Feature

Miami Vice, sort of

The Art Of Syrian Games

A graphical treasury of WTF.

By John Teti • February 6, 2013

In his exploration of the hacked PlayStation games on sale at a Nairobi shopping center, Joe Keiser characterized pirate-game publisher Syrian Games as “video game cover artists of great vision and poise.” That only begins to describe the treasures that have emerged from the Syrian Games Photoshop lab. (If you haven’t read Joe’s report yet, you should start there and then come back for more amazement. It’s worth it, trust me.)

The library of game covers in the company’s online back catalog is a nearly bottomless well of delight. The Syrian Games image-manipulation maestro seems to have hit his or her peak during the heyday of the PlayStation and PlayStation 2. The covers for those systems’ pirated games—which number in the thousands—demonstrate a well-considered lunacy, a dadaist disregard for the conventions of the source material. (The covers for most of the company’s Xbox and Wii ripoffs, on the other hand, simply steal the art from the original game, part and parcel. How trite!)

We know little about Syrian Games. The description on their “About Us” page is a single word. Their contact page lists their location as Damascus—the capital city, currently in paralysis and acting as president Bashar Assad’s stronghold in the Syrian civil war. Given the all-consuming viciousness of the war, it’s hard to imagine that Syrian Games is a going concern right now. But we genuinely hope that the people responsible for these bizarre images are doing okay, because their work is hilarious.

Although the aesthetic varies wildly, you can discern fragments of an artistic style running through the covers. There’s a fondness for rainbows, for instance, and a strong predilection for tropical backdrops with sunny blue skies (even when the title explicitly calls for darkness). But other touches are perplexingly isolated. On the Hitman cover, why does Agent 47 have a heart tattoo? Why is Snoopy a panda in one version of Snoopy: The Red Baron’s cover—and why make two versions? Since when is Jim Carrey’s character from The Mask a superhero?

We’ve selected a few of our favorite covers for the gallery you see below. We could have included hundreds more. The images are presented without further comment because honestly, what can you say?

007: From Russia With Love
007_fromrussiawithlove
Alone In The Dark
aloneinthedark
Backyard Wrestling: Don’t Try This At Home
backyardwrestling_donttrythisathome
Batman Collection
batmancollection
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
buffy_the_vampire_slayer
Bust-A-Groove
Bust-a-groove
Carmen Sandiego: The Secret Of The Stolen Drums
carmensd_thesecretofthestolendrums
Dr. Seuss’ The Cat In The Hat
catinthehat
Egypt 2: The Heliopolis Prophecy
egypt2
FIFA Street 2
fifastreet2
Final Fantasy VI
ff6
Free Running
freerunning
Ghost Rider
ghost_rider
GoldenEye: Rogue Agent
goldeneye_rogueagent_1
GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (alternate)
goldeneye_rogueagent_alt
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
gta_1
Grand Theft Auto: 3 In 1
gta_3_in_1
Grand Theft Auto: Goran Inzibat
gta_goran
Grand Theft Auto: Hussein Al Jasmi
gta_hussein
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: Super Heroes
gta_san-andreas-super-heroes
Grand Theft Auto: ???
GTA_Something
HBO Boxing
hbo_boxing
Hitman 3
hitman_3
Ico
ico
Jackie Chan
Jackie_Chan
Jump Start Wildlife Safari Field Trip
jump_start_wildlife_safari_field_trip
Keiko Yukawa Professional Billiard
keikoyukawa_professional_billiard
L’Amerzone
LAmerzone
Made Man
mademan
Masters Of The Universe: He-Man
he-man
Men In Black
Men_In_Black
Mercenaries
mercenaries
Miami Vice
miami_vice
Monkey Magic
Monkey_Magic
Pepsi Man
pepsi_man
Pepsi Man (alternate)
pepsi_man_alt
RoboCop
robocop
The Sims 2: Castaway
sims2_castaway
Snoopy: The Red Baron
snoopy_and_the_red_baron_real
Snoopy: The Red Baron (alternate)
snoopy_and_the_red_baron_alt
Spy Fiction
spyfiction
Star Phantasy Universe
starphantasy
Shining Force EXA
starphantasyalso
Star Trek Invasion
startrekinvasion
Summer Athletics
summerathletics
Tomb Raider: Underworld
tombraider_underworld
Tony Hawk’s Underground 2
tonyhawksunderground2
Trigger Man
triggerman_1
Trigger Man (alternate)
triggerman_alt
WWII Soldier
wwii_soldier
Zero Pilot
zeropilot

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  • PaganPoet

    You have to love RoboCop’s rainbow-making jetpack. Where can I get one of those?

    And how menacing is that “About Us” page? “soon.” Soon? Soon what?! OH GOD TELL ME!!!

    • Cloks

      THE ABOUT US PAGE IS RIGHT BEHIND YOU

      • PaganPoet

        They should at least let me know if I should have evening wear handy, or if it’s okay if I’m still in shorts and flipflops.

    • George_Liquor

      God help me, I heard distant ululation when I saw that “soon.”

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        That was just Spongebob from the San Andreas cover.

        • Raging Bear

          The Spongebob one. That was when my mind broke.

        • WaxTom

          I’m in my college library just bouncing up and down like an idiot trying to hold the laughs in.

    • Bad Horse

      I would play the shit out of M-rated Carmen Sandiego.

    • zebbart
    • Dr. Aloeh

      SOON!

  • Drew Toal

    After Tony Stark went broke, he was forced to turn to NASCAR-style advertising. Sad.

    • HobbesMkii

       Hey, at least he didn’t go with GoDaddy for a sponsor.

      • Destroy Him My Robots

        DANICA PATRICK HAS GONE ALL-STAR

  • Cloks

    I like to believe that what they’re representing here aren’t products per say but the direction they believe the video games industry will take as a whole. Every game becomes a rehash of existing properties to tie into established markets? Check. Games are only made for systems with a significant installed user-base regardless of console age? Check. The concept of “video game” becomes a floating, mystical squid that deigns to delight us with psychotropic tentacles delivering a vision of “video game” beyond what those of us on the Mortal Plane could experience? Check. Alternate box-art for games depending on venue it was released at? Check.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      I would support a video game industry that gives me a different Grand Theft Auto game for every obscure Saudi Arabian musician.

    • Tarek Jarkas

      i doubt there where lots of deep meanings to the covers
      i remember living in syria as a kid and seeing those games in the stores
      i never met the programmer who hacked the games, but i can assure you he has a very very good imagination
      besides there in syria people have no idea about the video game industry and there copyrights, any game in syria is a pirated version and costs about half a dollar

  • vinnybushes

    I think the Hitman games would have been a lot more interesting if you could only wear long sleeves or risk being identified by your adorable tattoo. Try assassinating someone in Rio now.

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    Where to even begin?  Each one of these is just spilling over with visual information, they could, every one, be a thesis topic.
       Borges wrote the most insidious labyrinth could be a single straight line, but Borges went blind and died before he could see the cover of “Grand Theft Auto San Andreas Super Heroes”.  You get lost in that and you’re never getting out.
       Of all of them, though there is an almost zen beauty in the “Zero Pilot” cover.  No rainbows, no nonsensical pop-culture appropriations, no hasty Photoshopping.  Just a photo of a plane.  With zero pilot in sight.

    • Drew Toal

      Topical!

    • Drew Toal

      Also, speaking of zero pilots, I used to play this game Wings of Fury that was pretty excellent. I’m gonna go see if I can find it on the old Internet.

      • http://www.facebook.com/mjbrady Matthew J. Brady

        Wings of Fury was awesome. You could bomb the hell out of those little island houses then strafe the guys that came running out, and I always loved torpedoing ships. Dogfights usually sucked though, but I figured out how to cheat by climbing up as high as possible, then diving back down to just above the tree line, and the other planes would always come down in front of me. Suckers!

  • Citric

    If the upcoming Robocop doesn’t involve him farting rainbows, I will be very disappointed.

    I also appreciate the Star Trek cover designed seemingly to anger Star Trek AND Star Wars fans. 

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      Well goodness knows angering either is about as difficult as bullseye-ing a Tribble with your T-16. 

      • Bad Horse

        That sounds impossible, even for a computer!

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        Threepio!  Shut down all garbage smashers on decks 5 through 9, and reroute main power to the shields!

    • Fluka

      But seriously folks, what’s up with pirated Robocop and rainbows?  Both the Kenyans and the Syrians seem to be in on this…  Is the rainbow a PS2 thing?  Did the Syrian guy pirate the Kenyan guy, or vice versa?  Is this some kind of Jungian archetype?  I have so many questions!

      • Mike Ferraro

        What you’ve never googled Robocop Unicorn?  http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_kotax3rlj41qzkyyko1_500.jpg

      • Mistah Chrysoprase

        I’m noticing most of these follow the same louder-is-better approach to packaging. Presumably the inestimable mechanoid policeman’s signature monochrome look just wasn’t eyeball-searing enough even with the brightness blown out, so in came the rainbows and magic castles.
        That or, it’s a reskin of an old Barbie game.
        I REALLY hope it’s the second one.

    • Electric Dragon

       Somebody should send a copy to JJ Abrams.

  • Citric

    While these selections are a bounty of joy, do NOT forget to go to the site itself, which features cover art for Alundra 2, that has Captain America on it. And only Captain America on it.

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Seriously. The Syrian Games site has so, so much more.

      • Citric

        I think the cover people were just given a title and no other indication of what the game was about, because I’m pretty sure Ultimate Bass Challenge is about fishing, not guitars. I’m also beginning to think that’s the way to do all covers.

      • vinnybushes

        My computer is probably getting so many viruses on it right now and I could not care less.

      • George_Liquor

        I love that their Guitar Hero: Aerosmith has Ace Frehley on the cover.

      • vinnybushes

         I actually think this box art perfectly captures Altered Beast, because, if we’re being real here, I mostly remember turning into a reject from “Pumping Iron”. Extra points to the alternate box art obviously cribbed from a Wolverine game. http://syriangames.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=18_46&product_id=2913

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=579674289 Morgan Filbert

        Avatar the Last Air Bender: Into the Inferno. Just a screen shot from James Cameron’s Avatar, because what else could it be, honestly?

  • George_Liquor

    Honestly, the art for uhh… “Bust-A-Groove” is still better than the bloody bubble-blowing baby on the cover of Super Bust-A-Move.

    • Fluka

      Oh god!  That poor man has become unstuck in space-time, and his body is being shredded by a quantum singularity!

      • George_Liquor

        I’ll still take that over bloody baby spit-up.

        • Fluka

          *googles*

          !!! Equally terrifying!

    • Mike Ferraro

      The NBA Street cover looks way better than the photoshop disaster that is the REAL cover of EA’s March Madness 2003.  http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51AG4CVZ61L._SL500_AA300_.jpg

    • tedthefed

      I find the Bust-A-Groove one kind of gorgeous.

  • vinnybushes

    Is Coolmen Pepsi in direct competition with Dr. Pepper 10? My testosterone fueled psyche is so confused now.

  • Citric

    Oh god, Apocalypse is Bruce Willis’ head crudely photoshopped into some anime. 

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    You have no idea how sad I am that Carmen Sandiego: The Secret Of The Stolen Drums is not a real game.

  • PugsMalone

    This won’t mean much to the non-anime fans here, but their cover for Persona 2 uses fan art of the characters as the cast from K-ON!

    http://syriangames.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=62&product_id=2076

    EDIT: Oh God, look at “Incredible Crisis”.

    http://syriangames.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=62&product_id=2025

    • Mistah Chrysoprase

      See, now, I would buy the shit out of a legit FF7 tactics game. This is where Squeenix is at now I guess, outshone by their own pirates.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        I recall the very first one had a few cameos from FF7 characters, but, yeah, that’s the only bone they’ve thrown in that regard.

        I imagine a Namco X Capcom-style tactics game mashing together all-stars from the whole series would do SUPER well (they could even include characters from other Square and Enix franchises).

        But I guess Square is happy to simply manifest that idea in exploitative mobile games.

        • Mistah Chrysoprase

          Well that looks appalling; still I like your idea, they did something like it with Theatrythm so who knows, maybe one day.

    • PaganPoet

      Heh, not to mention that that’s the cast from Persona 4, not Persona 2…and it’s only the female cast members…and two Yukikos….

  • Destroy Him My Robots

    *looks at Ico*

    Whoa! That’s nearly as bad as the US boxart.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      My first thought was “Hey, they managed to improve the US box art!”

  • fieldafar

    I really like how they still gave random ESRB ratings.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      Rated “طبيعتها” for Children 3-7, Russell Crowe with an action-figure head and Batman!

  • caspiancomic

    guys what am i even looking at i cant

    • caspiancomic

       that wasnt even a disqus error i just dont think my brain

      • Cloks

        video game

        • Jackbert322

          johnny boy

        • Chum Joely

          FANBOY OVER HREE!

        • George_Liquor

          Woah there, Hitler.

  • CNightwing

    Apparently Tony Hawk’s Underground is the nickname for his sweatshop fuelled by child labour.

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    I’ve always wanted to see Mask team up with Super-M-Tan.

  • STOP_RIGHT_THERE_CRIMINAL_SCUM

    MY SIDES 

    • Glenn Welsh

      Are they splitting with rapturous laughter?

  • http://blinkinglightsandbleepingnoises.blogspot.co.uk/ The Visible Man

    I’m pretty sure that isn’t the real Keiko Yukawa.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard
  • http://pseudonymjones.com/ Pseudonym Jones

    Is anyone else here from Philadelphia? Because to me, the Syrian Games “S” logo immediately reads as the SEPTA logo (the South Eastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority): http://www.septa.org/

    Although I realize it’s unrealistic that they pirated that, too.

  • stakkalee

    All of these leave me absolutely giddy – I can’t stop giggling.  Sara Michelle Gellar’s poorly Photoshopped head, the secret agent who went rogue and became a luchador, the Empire invading the Federation, it’s all so wonderful.  I especially love the GTA clones with the local celebrities – Goran Inzibat and Hussein Al Jasmi are both musicians, but the El Lemby 8 Giga one is apparently based on the movie of the same name starring Mohammed Saad, Egypt’s answer to Kevin James. This is the only plot synopsis I could find for El Lemby 8 Giga, but I’m not sure how you shoehorn that in to GTA; SyrianGames.com is, lamentably, silent on the subject.

    @JohnTeti:disqus, I seriously hope we’re going to see a couple of reviews of some of these from @JoeKeiser:disqus.

    • djsubversive

      “the secret agent who went rogue and became a luchador”

      Both of those guys are from Saints Row the Third. Like, straight-up ripped off from SRTT. They DID change the color of Killbane’s clothes, though – he usually wears green.

      Not that I should have been surprised by that, after all the other “hey, isn’t that…?” covers here.

  • Cloks

    Video Game: Is it Stage Play

    Act 1

    On stage is darkness, but soon light to see the play with. Man is standing in center of the stage and behind him nothing but darkness, unrelenting void. Projected onto screen now, it is image of Mario.

    Man: Video game, video game. What is video game?!

    From ceiling of theater it is rain down, hundreds of video game. All kind, from hit like Alone in the Dark to Zero Pilot.

    Man: And it is video game. I am to play it.

    Man pick up in his hand, yes it is video game. Screen behind him show what is playing, is platformer. Hop and jump action is happen.

    Man: I am video game. I am video game. I am best at video game.

    From offstage enter other man, wearing fedora.

    Fedora: I am video game criticisms. You are not best at video game.

    Man: I am best at video game.

    Fedora: No you are not. Pay dollar to be best. Seven points out of ten.

    Screen switches to the words “OBJECTIVE RATINGS”. It is then picture of sobbing Statue of Liberty.

    Curtain is closed.

    Act 2

    Screen is show word “CONTINUE?”. Underneath appear countdown with numbers from 10 to 1 descending.

    Man: Continue.

    On screen now is FPS. Man get really rooty tooty point and shooty. Heads are roll. From offstage enter other man, now wearing ten gallon hat.

    Ten Gallon: Am violence in games.

    Man: I am not shape by anger.

    Ten Gallon: Am too.

    Man socks ten gallon in jaw. He fall over, crumple like potato sack

    Man: I am best at video game.

    Curtain is closed.

    Act 3

    Screen is show word “INDIE GAMES…?”

    Man: Conceptually lacking, aesthetically displeasing.

    Screen switch to indie game. Man play as retro styled character. Anachronism. Other man enter, now again wearing fedora.

    Fedora: Am genius. Video game am make better at life. 11 out of 10.

    Both men shed a single tear and embrace. Curtain falls, audience is rapturous applause.

    Both Men: The end?

    • Electric Dragon

      Game by Samuel Beckett, translated from the original Japanese by the guys who did the English version of Zero Wing.

      • PhonyPope

        Don’t you mean Zero Pilot?

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I saw the playbill for this.  It was Pere Ubu Photoshopped into a Macross Mecha. 

  • Aurora Boreanaz

    Two of my favorites are right next to each other:

    Masters of the Universe: He-Man, starring Geralt from The Witcher 2!

    Men In Black: Men In Pinstripes With Tommy Guns!

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    So somebody here is gonna order some of these 1.00 games and report back to us right? RIGHT!?!?

    I need to know if He-Man with Geralt from Witcher 2 is as awesome as the box art promises.

    Also, why did they slap the Sega logo on Tony Hawk Underground 2? It’s not like they need to impress anybody by saying something like, “Sega published this one guys. It’s legit.”

    I DON”T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING ANYMORE!!!!!

  • Penis Van Lesbian

    I think the Tony Hawk is my favourite – do you actually get to play as a small child who’s just been given his first skateboard?

  • Electric Dragon

    It’s as though there was some kind of Demolition Man-like Franchise War in Kenya: now all games are Grand Theft Auto or Guitar Hero.

  • http://twitter.com/roundthewheel RTW

    After much deliberation I think my favorite is Pepsi Iron Man.

    Though that Grand Theft Auto 3-in-1 is a thing of beauty. “You don’t need an automatic assault rifle, Squidward! All you need is—IMAGINATION”

  • ItsTheShadsy

    Bahaha, I totally lost it with WWII Soldier.

  • ferrarimanf355

    The US cover for ICO is still worse than the pirate cover.

  • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

    The cat in the hat looks like Ken Leung 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Johnson/501651 Kevin Johnson

      That’s the one that got me. Not sure why, I think it’s because that’s some 4chan-like PS skills right there. THAT LOOK.

      Also, the first Snoopy head is actually ‘shopped on the character of Bolt from the movie Bolt. It’s kind of clever, in an inexplicable way.

  • djsubversive

    That first San Andreas cover just made me sad that we didn’t get Cesar Vialpando as the protagonist for that game.

    Then the next one had Sonic, Mario, and Spongebob behind Cesar, and I dropped back into “confused but amused.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=579674289 Morgan Filbert

    So I’m curious Joe, are these games Region 1 or region free? If so I think I’ve just found about ten years worth of gag gifts.

  • Nadia K

    Honestly, the Free Running/Mirror’s Edge one isn’t even that bad. I applaud them for that.  

    But man, that Pepsi-Iron Man one. I couldn’t stop laughing.  

  • ComradePig

    This website is truly a goldmine and I feel obligated to link this amazing gem of a GTA variant:

     http://syriangames.com/image/cache/data/banner/ps2%20A/3319-225×300.gif

    • TaumpyTearrs

      Awww, everybody else looking at these has exceeded their sites bandwidth, so now I can’t look.

  • http://twitter.com/ROBO_LEADER Craig H

    “Zero Pilot” indeed!

  • Glenn Welsh

    Well at least you can’t accuse Zero Pilot’s cover of false advertising. If you look closely, you’ll notice there are, in fact, zero pilots on that plane. And I like that there is just a game called “Jackie Chan”, since actually being Jackie Chan must be very much like a video game.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

    I just thought you’d all like to know that the Gameological Society commentors have broken the Syrian games website. It currently has a splash page up that says “Bandwidth Exceeded”. Way to go us!

  • Carísimo Rolex

    La mejor portada la del GTA con el moro cantando con un huquelele. XD XD XD

  • Halloween_Jack

    Batman: Come At Me, Bro

    Dr. Seuss’ Stephen King Goes To A Rave

    Pepsi Man: Hey, Even Tony Stark Has Cash Flow Problems Occasionally

    Star Trek: Solving That Stupid Star Destroyer Vs. Enterprise-D Question Once And For All

    Tony Hawk’s Underground 2: Goddamnit Mom I Asked For An XBox

  • http://twitter.com/mad_maw Chris Glover

    There should totally be a game jam where you have to implement a game to fit the box art of one of these

  • Mike Filak

    One word…hilarious @ l77t Robocop lol

  • http://www.facebook.com/RialVestro James Robbert Hermes

    “Since when is Jim Carrey’s character from The Mask a superhero?”

    The Mask was created by Dark Horse Comics, he’s ALWAYS been a super hero. He even says “With these powers I could be… A SUPER HERO!” in the movie. Whoever wrote that is not only clueless about the comics but has obviously never even seen the movie.

    • http://robcypher.blogspot.com/ Rob Cypher

      I thought he was a crazy-faced killer in the comics; the movie was something totally different. You sure you’ve read the comics (pre-movie ones, anyway)?

  • GH56734
  • avon43

    ZERO PILOT: the only flight simulator where you play as a plane that just sits in an air feld doing nothing.

    GOTY

  • Alaa

    LOL That us Syrians
    I am Syrian and i live in Damascus and i know Syrian Games maybe i can get you some pictures of the shop or special interview :D

    I will tell you a thing they don’t do that anymore this is all old and it wasn’t only for PS2 also for PC.

    Before 5 or 6 years in Syria we didn’t have any original game all pirated now a days we have original games but it’s not very popular and very expensive, before the war you could get any Xbox 360 pirated game for 1 dollar :D

  • SYRIAAA

    we hack games here in syria
    we used to buy the gta vice city for a half dollar :p
    and we got our own games here
    not hacked but professional
    see the video plzzz
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAOOKy0Qbm0&hd=1

  • SYRIAAA
  • fawaz

    hhhhh i have gta V on ps2 do u believe that !!!!!?????

    i’m syrian i can do everything

  • Erin Ashley Hedges

    For the love of god, I want to play all of these

  • kingsasha

    Not all syrians are like that
    There are true syrian gamers and stupid syrian gamers
    The stupid guys make this shit , but true gamers like me hate this shit
    So don’t take a wrong picture of syrian gamers like me
    Add me on steam: steamcommunity.com/id/mrLMG
    On origin: MajdYakoub
    So we can play and see the syrian guys

  • Guest

    I hAte This fUcKiNg game! they made from africa shity games!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/elultimo.hombrelibre Elultimo Hombrelibre

    The rainbow was also present in 8 bits games to show these games where not black and gray, but include colours. Maybe is a reference to that: not-monocrome games.  Imagine a world where 16 colorus is a luxury.