Get to know their good side
Whenever a game gets adapted into some other form of entertainment, it can be something of a crapshoot. The personalities and motivations of your favorite heroes and villains may work just fine in the context of the game, but might feel paper thin when you take away the actual act of playing. Accordingly, when writers have tried to expand on one-dimensional character designs to justify new stories beyond the games, they've been known to take certain liberties that don't always go over too well. That's how we got things like Dennis Hopper as a germophobic, human-dinosaur-hybrid King Koopa, or Sonic's inexplicable obsession with chili dogs.
But every so often, something stupendous happens: a character actually gets better when their identity is entrusted to someone who doesn't make games for a living. What was once a bland or unrelatable character transforms into a fascinating, relatively complex individual, with personality traits and aesthetic redesigns that make the new twist infinitely more endearing than the original. Once you get to know what these seven characters are like outside of their respective games, you'll desperately wish these versions could be promoted to official canon.
7. Dr. Robotnik (Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog)
In the games: Besides his egg-like physique and gigantic mustache, Dr. Ivo Robotnik doesn't leave much of an impression. Building death machines in his image and enslaving woodland creatures to power his robot army is certainly interesting, but Robotnik himself doesn't do much besides show up for boss fights and lose spectacularly every time. I get that he wants to conquer the world, but there's nothing particularly intriguing about Robotnik's rivalry with Sonic.
But in the cartoons: You've got two brilliant varieties of Robotnik to choose from here. There's the seething, dastardly version from Sonic the Hedgehog, who rules over a totalitarian dystopia with an iron fist and a Grinch-like evil smile. Or there's the total opposite (and my personal favorite) from Adventures of Sonic: an insecure, short-tempered buffoon with mommy issues who can't even keep his robot underlings in check. One Robotnik is on par with Darth Vader in terms of imposing malevolence, the other is a woefully flawed egomaniac who you just can't help but root for. In both cases, he's the primary reason you'd watch these shows at all.
6. Roll (Mega Man)
In the games: When Dr. Light built Mega Man's little sister, it seems like he set out to make the android embodiment of deeply ingrained Japanese sexism. Whereas her Blue Bomber sibling has the ability to absorb the powers of any Robot Master he defeats, Roll was brought into existence for the express purpose of being a housekeeper. In place of a Mega Buster, she's outfitted with a broom and a vacuum cleaner. Hoo boy.
But in the cartoon: Yes, the animated series still gives Roll a transforming vacuum cleaner where her arm cannon should be. But rather than using it for domestic dusting, Roll can actually suck up incoming artillery and blast it back at her attackers, or suction apart robot henchmen piece by piece. Instead of being a docile child who always hangs back from the action, this teenage Roll has grown out of that frilly little dress and suits up to fight by Mega Man's side. She's got all the versatile combat capabilities of classic Roll's cameos from Capcom's Versus fighting games, without the unpleasant infantilization.
5. Everyone (Tower of Druaga: Aegis of Uruk)
In the games: You're Gilgamesh, a knight clad in gold armor, off to save the magic maiden Ki from the evil demon Druaga. That's about all the plot there is to find in this obscure arcade dungeon crawler that Namco put out back in 1984. Searching for any clues to a deeper narrative proves difficult, because you'll be too preoccupied with the obscenely convoluted methods for surviving the perils of each maze-like stage. How anyone actually managed to complete this game in a pre-FAQ era astounds me.
But in the anime: This strange hybrid of medieval fantasy and zany comedy picks up 60 years after the game leaves off, introducing a new generation of characters (though Gilgamesh and Ki still show up from time to time). The heroics now fall to a resilient warrior named Jil and his ragtag group of tower-ascending Climbers, who have a goofy interplay between them that's in line with what you'd hear in MMO party chat. The entire series is on YouTube (subs or dubs, take your pick), so you can experience positively ludicrous moments like the Roper Dance for yourself.
4. Candy Kong (Donkey Kong Country)
In the games: Candy Kong seems like she was designed for two purposes: saving your game, and titillating young boys. This hourglass-figured simian does nothing more than stand there in a pink swimsuit, giving her about as much character depth as a busty stick figure drawn in the margins of a high school notebook. When she's not doting on DK, Candy Kong likes to... actually, that pretty much covers it.
But in the show: Leave it to a French Canadian TV series to do what Rare seemingly couldn't: make Candy Kong feel like an actual individual. Instead of being defined by her relationship with Donkey Kong, Candy has her own problems to deal with. She enjoys her job at the barrel production plant (which finally explains where all those barrels come from), and hopes to one day run the company herself. But Candy constantly has to shut down advances from her lecherous boss Bluster Kong, and deal with the frustration of DK's struggle to emotionally commit. It's not the most progressive redesign in history, but this Candy Kong is centuries ahead of her game counterpart.
3. Peter Puppy (Earthworm Jim)
In the games: If you're playing an Earthworm Jim level that revolves around Peter Puppy, chances are you're not having a lick of fun. The idea is that Peter transforms from an adorable puppy into a monstrous purple hellhound whenever he's feeling threatened, which is pretty cool. But it's hard to like him when he's constantly beating the snot out of Jim, just because you couldn't master the punishing timing of an escort mission or ace an erratic trampoline-catch minigame.
But in the cartoon: As in the games, Peter often 'Hulks out' under pressure and inadvertantly ends up beating Jim like a drum (usually to the sounds of his Homer Simpson-esque screams, seeing as Jim's voiced by none other than Dan Castellaneta). But when Peter's not going berserk on his super-suited buddy, he's actually quite the timid, sympathetic sidekick, constantly trying his best to stave off his inner beast while he tags along on Jim's wacky adventures. To keep his anger at a minimum, Peter oscillates between chipper optimism and hilariously melodramatic angst. Oh, and he actually has the decency to wear some clothes in the cartoon, instead of prancing around buck naked all the time.
2. Princess Peach (Super Mario Adventures)
In the games: If Peach (formerly known as Princess Toadstool) had a gold coin for every time she's been kidnapped, she'd have enough capital to be the Bill Gates of the Mushroom Kingdom. This pink-clad sovereign treats being a hostage like it's her trained profession, and the only resistance she can ever seem to muster is a schmaltzy cry for help to her mustachioed suitor. There was that time she got to do the rescuing in Super Princess Peach, but defanged platforming and the ability to attack by crying rendered that role reversal kind of pointless.
But in the comics: Forget Mario. The Princess Toadstool from the Nintendo Power comics is more than capable of saving herself, as demonstrated by her resourceful use of a feather cape to glide right up on out of Bowser's castle. Not only that, when Mario ends up being the helpless prisoner for once, the fair Princess sets up an ingenious switcheroo by trading her dress for Luigi's green get-up. Only in the pages of Super Mario Adventures will you find imagery of Peach threatening to bomb Bowser and his offspring to kingdom come if her demands for Mario's freedom aren't met. If only the games could be so bold with her portrayal.
1. Meowth (Pokemon: The Animated Series)
In the games: Nothing about Meowth really makes it stand out from the original 151 Pokemon, and 718 total designs later, its odds haven't exactly improved. Sure, Meowth might snag a temporary spot in a cat person's Poke-team, and the Japanese koban coin embedded in its forehead is a neat touch. But when your Pokedex is full to bursting with overpowered Legendaries, you're likely going to bench this just-plain-ordinary feline.
But in the anime: This Pokemon's personal story is tragedy defined. Before he started getting into all manner of Pikachu-kidnapping shenanigans with Jesse and James, this particular Meowth did the impossible: he taught himself to walk and talk like a person through sheer force of will. He is the sole member of an entire species to have bridged the gap between human- and Pokemon-kind, and he did it all for a love that may never be reciprocated. Maybe you think that you could never feel moved by a scheming, wise-cracking kitty who sounds like a dialed-down Gilbert Gottfried with a Brooklyn accent. But Meowth's origin story and I beg to differ. Looks like Team Rocket's making sorrowful tears stream down my face again.
Change for the better
Pretty great, right? If only these characters could be so cool in their respective games. Know any other good ones, like Hudson Horstachio and the gang in the Viva Pinata cartoon? Let me know in the comments below!
And if you're looking for more Top 7 goodness, check out Top 7... Games that were doomed to fail (but still got made) and Top 7... Most villainous dandies.