The Legend of Zelda was released for the original Nintendo Entertainment System in a unique package that revealed the game’s golden cartridge, making it not only one of the best games of the system but also one of the nicest looking.
However, the mockup of the game’s box was not quite as stunning as the final product. The archivist of gaming history at Embracer Group just came upon the original design in all its dull blockiness.
Martin Lindell, a game historian and counselor to the Swedish mega-preservation publisher’s initiative, tweeted, “Nice seeing these ancient early prototypes of packfronts for Zelda and Punch Out.”
It was accompanied with a picture of a page from a Consumer Electronics Show kit from the 1980s, which had advertisements for titles like Volleyball, Pro Wrestling, Slalom, Punch-Out!!, and The Legend of Zelda, which Nintendo was trying to sell to buyers of their wildly popular platform.
In contrast to the now-iconic silver shield set against a gold background, the original Zelda marketing mock-up included blown-up pixel imagery of a happy Link battling Gibdo mummies in a dungeon adjacent to a key, and oddly displays the game’s title as simply Legend of Zelda, without The.
It follows the “black box” motif of early Nintendo first-party NES games, such as the classic Super Mario Bros. box art. The origins of Nintendo’s successful adventure series seem less impressive when depicted in the form of blocky sprites set against a black background.
For the most part, the box art for the other games seen here—including volleyball, pro wrestling, and slalom—ended out being similar to the concept art. However, Punch-Out!! ended up taking a different path, as the game ended up licensing Mike Tyson and featured a portrait of the boxer on the cover instead of the much weaker Glass Joe.
Naturally, the Japanese cover art for Zelda was far more spectacular, with rich and colorful artwork depicting an illustrated version of Link kneeling with the realm of Hyrule behind him. Green was also the color of the Famicom cartridge.
As a matter of fact, the majority of Famicom and Super Famicom cartridge artwork looked much better than what American NES buyers actually received. Fortunately, by the time Zelda was released in 1987, Nintendo had decided to give the game a little bit extra. It has certainly earned it after being in existence for more than three decades and being included in more than a dozen games.