Someone mailed me this. This is really very cool. NES boxes are the wildest and most varied among box arts (for consoles). There is no standard design. They really get crazy.
The reason for the early box art being minimalistic with showing the game screen as the box art was Nintendo following Activision. During the Atari Era, there was GORGEOUS box art. Of course, the game wouldn’t look anything like that box art. Activision, the very first third party console company, made the decision to put screenshots of their game as the box art. This way no one would feel they were getting duped. Nintendo agreed with Activision’s philosophy. This is why the early NES games just have a pixelated screenshot as box art.
Then something interesting happened. Nintendo abandoned the pixelated screenshot box arts. It was a reverse of the Atari Era. I’m not sure why Nintendo reversed itself. Perhaps the gaming market got more mature as to what to expect for their game console. If someone wanted to stand out for the crowd, do the Activision/Early Nintendo way of putting the screenshot as the box cover.
Above: Only America got this Mario Bros box art. NOA was inspired by Activision’s direction. Then again, NOA was responding to the Atari Crash so better be safe than sorry than putting up misleading box art.
(BTW, this fake NES box art is really spot on for a Mario game. If I went back in time and showed people that, they would have majorly freaked out.)
Note: Minecraft’s box art is a blocky screenshot. Game history is cyclical.