Following up on my previous blog about Captain N and the varying degrees of success it had of capturing some of the most iconic characters of the NES era, I thought I’d go back even further in time for some more retro gaming cartoon goodness. Back between the time when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the - whoops, that’s a bit too far. How about we stop at 1983-85, and discuss Saturday Supercade. Cue intro!
First of all, it’s MIND BLOWING to me how much older cartoons from the early 80s look compared to the late 80s. Part of it is probably just the fact that surviving VHS tapes from that era have had an extra 5-10 years of wear, tear and degradation on them before being uploaded to youtube, but damn. I feel even older now after watching that.
Anyway, Saturday Supercade was a whopping hour - minus the typical deluge of toy, processed sugary cereal and fast food commercials - block of programming featuring 10-12 minute shorts based on some of the most popular arcade intellectual properties of the day. It aired from 1983-1985 on CBS and was my favorite cartoon at the time, outside of the Incredible Hulk/Spider-Man show.
So, what arcade IPs made up the Saturday Supercade?
Everyone’s favorite barrel tossing ape stars in a series of adventures as he eludes the grasp of Mario and Pauline, who are trying to bring him back home to the circus he escaped from. The typical formula for this was Donkey Kong getting tricked into committing some sort of crime by the show’s random, one-off villains, but seeing the error of his ways and teaming up with Mario to make things right, only to run off again.
Lots of fun trivia bits with this show. I think this is Mario’s first appearance in animated form, and he was voiced by Peter Cullen. Yes, “Optimus Prime” Peter Cullen. I wish I could say Frank Welker provided Donkey Kong’s voice to make this even more ironic, but that honor went to none other than comedian Soupy Sales.
This segment was the headliner of this show for most people. DK was certainly a hot property at this time, and this was Nintendo’s flagship title in the pre-NES era. Funny thing, the Famicom itself actually predates the first airing of the Saturday Supercade by a couple of months, and the US launch of the Nintendo Entertainment system came a couple months after it went off the air, bookending the series nicely.
Another interesting point here is the color scheme of Mario’s outfit - in the game, he wore a red hat and overalls with a blue shirt. Here he has blue overalls with a red hat and shirt, which would become the standard sometime around the release of Super Mario Bros. 3 in another 5-6 years.
The final big bombshell here is that in this continuity, Mario is in fact Pauline’s uncle, rather than her love interest as the game’s manual indicated. So, is she Luigi’s kid? If so, where the hell is Luigi while his daughter is getting kidnapped by a gorilla, and his brother is trying to save her? What kind of dad is he?
Donkey Kong, Jr
Speaking of deadbeat dads, while Donkey Kong was being chased across the country by Mario and his niece (who he may or may not have been in a consensual sexual relationship with), DK’s sprog was on a mission to find his dad and go back to being a happy, healthy simian family.
So Junior teamed up with a greaser named Bones, and the two pursued the elder DK, always just missing him, and hoping they’d catch up with him on the following week’s episode. Along they way, they fought crime and helped solved problems, because that’s the premise of just about every Saturday morning cartoon was prior to the mid 80s.
I remember not particularly liking this, for several reasons. First, DK Jr was basically a second rate Scrappy Doo with his “I can do anything” attitude and his “Monkey muscle!” catchhrase. And I hated Scrappy Doo. Even as a 5 year old, that shit didn’t fly with me - I recognized him for the cancer he was to cartoon chemistry.
But what really bugged me was that it had no real connection to the game at all. Don’t get me wrong, every property in Saturday Supercade used artistic license to some degree to flesh out the minimal stories of early coin-op games. But for me, it was jarring the first time I saw a Donkey Kong Jr arcade machine, and realized that Mario/Jumpman was now the villian, having captured and imprisoned the pint-sized protagonist’s patriarch. He who fights monsters, and such. Instead of seeing DK Jr actually trying to rescue his dad, we got him riding around on a motorcycle with a second rate Fonzie knockoff.
Talk about artistic license - in this show, Frogger is a reporter who writes for the Swamp Gazette. Suddenly, this completely turns the narrative of the game on it’s ear. Has Frogger discovered some sort of corruption in the swamp? Is he racing back to his office to write an exposé that will shake the very foundation of the swamp’s democracy to it’s core? Have the powers-that-be arranged for all sorts of “accidents” to happen to him as he tries to cross the street? You have to admit, that’s a lot more interesting than the idea that he’s horny and is just trying to find a mate.
Anyway, in the series, Frogger hung out with a turtle and a female frog, and they’d roam around the swamp looking for story subjects for their paper. He’d frequently get flattened by a car, or swallowed by an alligator, making this particular segment the most true to it’s source material.
I don’t really have much more to say about it, because I never really liked Frogger - the show or the game - except that this incarnation of Frogger looked a lot like Dig’em the Frog, the Sugar/Honey Smacks Mascot.
So, Q*Bert lives in town called Q*Berg, which has a vague 50’s “Leave It to Beaver” vibe. He and his female Q*Bert girlfriend, his brother, and some other Q*Bert-like creatures went to sock hops, hung out at soda shops, and were terrorized by Coily the snake and his gang of greaser friends. What the hell is it with Saturday Supercade and greasers?
Credit where credit is due - they actually managed to work in block hopping sequences and swear bubbles. You know, I credit Q*Bert with teaching me the concept of “bad words”. Sure, I heard my dad drop the occasional F bomb as a kid, particularly when he was working on our ‘78 Plymouth Caravelle. But it wasn’t until I saw my brother lose at Q*Bert, and the speech balloon with a bunch of funny characters that I understood the notion that there are some words that are not supposed to be said in polite conversation. Thankfully, my older siblings were there to teach me what all of those words were on the way home from the arcade that day. I tested my newfound knowledge out when we got home by dropping an F bomb in front of my dad that evening. I found out what soap tasted like that day…
Okay, where was I - ah, the Q*Bert show. They actually managed to get two seasons of material out of the premise of a fuzz ball with a tube nose hopping around an isometric pyramid. Impressive.
I’m not going to lie - I have absolutely zero memories of this being on Saturday Supercade when I was a kid. I didn’t even know about it until I got the idea to write this blog and started doing research by looking old videos on YouTube and looking at various wiki entries about it. I want to blame the Mandela Effect, and say that there wasn’t a Pitfall cartoon in my original timeline, but in reality, I’m sure it’s more just that the combination of the fact I was 4-5 years old at the time, and it’s been over 30 years since I watched this stuff for the first time.
Yeah, so I’m just going to glaze over this one - Pitfall Harry explored the jungle looking for treasure. He swing on vines and jumped on crocodiles’ heads and such. Overall, a pretty good adaption of the source material, and some elements from the cartoon actually made their way into the game’s sequel.
A fairly obscure game as far as arcade classics go, the premise of the game was that a mother Kangaroo wearing boxing gloves was trying to rescue her joey (that’s the term for a baby kangaroo, kids. Let it never be said that a jaygerbomb blog post isn’t educational!) from some fruit throwing monkeys. Isn’t it odd how many of the games involved monkeys, and two out of three of them cast them as the villains?
The cartoon took this plotline and expanded/re-worked it a bit. The joey - hereby named Joey - was actually the main focus of these segments. He teamed up with his mother, Katy, and a squirrel named Sidney all lived at the zoo, ran by Mr. Friendly. The gang of monkeys were still present - and they still threw fruit - and the show centered around them causing trouble by trying to escape. Joey & Katy would foil their plans and keep them in check. When Katy pulled her boxing gloves out of her pouch, you knew shit was about to get real.
Here’s another interesting factoid - I remembered this show as a kid, but didn’t remember it being a part of Saturday Supercade until I started research for this post. I vividly remember the cartoon - Dexter, Kimberly and Borf’s names even stuck with me - but I didn’t even realize this was a game until many years later when I bought it on CD-ROM along with Dragon’s Lair I & II on a Don Bluth CD-ROM collection.
On that note, the original Space Ace was released in 1983, as a follow up to Dragon’s Lair. Much like its predecessor, Space Ace used film quality animation backed by laserdisc and required you to move the joystick or hit a button at certain times - pretty much what we call “quick time events” today. Also like Dragon’s Lair, it was created by Don Bluth, who was/is a god among animators.
The rundown of the plot is that space hero Space Ace was shot by the evil commander Borf’s “infanto ray”, capable of reducing people to a younger age. When shot, Ace becomes the weakling kid Dexter. In the game, you played primarily as Dexter, and would get chances to temporarily turn back into Ace. In this adaptation, Ace/Dexter would transform seemingly at random - usually at the worst possible time - and he and his fellow space cop Kimberly were trying to find a way to permanently restore him back to Ace.
With all of that drama, Kim & Ace are trying to keep the fact that he reverts to Dexter hidden from the public, and keep Borf from invading Earth, and using his Infanto Ray on others. Also, DAMN it's hard to find clips of this show on YouTube without either the title, description, or a ton of upvoted comments referencing age regression fetish, which I didn't know was a thing until just now. And now I want to go bleach my brain.
And that’s pretty much it. Saturday Supercade is one of those shows that will likely be lost to the ether of time for all eternity - the rights are an absolute clusterfuck, as you can imagine. Ruby Spears was the original producer, and they’re now owned by Warner. Warner has expressed a desire to get the series out on DVD, but that’s going to require cooperation from Nintendo - who’s much more protective of their IP than they were in the early 80s - Atari, Sega, Activision, and Konami. Space Ace has been aired on Boomerang as a standalone show, and Q*Bert got released on DVD a while ago, but if you want to experience this show as it was originally aired any time soon, I’d suggest you go look it up on YouTube.