Way back in the 80s and 90s, there were more cartoons than you could shake a stick of Acme dynamite at.
They were a big deal, especially shows like Transformers, which were essentially long-running advertisements for must-have toys. Considering how wildly popular video games were becoming around this same period, it was inevitable the two worlds would collide – and they often did, with mixed results.
Sure, some games are perfect fodder for fun, colourful animated adaptations, but others are a bit more of a stretch. You don’t generally play a game revolving around beating enemies to a pulp or tearing their hearts out and instantly think what a great Saturday morning show it’d make.
Nevertheless, if it was a big game, it got its own kid-friendly adaptation, despite the source material’s content. As we look back at 7 old-school cartoon series based on iconic games, we’ll include a couple that might have been a weird match …
The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3
Mario was an obvious choice for an old-school cartoon. He’s got a fun look, a perky accent, and has a bright, exciting world to explore. Throw in some great supporting characters and enemies, and you’ve got all the makings of a nice little show.
Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 ran in 1990, and was the second series based on everyone’s favourite plumber (after The Super Mario Bros. Super Show and before Super Mario World).
Unlike The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, this was all-animation from start to finish, with no live-action segments. Episodes revolved around the kind of things you’d expect – Mario and Luigi helping to protect the Mushroom Kingdom from King Koopa and his scummy cronies. Still, the series sometimes took place outside of the established Super Mario environments, with episodes set in such real-world spots as New York and Los Angeles.
Not totally unlike the infamous live-action movie, then …
Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic’s still a major figure in the gaming world today, but back in the early 90s, the spiky little dude was everywhere. He’s had a few different animated series over the years, but this one is perhaps the most well-known; it’s still got a cult following today, but might not necessarily stand up quite as well as the likes of Earthworm Jim.
Here, Sonic was leading a group of anthropomorphic freedom-fighters out to bring the twisted Doctor Robotnik down and save their world, Planet Mobius. The animation still looks impressive today, and the theme tune’s as fist-clenchingly powerful as it gets.
If ever a character from a hit game was destined for a madcap Saturday morning cartoon, it’s Earthworm Jim.
This eccentric dude started life as a normal worm, only to be granted newfound strength and agility by a mysterious super suit. The series followed Jim and his sidekick Peter Puppy (who retained his ability to transform into a monstrous beast), while various villains popped up, including Queen Slug-For-A-Butt, Evil the Cat, and Bob the Killer Goldfish.
It still stands up well today, featuring gorgeous animation and lots of humour. Without a doubt, though, Earthworm Jim’s strongest aspect is its theme song – as soon as you hear it, you’ll want to sing along.
The Legend of Zelda
This is one of the less-beloved cartoon adaptations of the era, and it’s not hard to see why. While it features the main characters (Link, Zelda, Ganon) as well as recognisable monsters and items, it was pretty weird to see Link as something of a nasally, all-American action hero. The animation hasn’t aged terribly well, either.
Still, for fans of the Zelda series, it’s worth a watch, especially if you’ve never seen it before.
Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm
Okay, so Mortal Kombat ended up in the hands of pretty much every kid who wanted it, but it wasn’t a ‘kid-friendly’ game at all. What made it special, at the time, was the gore and the ability to murder opponents in all manner of creative ways – so, when that was stripped away for this colourful, death-free cartoon, the fundamental MK feel was all but lost.
The series followed the Defenders of the Realm, a group assembled by Raiden to combat Outworld’s invasion of Earthrealm – Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, Jax, Sub-Zero, Nightwolf, and Kitana. Weirdly, such iconic characters as Johnny Cage and Goro were nowhere to be seen.
Needless to say, Defenders of the Realm wasn’t a huge hit with fans, and only survived for one season of 13 episodes. On the positive side, the series did feature the mighty Clancy Brown as the voice of Raiden, so it’s not all bad.
Nintendo’s colourful little blue robot is another character perfect for cartoon adventures, and this 1994 series does a good job of transplanting him to another medium.
The animation is still fairly smooth today, and the intro sequence alone is chock-full of slick, dynamic action (with a pretty badass tune). The series revolved around Mega Man and his pals fighting Dr. Wily and his minions, keeping the world safe on the weekly. You know, like good guys do.
If you love Mega Man buy have never seen an episode of his cartoon adaptation, give it a go. You might just be missing out.
While Double Dragon wasn’t known for violence in the same way as Mortal Kombat, it’s still a game that revolves squarely around punching and kicking an endless stream of bad guys until they collapse. On top of that, with its grungy urban settings and everyman leads, it’s not necessarily the most exciting prospect for a Saturday morning cartoon.
Well, that didn’t stop the good folks behind this spin-off! Nope, they decided to jazz the concept up a little by throwing in a load of magic, a few swords, and basically diverting from the source material as much as possible. It’s not hard to see why, of course, but hardcore fans won’t find much to love here.
A game based on the series, Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls, was released in 1994; it didn’t receive the warmest of responses. There was a line of action figures and accompanying vehicles, too.
Still, the big question is: is this cartoon series worse than the live-action movie? It might be too close to call …
Do you remember any of these old-school cartoons based on iconic video games? Let us know!