The Legend of Zelda isn’t just one of the best games on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, it’s also one of the best looking, complete with a shiny, golden cartridge and a special box that let you glimpse the gleaming treasure within. But an early mock-up for the game’s packaging was much less impressive. Embracer Group’s gaming preservationist recently came across the old design in all of its lackluster blockiness.
“Nice seeing these old early versions of packfronts for Zelda and Punch Out,” tweeted Martin Lindell, a gaming historian and advisor for the Swedish mega-publisher’s preservation project. It was accompanied by a photo of a page from an old Consumer Electronics Show kit showing some of the games Nintendo was plugging for its extremely successful ‘80s console, including Volleyball, Pro Wrestling, Slalom, Punch-Out!!, and The Legend of Zelda.
Unlike the now famous silver shield atop a gold background, the marketing mock-up for Zelda at the time included blown-up pixel art of a smiling Link fighting Gibdo mummies in a dungeon next to a key, and curiously shows the game’s title as simply Legend of Zelda, no The. It’s in line with the “black box” style of all of Nintendo’s early first-party NES games, including the now-iconic cover art for the original Super Mario Bros. Somehow, the blocky sprites against a black background look much less flattering for the genesis of Nintendo’s hit adventure series.
Most of the other pictured games—Volleyball, Pro Wrestling, and Slalom— wound up with final box art that was more or less the same. Interestingly, though, Punch-Out!! also wound up going in a different direction, acquiring the Mike Tyson license and featuring the boxer in a photo on the cover instead of the considerably less formidable Glass Joe.
Of course, the cover of Zelda in Japan was much more impressive, with detailed and colorful art showing an illustrated version of Link kneeling with the world of Hyrule behind him. The Famicom cartridge was also green. In fact, Famicom and Super Famicom cartridge art on the whole looked way cooler than almost everything NES owners ended up with in the U.S. Fortunately, Nintendo still opted to do something a little more special for Zelda by the time it hit store shelves in 1987. Over three decades and a dozen games later, it’s earned it.