There are too many examples for a complete list, but whenever I think about this subject, and I think about the games that were really hit hard by this trend, the ones that outside the US had, not just slightly better box art, but truly exceptional art that the American version ground unfeelingly into the sand, I think of Delphine Software. Based in France, Delphine created some of the best games to come out of continental Europe in the early 90's, and what did they get in return? Shitty American box art. And bankruptcy in 2004, but mostly shitty box art.
The first example is Future Wars, Delphine's early sci-fi point and click adventure, which was a) about a window cleaner travelling through time to save the human race and b) about as good as it sounds, but when I was young the box art was what made me buy it. It shows our main character's humble origins, of his smallness in the face of the city's massiveness, with the stars in the paint hinting that he is destined for greatness. Although he's supposed to be a window cleaner, so I'm not sure why he's got a can of paint up there.
America didn't want that box art. It wanted this box art. Look at it. It's a mess. All those floating elements look like random bubble gum stickers someone put all over their pencilcase. Also, note the tits.
Next, Flashback, probably the best game to ever come out of France, a roto-scoped platform adventure with the physics of an action movie being filmed by a camera fixed about fifty yards away. The European art is simple, readable, and instantly makes me want to know what this man's so startled about and who's pointing that orange laser thing at his face. The US art comes right back to messy collages and an artist who had only found the pixelate function on his art program that very weekend.
But the cruellest example for me is Another World, the spellbindingly atmospheric polygonal odyssey near enough solely developed by Eric Chahi, who also hand-painted the fantastic original box art. Fantastic, because it prominently shows the titular Another World that the game is all about. Now admittedly this was used in the US for the DOS version (renamed Out Of This World for copyright reasons), but this was also the first game of Delphine's to get ported to consoles.
The art for the US Genesis version looked like one of those illustrations old-style pulp sci-fi publishers used to pump out for their covers, forcing the writer to come up with the actual story around it. OotW is about a struggle against a hostile alien culture, the big black monster only appears right at the start and you never get to shoot it. And what's everyone doing on extremely narrow rock mesas? At least the art for the SNES version couldn't possibly get any woAAARGH...
Why do you do these horrible things to the French, America? And after they gave you that lovely statue, too.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.