TheHande’s Top-10 Cartoons based on Video-Games

Okay, I decided to just list my favourite cartoon series that are based on video-games. These are shows that I think were interesting watch in spite or because they were based on video-games and I think still are worth a peek even today. As a note, this list is pretty heavy on 80s and 90s cartoons for rather obvious reasons.

As should be evident from the category of this list, I made this just for fun, so take the whole thing with a pinch of salt. Let’s get on with the list…

10. Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm

Yes, I’ll admit that the concept of this show sounds asinine on the off-set: a children’s cartoon based on a video-game made famous by its violence and gore. However, there were two TV adaptions of Mortal Kombat in the late 90s, one live action (Mortal Kombat: Conquest) and one animated. In all honesty, it’s Defenders that actually stands the test of time better.

Akin to the first cartoon adaption of TMNT, Film Roman wussed out on the violence in Defenders by having the heroes mostly fight against the cyber-ninjas (courtesy of MK3) thus providing the show with the much-needed fighting-action and going around the whole ripping out of hearts, brains and other internal organs you saw in the games.

Ironically, what made Defenders so fascinating and still an interesting watch is the way it tried to handle the Mortal Kombat mythos in a serious way and this can honestly be considered one of the few succesful early attempts by the MK franchise to tell a serious storyline. Sure, the animation quality was a tad erratic, but it was either this or the Street Fighter cartoon (and I for all my love of the 1994 movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme, I just can’t put it on the list).

MK: Defenders of the Realm makes the list, perhaps by the skin of its teeth, but on some rather noteworthy credentials.

9. Pokémon

Truth be told, I have not really been a Pokémon fan since I finished the first game (Blue) and was let down massively. But I still do have some fond memories of the series and particularly the some of the theatrical movies. The Pokémon cartoon series might have not been the first anime series I had seen, but it was the first one I cared about to any great extent and while it lasted, the show had some genuinely titillating and even heart-warming moments.

It wasn’t until about half-way through the first season when they seemed to be postponing the inevitable finale even further and further that I started to get really fed up with the series. And the disappointing First Movie was probably what turned me off the franchise for the better part.

Still, Pokémon marches on, the fan-base is still there and the show is still good for a watch even if I don’t even know half of all the Pokémon (probably less than one fifth) that are currently out. Good animation quality, silly gags and cute made-up animals. That’s what the show is really about at its core and it’s all good stuff.

8. Dragon’s Lair

Here’s a rarity and no mistake. Before DiC took over as the go-to studio for video-game to cartoon adaptions, it was actually Ruby-Spears (formed from ex Hanna-Barbera alumni) that took a chance with video-games as a potential source of inspiration for saturday morning cartoons.

In 1984, they finally made a succesful cartoon adaptation off of a video-game. Understandably, Don Bluth didn’t have anything to do with the series so you shouldn’t go in expecting anything on the level of quality of the original laser-disc game as far as animation is concerned. However, Ruby-Spears got the one thing right that was really missing from their other cartoons and that was a sense of continuity with the game it was based on. Before each commercial break, Dirk the Daring would find himself in some fatal peril and upon  returning from the break they’d show what would have happened to Dirk if he had failed, thus retaining one of the vital selling points of the original game: Dirk’s hilarious death scenes.

Beyond that, Dragon’s Lair was just your standard fantasy adventure series where Princess Daphne unfortunately didn’t wear her trademark bathing suit. However, if you were looking for a good action cartoon based on a video-game from the early-to-mid 80s, Dragon’s Lair was the best you could get.

7. The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3

Despite carrying probably one of the dumbest names of any cartoon series out there, DiC’s second Mario cartoon is actually considered a classic and it was actually very close to the game on which it’s based on. Super Mario Bros. Super Show is my favourite, make no mistake, but SMB3 offered an alternative which actually used more or less original plot-scenarios and characters from the game where as SMBSS tended to focus on movie, fairytale and TV show parodies.

I especially loved the broad usage of the Mario Bros.’ special powers which added a lot of extra flavour to the show. And of course, like almost all of their video-game toons, DiC utilised the actual soundtrack of the game (arranged by Shuki Levy) to enhance that SMB3 feeling to the fullest.

So it’s a pretty awesome show. However, I have way too many small complaints on it to put it any higher on the list, principally the following:

  • Why did they change the names of all the Koopalings?
  • Why were there so many animation errors in every single episode?
  • If the Mario Bros. wanted to get back to Brooklyn so desperately in SMBSS, why didn’t they just go there in this series (because they seemed to go to Earth in pretty much every other episode anyway)?
  • How come Mario and Luigi still had moustaches in the episode where they turned into babies?
  • Why did they never use the Hammer Bros. suit?

6. Donkey Kong Country

DKC fans have a love-hate relation ship with the series, but I think if you grew up with it, you can’t help but to love Nelvada’s early, goofy CG show. In this show, instead of DK’s golden banana horde, King K. Rool and his Kremlings are trying to steal the magical artifact called The Crystal Coconut. The show featured such franchise mainstays as Cranky, Diddy, Candy, Funky and Dixie.

Although the animation of the show has not aged particularly well, you have to admire Nelvada’s balls for trying something this radical (the only other show that even came close to the same style was ReBoot) and at least the physical comedy and tongue-in-cheek episode plots kept the show from becoming stale.

The one thing that definitely splits opinions are the song and dance sections of each episode. Admittedly, they are cheesy and break the action a little bit, but in my view were tolerable enough that they didn’t entirely ruin the show for me. The only thing I was truly disappointed about in this show was the lack of references to DKC2, which occurred mostly in the character of Captain Scurvy and his pirate crew.

Never the less, it’s a good show and I still get a kick out of it.

5. Mega Man

Ruby-Spears Entertainment was commissioned by Capcom to create a saturday morning cartoon rendition of their iconic mascot in 1994. What resulted was one of the craziest, most over-the-top and cheesy-one-liner filled cartoon shows ever conceived. And you know what? I love it.

Mega Man is just one of those shows where you have to leave your brain at the door if you’re going to watch it. For a fan of the game series (specifically the original series) it’s an absolute hoot with nearly all your favourite Robot Masters from the first five games making appearances (also a cameo from Mega Man X, Vile, Sigma and Spark Mandrill in one episode).

Ian James Corlett is just a delight as the blue bomber, causing immense amounts of collateral damage to the city of New York while fighting Dr. Wily and his cronies in each episode. Dr. Wily, played by Scott McNeil, is brilliantly loveable as the mad scientist with a heavy German accent. Terry Klassen and Gary Chalk, as Cut Man and Guts Man, are also an absolute hoot as they try to squash the “Blue Dweeb” in each episode.

Mega Man’s high action, tongue in cheek writing and brilliant animation quality makes it perfect eye-candy and a borderline parody of the game series it’s based on. Definitely one of my all-time favourites.

4. Super Mario Bros. Super Show

“We’re the Mario Bros. and plumbing’s our game, we’re not like the others who get all the fame. When your sink is in trouble, you can call us on the double. We’re faster than the others, you’ll be hooked on the Bros. *UH!*”

This show is my childhood in a nut-shell. A funny cartoon based on my favourite video-game and goofy live-action segments to boot. SMBSS is where DiC perfected their formula for video-game cartoons, with semi-faithful adaptions of vital characters, using the music from the games and by having excellent animation quality to top it all off. Sure, as mentioned before, SMBSS tended to lean heavily on pop-culture parody, but if you rolled with it, you were going to have a good time.

Almost as entertaining as the actual cartoon, the live action segments with the late Captain Lou Albano and Danny Wells were as much of a reason to watch the show. The silly and cheesy sit-com style live action segments were admittedly (embarrassingly) campy, but that’s what you really looked for in a show like this. It was good old innocent fun and I still love it.

I recognise that I put two Mario cartoons on here. In all honesty, I just liked SMBSS more. However, SMB3 is also iconic in its own right, so I figured they both deserved to be here.

3. Sonic the Hedgehog

With his erratic popularity, it’s quite amazing that Sonic has actually appeared in more animated adaptions than even Nintendo’s iconic plumber. Like the blue hedgehog’s games, their quality has also varied greatly from the pretty okay Sonic X, to the embarrassing Sonic Underground, to the pretty cool Sonic the Movie, to the god awful Adventures. *barf*

However, ask any Sonic fan and they’ll always pick the show carrying the title of the franchise as the best animated adaption. Made by DiC around the same time as Adventures *ugh* and starring the same voice-actor for Sonic (Jaleel White), Sonic the Hedgehog thankfully opted for a completely different style from the horrid Adventures.

The show treated the animal characters as serious and relatable, it featured some genuine drama and heart-warming moments, excellent animation and for the first and probably only time, depicted Dr. Robotnik as an evil, sadistic bastard (courtesy of Jim Cumming’s brilliant voice-performance). The show also spawned Sonic The Comic which continues to this very day.

Sonic the Hedgehog showed that you could make a serious cartoon out of a video-game as long as you took it with enough comedy and also had a relatable cast and setting to go with it.

2. The Legend of Zelda

Well excuuuuuse me, princess – but unless you like this show, I don’t consider you a true Zelda fan.

Airing as the Friday feature of Super Mario Bros. Super Show, The Legend of Zelda cartoon in my view was the first video-game cartoon to get the maximum amount of stuff right about the game it was based on and produce a whole-heartedly entertaining experience. It had all the key characters (Link, Zelda and Ganon), all the iconic monsters, all the important items and of course, the iconic music, lovingly arranged by the children’s cartoon theme maestro Shuki Levy.

Sure, Zelda was mostly an action-show with a lot of comedy, but some of the episodes like Sing for the Unicorn, would try something new and different and pull it off brilliantly. I liked the show even before I had ever played a Zelda game. The show wasn’t flawless of course, it only ran for 13 episodes and it could get even a little too campy for me. But one big thing about being a fan of anything is the ability to laugh at what you’re a fan of and not take it too seriously.

1. Captain N: The Game Master

Don’t tell me you didn’t know this was going to be number-1. Part of my entire blog happens to be devoted to it. DiC produced pretty much all my favourite video-game cartoons and, as a massive Nintendo fan, Captain N of coursed ranked the highest on my list even as a child.

Captain N was truly a unique show. Not since Saturday Supercade had one show managed to bring together so many iconic game titles of the video-game industry under the same banner. The huge difference here was that Captain N put them all in the same show.

Sure, Captain N got a lot of things wrong about video-games, but the strong sense of character, fun episodes and, most importantly, the way the show captured the essence of video-games is what made it such a great show. To better emphasise the point, while the heroes and villains contained such names as Simon Belmont, Mega Man, Dr. Wily, King Hippo and Mother Brain – Kevin Keene (the hero of the show) was an original character. DiC also made a number of crazy creative decisions (like depicting Donkey Kong as a giant ape) that only enhanced the surreal nature of the show.

Captain N is simply without comparison in the realm of video-game based cartoons and, in my view, still easily the best.