Last week, From the Console to the TV Station discussed the very first TV adaptations of videogames. Now we jump ahead a few years to two of the more memorable game-based cartoons.
The Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons, much like the games they represent, remain some of the most successful gamey programs to date. They also seem to be the ones that are best retained in the memories of gamers, meaning that they were obviously a big part of our lives. But just how well are we remembering them? Are we thinking through a rose tint?
This week, we will primarily focus on these television shows, how they compare to their game selves, and the impact that they’ve made on gamer culture. Prepare yourself for either a flood of nostalgia or a flood of tears before hitting the jump — both great memories and horrors from the past lie within.
The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!/1989/DiC
The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3/1990/DiC
Super Mario World/1991/DiC
During the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Mario series saw a boom in popularity much like the one that Pac-Man had years earlier. Out of this boom came three programs that were different, yet very closely related to one another; in fact, many who were young at the time tend to lump them all into a single memory, believing them to all be one continuous television show. Or, I hope I’m not the only one who thought that all three of the Mario cartoons were preceded by Captain Lou Albano grumbling about spaghetti and whichever guest star had dropped in for the day.
Yes, the truth is that despite the vivid memories that everyone has of the Super Show, it only lasted for a single season. It was a very long season consisting of 65 episodes, and a new episode was shown every weekday in the latter half of 1989. In 1990, the live-action segments were dropped, and focus was put onto the cartoons. As the names of the latter two programs suggest, the cartoon’s content changed each subsequent year to reflect the next title in the Mario series after 2. Both of these cartoons also only ran a single season each.
Unlike all of the videogame-inspired cartoons before, the ones based off of the Mario mythos had a lot of things set in stone to work from. The brothers were plumbers (the Mario Bros. manual states this as fact) who helped protect Mushroom Land (the Mushroom Kingdom was the world of Super Mario Bros. 3) from King Koopa. The first cartoons featured enemies from both 1 and 2 (although King Koopa was always there in place of Wart), and the Koopa Kids were around from 3 onward.
Still, some fairly goofy liberties were taken with some of the characters and scenarios. The notion that the Mario brothers are native New Yorkers was completely made up for the television series. Many episodes of Mario 3 took place in real-world settings such as Los Angeles and Paris. The Dinosaur Land depicted in the World cartoon housed cavemen in addition to dinosaurs. Princess Toadstool was a big fan of Milli Vanilli. The list of oddities goes on and on.
Perhaps the biggest change were the names of the Koopa Kids. They suddenly adopted monikers much less cool than the originals for seemingly no reason. It is widely believed that the new names were given because the creators were working off of the Japanese version of Mario 3, in which they were all referred to as, simply, “koopa kids.” These names were kept as the Koopalings’ nicknames in the next cartoon to avoid confusion.
It’s safe to say that many of these little changes were made to help the characters appeal to those who weren’t into videogames at the time, which is understandable. Gamers were still a very niche audience back then. But with all of these little bits of then-relevant fluff to jerk you out of what’s going on, there is very little to like about any of them today. Still, they serve as an important part of gaming history; the part where celebrities and cartoons banded together to get kids hooked on the brothers, and consequently, Nintendo products.
– The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! intro
– The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 intro
– Super Mario World intro
– SS!: Neatness Counts/The Bird! The Bird!
– Mario 3: Sneaky Lying Cheating Giant Ninja Koopas
– SMW: Gopher Bash
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog/1993/DiC
Sonic the Hedgehog/1993-1994/DiC
AoStH is the most “pure” of the cartoons, in terms of having the most in common with its source material. There was no overarching story, no major characters that didn’t appear in the games (both Grounder and Scratch were based off of Sonic 2 baddies); it was just plain ol’ Sonic and Tails outwitting Robotnik every single episode and then giving a small bit of advice through the “Sonic Says” segment. Nothing but good, clean hedgehog fun.
Meanwhile, Sonic the Hedgehog (often referred to as Sonic SatAM to better differentiate it from everything else) was a cartoon based off of the Sonic comic book universe. It features a more capable and frightening Robotnik, who has actually succeeded in taking over a portion of Mobius. Sonic and Tails were joined by the likes of Sally Acorn, Bunnie Rabbot, Rotor, Uncle Chuck, and Antoine. Together, they formed an underground team of rebels who fought against Robotnik’s reign of terror. In this world, Sonic fights scary-looking human droids, watches helpless animals get turned into robots, and feeds off the power of rings. Not to mention that his love interest in Sally carries over from the comics and is often front-and-center.
A lot of people tend to prefer one over the other, since they are so vividly different in tone. I always had a penchant for AoStH myself, but I can acknowledge them both as being fairly good game cartoons. I can go back to them and watch them as intently as I did as a child, and that’s saying something, as most of these programs are kinda bad to begin with and do not age well. Adventures has made appearances in syndication every now and again, but sadly, SatAM remains largely forgotten by everyone besides those who watched the show as children.
In a completely different league was the third Sonic cartoon, Sonic Underground. For whatever reason, it wildy deviated from the formulas of both the videogames and the other Sonic cartoons. The only staple of the series that remains (besides the hedgehog himself) is Robotnik; everything else has been thrown out to make room for a completely new story. In Underground, Sonic has a brother and sister, Manic and Sonia, and they are all the children of the former Queen of Mobius. The events preceding the first episode have Robotnik overthrowing the Queen and kidnapping her, and from that point forward, the hedgehog kids try to save their mother, while Robotnik tries to stop them.
Oh, and they also have magic musical amulets that transform into musical instruments, which act as both their weapons (that’s right, Sonic had a gun way before Shadow was ever concocted!) and the instruments they play in their underground band.
Why DiC would take things in this direction, especially at a time where all other Sonic media was switching over to the Adventure style, defies explanation. Perhaps to produce a cooler, edgier Sonic to show off to a new audience, but Sonic Adventure was attempting the same thing at the same time in a different way. It seems like it all would have gotten very confusing. Some people enjoy Underground, but as a fan of the speedy critter, I think the whole premise is a bit silly.
* The last Sonic cartoon is the anime Sonic X, which I’ve decided to save and discuss in a later part of the series focused on game animes and foreign cartoons.
– The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog intro
– Sonic the Hedgehog intro
– Sonic Underground intro
– AoStH: Pseudo-Sonic
– Sonic SatAM: Super Sonic
– Sonic Underground: Beginnings
– AoStH: All “Sonic Says” segments
The Legend of Zelda/1989/DiC
The Legend of Zelda was initially a part of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, making its appearance on the show every Friday. It has gained notoriety over the years for how badly it was done. Hardly any of the seriousness of the videogames was carried over for the cartoon; Link was not a fearless, silent hero, but a sort of bumbling, talkative fool. Zelda wasn’t entirely helpless as she’d been portrayed in the games up to this point, but was capable of taking care of herself. Unfortunately, the trade-off for this was that she was as loudmouthed as Link, and brash to boot. On top of it all, the show hasn’t aged well at all and is constantly ridiculed for being one of the lowest points of the series’ fame (second only to the CD-i games).
Still, there is good in all things, no matter how bad they are. I can imagine that the cartoon got a lot of people into the games who had never heard of them before. You can include me in that group; if it wasn’t for The Legend of Zelda being a part of the Super Show!, which I watched religiously even after it went into syndication, my mother may not have ever been tipped off to get me Link’s Awakening and a Game Boy a few years later.
The Legend of Zelda: The Ringer
Reading about and watching old videogame-themed television programs is way past cool. But you know what isn’t? Missing the next installment of this series! Next week, we will delve into a few of the more popular games that have had the fortune (or misfortune, depending on which we’re talking about) to be adapted into their own cartoon series. See you then!