In honor of all the DVD releases of video game cartoons lately, here are a ton of intros from just about every one I could think of…
…except Pokemon. No way in Hell I’m hunting all those down.
First up, Double Dragon.
I thought it was a fun cartoon in its own right, which is to say, if you were watching strictly as a fan of the games, don’t even bother. It was more a commercial to sell toys than it was to sell the games, including lots of weapons and energy launching stuff. Fun in a Saturday morning “mystic/martial arts” sort of way.
Not to say I don’t like or appreciate the toon, but fact is, I think the movie Super Mario Bros. stuck closer to its source material.
Of course, polar opposite was Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, which was total slapstick. In fact, it was pretty much the modern-day update of Looney Tunes which Warner Bros. wishes it could do more of. I imagine the advantage here lies in the fact that Sonic does most of his trickery on robots, rather than various flesh-and-blood creatures (barring Robotnik, who I suppose was ambiguous in that regard anyhow).
After those came the sort-of rarity of Sonic Underground, which had an even crazier story, giving Sonic two siblings who make up his rock group. Animation-wise, I’d say it falls closer to SatAM, though it holds to the idea of Robotnik having a pair of flunkies at his disposal.
This series also marked the animation debut of Knuckles (save for perhaps that OVA from Japan). And man, what a voice they gave him… it’s right up there with Urkel as Sonic, that’s for sure.
Most disturbing of all, however, is Garry Chalk as Robotnik. That’s right, Garry Chalk. Take the voice of He-Man (New Adventures), Man-At-Arms (2003 series), Optimus Prime/Primal, and turn it to evil. And there’s your Robotnik. Holy Hell…
It’s not BAD, but it’s just so damn STRANGE to hear what’s essentially the father figure of heroism speaking lines of arch-villainy.
Of course, my favorite of the Sonic toons is Sonic X. And no, not because “it’s teh amine, weeaboo!!11 lol,” but it sticks pretty damn close to the source material in a lot of ways, including the fact that it looks like the Sonic Adventure/Advance-era art came right off the page and started running around.
And unlike the US, Japan actually got a second opening, though they kept the same theme song. Really, this is what 4Kids should have done, at least for the last season.
Speaking of which, 4Kids brought together a decent intro. Decent, compared to a number of other dubs, though still lacking against Japan’s “Sonic Drive.” There is this strange one whose origins I don’t know.
Among other things, Sonic X had some neat adaptations of Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 going for them, though the latter wasn’t nearly as well done. Though, to its credit, it DID feature the theme song “Live and Learn” for the final battle, though only in the Japanese version. Too bad.
Incidently, some people hate Chris. I can take him or leave him, but I do find his family, particularly Chuck “Doc Brown” Thorndyke and Mr. Tanaka. Sam Speed was cool as well, and generally speaking, I found the human cast here less annoying than in some other toons.
Personally, I saw Chris as a sort of attempt to integrate “the player” into the cartoon as a sort of avatar for fans. Rather than assisting through a controller, though, the touch was of course more personal.
In the last season, at least, Chris had aged and matured enough so that at least he was useful, even if they did decide to reduce him back to being a kid, in body at least.
All of these are pretty easy to find on DVD, too.
Moving along, back in the 90s, I’m sure a lot of people remember the fighting game craze, and of course, that meant numerous cartoons followed as well. Might look into the more numerous Japanese intros sometime, but for now, just the US stuff.
Ah, Darkstalkers. I never really watched it, might have seen one ep, two at absolute best. Not sure why I disliked it. Maybe it was the addition of some kid to it. Maybe it was the crappy animation.
But at least the theme was mildly catchy.
On the other hand, Street Fighter was one I watched, and frequently.
It was by no means perfect, but it did a pretty decent job of marrying what was in the movie with what was in the games, to say nothing of picking up on that dangling cliffhanger that was at the end of the credits. By the second season, they had characters like Akuma running around, as well as those from Final Fight and the Street Fighter Alpha games.
Even better, the show had character development and a sense of continuity. And M. Bison was a pretty good villain, with a voice reminiscient of some old favorites like Beast Wars Megatron.
Focus on the characters’ special moves was pretty minimal, all said; they were effectively tools the characters used, and didn’t gather any more attention than, say, any power or item used by a hero in the Justice League cartoons. And truth be told, the cartoon was probably better served for it.
Now, if one were to compare Street Fighter‘s character models and general look to say, the Marvel cartoons of the 90s on Fox, then perhaps it would only be fair to compare Mortal Kombat‘s to the Bruce Timm models of various DC characters like Batman, which seemed to go with the darker look they were going for.
I watched Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm pretty frequently, as it ran alongside Street Fighter‘s second season on the same network, if memory serves. And for the most part, it was alright.
Lacking the over-the-top blood and gore of the games, the cartoon followed a simple idea of the typical Mortal Kombat 3 premise, noting that portals were opening between Outworld and the Earth Realm. From a volcano HQ, the “Defenders” would take “Dragon Jets” to where these portals were opening, kick the crap out of whatever came through, and shut down the portal.
A little hokey, but not too hokey, and worked well for a kids’ cartoon. It had plenty of appearances from familiar faces, some neat stories here and there, and the first time I ever heard the word “damn” in a kids’ toon.
Oh, and I almost forgot: Luke Perry makes a great Sub-Zero. You can hear it for yourself in the first half of the first episode here.
Of course, the 90s had more than just fighting game toons, as Sonic‘s various incarnations proved. Naturally, adventure/action games seem to be most often picked for animation, and one of the most highly-regarded cartoons of that type was Earthworm Jim, starring the voice of Homer Simpson himself, Dan Castellaneta.
So far, there’s been no DVD release of this short-lived series, but fans of course hope that will change.
Fun fact: the makers of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toyline, Playmates, also made a series of Earthworm Jim toys, based on the franchise that can be picked up for decent prices on eBay. What fewer people know, however, is that Playmates had plans for a retooled Ninja Turtles Pizza Thrower for the Jim line that would launch discs decorated with coiled earthworms.
Around that same time, France had their own little thing going on with Donkey Kong Country, which shifted focus from Kong’s banana horde to a Crystal Coconut. Sadly, the cartoon seemed to lack the polish of the games, as far as CG rendering goes.
Of course, another well-known cartoon which ran around the same time as Street Fighter and Darkstalkers was Capcom’s own Mega Man, which unfortunately was a concept too far ahead of its time.
Originally, the cartoon was going to be a lot closer to games in terms of look and overall story and feel, but focus groups, yes, those near-absurd grounds of testing ideas that always see the best stuff get wasted, wound up clammoring for something a bit more “traditional,” leading to a musclebound Mega Man and his Hanna-Barbera-ish robodog.
I’ve been planning for some time now to pull back the curtain on what the original Mega Man toon would have been like, and even compare early concepts to what wound up in the show, but I’m going to need help from someone who can provide screencaps, as well as a bit of page formatting.
Of course, Mega Man would return to TV… sort of. With the advent of MegaMan Battle Network, a much different, and arguably more marketable take on the Mega Man story was made available, and taken full advantage of in short order in Japan.
Unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate the original Japanese opening to Rockman.EXE on YouTube, but at least someone put the opening for the US version, MegaMan NT Warrior up.
Sadly, the music used in NT Warrior defies the nature of the series, which had a tendency to be a bit more light-hearted, though it would have worked well enough for the Japanese follow-up, Rockman.EXE Axess, which was localized with a better-fitting theme as MegaMan NT Warrior Axess.
Unfortunately, the fate of Rockman.EXE Stream and Rockman.EXE Beast, though Viz has acquired the licensing rights to the successor to EXE, Ryuusei no Rockman, whose game will arrive here under the title of MegaMan Star Force.
On the bright side, a good number of NT Warrior episodes, a Japanese OVA of the original, and the entire Ruby-Spears cartoon have been collected on a tons of DVDs.
As long as we’re in the future, another unfortunately short-lived video game anime was axed from 4Kids.tv before it could see completion, that of course being F-Zero: GP Legend, which was the dubbed version of F-Zero: Falcon Densetsu.
Personally, I really liked this series, as it gave us Rick Wheeler, the first F-Zero character I felt I could empathize with, as well as a likable cast. With any luck, it’ll see a DVD release sometime.
4Kids does seem to have a real affinity for video game-based cartoons, though, and after the success of Pokemon, I suppose it’s hard to blame them. So it’s no surprise that they teamed up with Rare to bring us Viva Pinata, based on the XBox game.
As a bonus, a second opening.
In between that and Pokemon, there was another which 4Kids used to help launch the pre-4Kids.tv lineup known (and often reviled) as the Fox Box. That cartoon of course being Kirby: Right Back At Ya’, a dub of the Japanese Hoshi no Kirby, which also had a second opening, as many anime seem to.
Since it aired, several episodes have been collected and are available on DVD.
Bonus fact, the GameCube game Donkey Konga features the extended theme songs from both Pokemon and Kirby: Right Back At Ya’.
Most familiar to a lot of people who were in on the height of the Nintendo craze, back when Nintendo was pretty much THE game in town, are some classics that have been reborn recently on DVD.
First up was The Legend of Zelda, based on the two NES games of the day, and even featured Beast Wars‘ Bob Forward as a story editor. In addition, it became the first of the recent DiC DVD sets released.
Of course, that was only shown on Fridays, leaving the other four days of the week for The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. Recently released in two box sets on DVD, this series ran for about a year and starred WWE Hall of Famer Captain Lou Albano as the mighty Mario, with Canadian actor Danny Wells taking on the role of younger brother Luigi. At the end of most episodes, they would appear with increasingly-enthusiastic guest stars as they told everyone to Do the Mario!
Though both were replaced in subsequent seasons by other actors, Danny Wells may also be familiar to some for his work in the animated Heathcliff series as Raul and Bush.
In actuality, though only a year’s worth of shows were made, the animated segments were kept, while the live-action portions were replaced in the second season with the “hipper” Club Mario (for which no intro can be found, sorry). Club Mario featured a rooftop “club” where hosts Tommy Treehugger and Coemcee (pronounced “Co-MC” if memory serves) got to act “cool,” and show off the cartoons.
Bonus trivia: According to Wikipedia, “the episode “Do You Princess Toadstool Take This Koopa…?” was included as a bonus feature on the Sonic Underground DVD “Dr. Robotnik’s Revenge.” Which is cool, because that was one of my favorite cartoons of the series, and the one I always saw as the “finale.” Even though neither its air date nor production number were the last of the series, it always felt like the best fit.
While the Zelda/Mario duo were enough to sustain themselves in syndication on weekdays, NBC had a lock on just about everyone else to appear on a Nintendo system with Captain N: The Game Master (click for the rarely-seen first-season intro, in which Simon seemed a lot less cowardly).
And just for fun, here’s the more solemn-sounding Hebrew intro.
When Club Mario took to the airwaves the following season, Captain N returned, but not alone. Besides the cast-addition of a giant, sentient Game Boy (who I thought should have at least had some of Captain N’s powers), he was bookended by The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, which would be a pair of 15-minute cartoons (minus commercials) based on the newly-released sequel, filling out a 1-hour timeslot on NBC. These episodes were a lot more faithful to the source material than the Super Show had been.
In some ways, this was good, as a lot more familiar elements made it in, including various power-ups and locales. On the bad side, Shuki Levy and Haim Saban were no longer providing the music, so beyond the adventurous opening theme, just about every piece of music and sound effect sounded like a direct rip from the games. Well, it could be good, depending on how you like it.
Even though Captain Lou, Danny Wells, and Jeannie “Princess” Elias were decently replaced in their roles, John Stocker and Harvey Atkin returned in their roles of Toad and King Koopa, respectively.
For reasons that remain unknown, the airing of episodes was changed midway in the season so that Captain N took one half-hour, and the two Mario 3 episodes together filled a seperate half-hour, making them seem just slightly less integrated.
The following season, NBC seemed to get tired of running cartoons as shows such as Saved By The Bell picked up in popularity among the teen crowd, as well as a chance to run more local news. As a result, Captain N and the New Super Mario World were reduced to sharing a half-hour timeslot.
Worse than that, the animation took a huge decline, and it was most noticable in Captain N, who had the more elaborate character designs. Kid Icarus lost his sandals, and I don’t even know how to describe what happened to Mother Brain.
Perhaps mercifully, they cut out the new, but not improved, episodes about midway through the season, though Super Mario World continued. This final season did have some decent episodes, though as usual, some character designs left viewers rubbing their eyes. Perhaps the best examples were the redesigned Gamma from Mega Man 3 and Alucard from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, who even had his role changed.
Life didn’t end for Nintendo’s toons there, however, as there were several syndicated versions, including Mario All-Stars and Captain N and the Video Game Masters. Plus, Captain N DVDs will be available soon, while volume 1 and volume 2 of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show are available now.
Of course, while Captain N, Mario, and Zelda made up the earliest of video game cartoons, they definitely were not the first of their kind.
Original gaming icon Pac-Man had his own cartoon, co-starring Ms. Pac-Man and their baby, the ghosts, and series-original villain Mezmeron.
Season 2 introduced some new characters, such as Super Pac-Man (called “Super-Pac” here) and another ghost.
The series was popular enough to have an early platform game made based on it, even featuring the theme song as background music.
As FMV games go, Dragon’s Lair is probably one of the most popular, or at least best known. The TV show, according to Wikipedia, was “generally run of the mill, but boasted an unusual feature: to keep the show in the spirit of the game, before each commercial break a narrator would ask what the viewer would do to solve the problem facing Dirk. After the commercial break, the outcomes of the various choices were shown.”
In addition, CBS used to run a block of cartoon shorts known as Saturday Supercade, which featured numerous episodes based on games from different companies, including Donkey Kong (featuring a Mario voiced by Peter Cullen, who later became better known as Optimus Prime. Maybe you’ve heard of him?), Donkey Kong Jr., Q-Bert, Frogger, Pitfall Harry, and in the second season, Space Ace and Kangaroo.
Sadly, there has been nothing on a possible DVD collection of this one.
Wow, that went on for a lot longer than I had expected. I was originally going to just post a bunch of links with a few descriptions saying what’s what, but this was admittedly more fun. Maybe someday I can expand on this, but in the meantime, hope you take something away from it.