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When the Nintendo Entertainment System first shipped in North America, Nintendo wanted everything about the system and its marketing to reassure video game-shy toy stores that this was something different than the torrent of Atari 2600 shovelware that crashed the video game market a few years earlier. One major component of this was a standardized packaging design for all games released by Nintendo themselves for the first year and a half of retail availability. Since this packaging used a black background for the game box, this set of games has become known as the Black Box games and is now a common collecting target.

The Black Box design, as shown here, has a number of standard features that make it an iconic design among retrogaming enthusiasts. The top of the cover shows a pixel-art representation of the game, which is interrupted on an angle by the game title in bold upward-sloping text. At the bottom of the box, we have a loose classification of the game by "series", and the Nintendo Seal of Quality. The back of the box is less iconic but always contains actual screenshots of gameplay. The centrality of pixel art over any kind of standard illustration was an important decision by Nintendo's marketers; many pre-crash games oversold their graphical impressiveness through appealing illustrations on the box and lack of screenshots.

As the NES became the massive success we know it as through 1987, Nintendo gradually abandoned the Black Box design. A few games were released in variants of the packaging using different coloured elements, most notably Metroid, but by the end of the year Nintendo's releases each had their own design, including illustrations and even photographs. This is an understandable change, since the standardized Black Box packaging was not very distinct compared to the variety of designs found on third-party releases.

The Black Box games are, by "series":

Action Series

Arcade Series

Education Series

Light Gun Series

Programmable Series

Robot Series

Sports Series


Along with the box art and release dates on Wikipedia, this writeup draws on Jeremy Parish's comprehensive and detailed NES Works series of videos on YouTube.