A Collection Cover Competition

Square Enix’s recently localized Collection of Mana is notable on several fronts. It’s a solid if unadorned presentation of the first three Mana games. It’s an encapsulation of the straightforward, colorful fairy tale action-RPG approach that enchanted fans of the series before Square experimented too much and lost that ideal mixture. And it’s the first time we have Trials of Mana, aka Seiken Densetsu 3, officially in English.

Yet these are trivialities next to Collection of Mana’s most important feature: its cover has all the characters hanging out with each other.

Really. It’s a charming spread where the main casts of Adventures of Mana, Secret of Mana, and Trials of Mana all cavort, where Sumo rides a chocobo beside Randi and Kevin, and where Primm and Angel advise Fuji on proper garland placement. Even the rabites are enjoying it, and they’re relegated to humble monsters in the actual games.

I’m not jesting entirely. This sort of jovial, series-spanning artwork of characters interacting is always welcome, particularly when it’s for older games that never had crossovers. It's always nice to see video-game characters enjoying themselves outside of their violent routines, as though they really are little people living in the game cartridge, just like you thought when you were three years old. Artwork like this keeps that innocent and all but extinct notion alive.

To illustrate, let’s compare the Collection of Mana cover to other recent game compilations.

For example, the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection has the right idea, commissioning new art from Yoshiyasu Matsushita. It gathers together characters from the anthology's decade-spanning roundup of early SNK titles, and I suppose I now can forgive it for making the Crystalis characters so small.

I can’t forgive it for the fact that the characters aren't interacting, however. The dinosaur from Prehistoric Isle has no effect on the heroes of Psycho Soldier. The protagonist of POW isn't even noticing the Crystalis hero and his fiery sword. Perhaps this is due to certain characters appearing multiple times; the cover actually depicts three different versions of the Ikari Warriors. Well, that’s all the more reason for them to meet each other, time paradoxes be damned.

The only possible cross-series acknowledgement comes from Che Guevara, Guerilla War lead and actual historical figure, side-glancing at bikini-clad Athena. This may be the first time anyone has drawn a Communist revolutionary icon leering at an SNK heroine, and that makes this cover unique—at least until Matsushita draws Lenin casting a lurid stare at Mai Shiranui.

The PS4 version of the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection received a new cover illustration, but it's even more deficient in fun character moments. It looks as though the star of POW is furiously kicking at the explorer hero of Fantasy while Mesia stares at that T-rex, but every other character is stiffly self-contained. Why not have Athena drive the car from Munch Mobile? Why not have Che offer the Ikari boys copies of Das Kapital? So much potential is wasted here.

We now turn to Capcom, often a reliable source of fun illustrations. They'll routinely have artists like Akiman and Kinu Nishimura draw characters from across the entire catalog sitting down to play mahjong or share snacks or consider how inappropriate it is for Morrigan to flirt with Mega Man. What sort of cover adorns last year's Capcom Beat 'Em Up Collection?

Well, it's not bad. It has characters from every included game, and the selection ranges from Battle Circuit's Yellow Beast to Armored Warriors' operator—who figured prominently into the new artwork for this collection even though she appears not to have an official name.

The problem? They're all just standing around, as though this is the line for a roller coaster or perhaps the casting call for the game collection itself. That's amusingly metafictional, but it doesn't really match those classic Capcom illustrations where everyone is quibbling and arguing and generally having fun.

This is why we need more covers like Collection of Mana. If these roundups of older games must court our nostalgia so shamelessly, they should go one step further and clothe themselves with cuddly visions of Mayor Haggar quaffing beers with Captain Commando or the Crystalis hero harmlessly fencing with an Ikari Warrior or two. After decades of bashing street punks or questing through a post-apocalyptic land, we should let them enjoy themselves a little.

1 comment:

  1. Kishi8:04 PM

    The best part of the Capcom Belt Action art is sadly hidden by the logo: Damnd taking one look at that crowd and visibly deciding to just not go outside today.