescue his abducted teammates using superpowered basketballs—as one of the top 10 worst-ever games in its 100th issue.
7. Jounetsu Nekketsu Athletes (PlayStation, 1997)
There's no crying in strangely affectionate track and field.
8. Sterling Sharpe: End 2 End (SNES, 1995)
So what if the Green Bay receiver had already retired with a neck injury? No reason not produce a generic football game with an even more generic cover.
9. Black Belt (Sega Master System, 1986)
This does not pull me in.
10. Blast Lacrosse (PlayStation, 2001)
It's too bad Sandbox Studios couldn't design a cover worthy of the overwhelming demand for a National Lacrosse League game.
11. Street Hockey '95 (SNES, 1994)
It doesn't even have anything to do with the game, but the cover reminds me of this line.
12. Kurt Warner's Arena Football Unleashed (PlayStation, 2000)
Kurt Warner, you just won Super Bowl XXXIV. What are you going to do next? I'm going to release a watered-down version of NFL Blitz, I guess?
13. Sensible World of Soccer '95/'96 (Amiga, 1995)
Can't use actual players? Just blur out their faces, no one will ever know the difference.
14. Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball (SNES, 1991)
Yeah, it was real. I was there.
15. Winning Post 3 (PlayStation, 1998)
This is completely normal. Just like my last trip to Aqueduct.
16. Volleyball Simulator (Amiga, 1989)
The original title, God Complex, tested horribly.
17. Checkers (Intellivision, 1979)
And after Checkers, we'll play Neptune: King of the Sea.