Art Appreciation: Konami Video Game covers by Tom DuBois

Video Game-playing children of the 80s and 90s know the work of Tom DuBois, even if they don’t know that they know it. DuBois was one of the regular artists for video game company Konami, and he did the covers for some of their most high-profile games between 1988 and 1994.

The 8-bit NES classic, BLADES OF STEEL, was a standout hit. This was maybe the first video game I experienced with actual recorded speaking (an announcer would say the name of the game at the title screen). But the highlight of the game was being able to stop playing hockey and throw down in a punchfest. You’d get sent to the penalty box, but in 1988 it was pretty awesome to be able to KO a player on the opposing team. Anyways, DuBois’s art is a perfect advertisement for the game itself, making us all imagine what our little pixelated players woud be doing if not for the hardware limitations of the Nintendo Entertainment System.

While writing this post, I found an interview with Mr. DuBois about this specific box art and the legal trouble it got him in. Oops!

CASTLEVANIA III: DRACULA’S CURSE was one of the most advanced games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, allowing the player to not only use the main protagonist, Trevor Belmont, but also pick up partners in the form of Sypha Belnades (the mage in blue), Grant DaNasty (the pirate looking dude hanging on the wall), and the son of Dracula, Alucard, who can turn into a bat (he’s probably one of the bats on there). This art features a lot of moments from the game, including the gears in the clocktower stage, the water dragon boss fight, and climbing up the walls while fighting gargoyles. And just above Sypha’s head is the graveyard where players fight the Cyclops boss. Good stuff!

I’m not as familiar with CASTLEVANIA: BLOODLINES for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, but just look at how creepy all those monsters are, all lost in the void of Dracula’s cape. And that Elizabeth Bartley near the top just looks incredibly savage — Which is fitting, considering she’s loosely based on “The Blood Countess” Elizabeth Báthory, a real-world monster who killed somewhere between 80 and 700 virgin girls at the turn of the 17th century, and allegedly bathed in their blood to keep herself young. Didn’t expect a lesson on a historical serial killer in this art appreciation post, did you?

SUNSET RIDERS was an arcade game released during the height of beat ’em up mania in the early 1990s, featuring four cowboys (though only two on the Genesis version — Billy and Cormano) going through the Wild West and just blowing away all of the outlaws terrorizing the area. Look at how insane those horses are! And that chicken! The Native American level hasn’t aged particularly well, but it’s hard to blame a Japanese developer for copying the stereotypes that Hollywood had been putting out for years. Anyways, Cormano’s muscles are nuts — He’s the guy in the sombrero. And look at Billy’s quads bulging through his jeans! Yowza! Much like DuBois’ work on BLADES OF STEEL, the poster for SUNSET RIDERS is what we all imagined was going on within the limitations of the video game hardware.

What? Just… WHAT? LOOK AT ALL THAT CHAOS! Bill Rizer (the blonde hero up front) definitely invokes the two heroes on the original Contra’s box art, but look at all of these biomechanical monstrosities he and partner Lance Bean are up against! And that psychotic alien face who looks like Satan? The texture on the building structures. Holy cow.

Yup, DuBois also did all the TMNT covers of the time. First up is TEENAGE MUTNAT NINJA TURTLES IV: TURTLES IN TIME, and if this art doesn’t say “Ninja Turtles and time travel,” I don’t know WHAT it says.

But not only did DuBois do the cover art for the game…

He also did a bunch of spot illustrations for the game advertisements. Look at the four Turtles representing the four major time periods seen in the game — Donatello as a caveturtle from 2500000000 BC, Michelangelo from the pirate ship level in 1530, Raphael as a cowboy from 1885 (he’d fit right in with the SUNSET RIDERS cast), and Leonardo from the future of 2100 AD. And that pirate Rocksteady has SUCH a crazy expression on his face!

MANHATTAN MISSIONS was only released for DOS. I’ve never played it, but seeing the four turtles towering over the Manhattan skyline is pretty radical. Speaking of radical…

It’s funny that Leonardo is pictures on the cover of this game, because the plot is to play as Michelangelo (the orange one with the Nunchaku) and rescue all your Turtle brothers. But that’s besides the point — Leo busting through a brick wall by spinning his sword like a drill is pretty cool.

I already did a whole thing about The Hyperstone Heist earlier this year, but the Turtles towering above a SHRINKING New York is pretty sick. Look at all that secondary lighting sourced from the glowing mini city! All those windows and fire escapes. Gorgeous.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: RETURN OF THE SHREDDER is the Japanese version of the Hyperstone Heist, and DuBois did the box art for that version, too! But it never got released outside of Japan. You don’t normally see the multicolored Foot ninja in official artwork.

And finally, THE ADVENTURES OF BAYOU BILLY. The game’s not great, but holy shit, look at that ornate lattice work on the balcony of the saloon! The slimy texture on the alligator. The rope holing up Billy’s pants. All classy.

I hope you enjoyed this look at some of Tom DuBois’ art. If you’re interested, tons more of his work is available at https://retrographicbooks.com/about-tomdubois