Who signed off on that one?
If a new animated series based on a game is being made right now, it's treated like a major multimedia event. Just look at recent cases like Sonic Boom and Pac-Man: The Ghostly Adventures. These shows are announced years in advance, get tie-in games released alongside their premieres, and have dozens of corporate folks planning every aspect of it, right down to the laces on Sonic's shoes. That's a far cry from the slapdash execution in some ancient Saturday morning cartoons.
Back in the '80s and '90s, it seemed like any halfway decent animation house could score the cartoon rights to series as big as Mario and Sonic, with little effort or care for the characters' histories. And kids at the time overlooked so many of these screwups, mostly because they didn't know any better in the years before decent gaming toons like Pokemon showed up. Now, though, with the old style cartoons properly dead and buried, it's painfully clear just how much these shows missed the mark. Read on to see some of the most damning inaccuracies ever televised...
Super Mario Bros. Super Show
Original concept: Two brotherly plumbers travel the Mushroom Kingdom to free Princess Peach and the Toadstool people from the evil King Koopa.
The execution: The biggest issue with the Super Show is that it can't decide if it's based on the first game, the sequel, or dozens of lame movie parodies. The core group is Super Mario Bros. 2's quartet of Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad, but they're battling King Koopa instead of SMB2's Wart, despite the fact that Koopa commands many more SMB2 enemies than Goombas and Piranha Plants. And very few of the adventures take the gang to Subcon or the Mushroom Kingdom. Instead, episodes head to settings that parody Star Wars, the Wild West, and kung fu, among many, many other lame references. Lastly, there's Mario and Luigi's near-constant barrage of pasta-related puns, which may have set back the international reputation of Italy by about 20 years. Even a catchy closing theme sung by pro wrestler Lou Albano can't make up for that.
Original concept: A circular man eats pellets and finds love while avoiding (and later consuming) deadly ghosts.
The execution: Pac-Man's plot is so thin that it's impossible to really do much with it, so animation studio Hanna-Barbera decided to mash together The Flintstones and The Smurfs, sprinkling some Popeye on top for good measure. This Pac-Man is a family man, married to Pepper Pac-Man and raising Pac-Baby (the type of blue collar existence that's maybe not all that relatable to kindergarteners). The ghosts continually pester the workaday slob in their attempts to steal Power Pellets (hardly their MO in the game), all under the orders of Darth Vader wannabe Mezmaron. It's all a weird mix of overly high stakes and mundane family life. The confusing show reaches its apex of oddity when Pac-Man saves X-mas by feeding Rudolph and the other reindeer Power Pellets. Also, British viewers should know that Pepper's nickname for her husband (which rhymes with "lackey") has unfortunate and wholly unintended similarities to a horrible racist slur.
The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog
Original concept: A cool, incredibly fast hedgehog and his fox friend battle a mad scientist, destroying thousands of robots along the way.
The execution: This goofball show is definitely aimed at Sonic's younger fans, but it starts out close enough to the source by making the core cast Sonic, Tails, and Dr. Robotnik. But Robotnik is reimagined as a hapless buffoon, Tails as a naive toddler, and Sonic as a chili-dog-obsessed wiseguy that sounds suspiciously similar to Steve Urkel (because, well, it IS Steve Urkel). Things get even worse when evil sidekicks Scratch, Grounder, and Coconuts show up as "funny" robots that have some of the most annoying voices in animation history. It adds up to a mix of bad writing and animation that's less "Gotta Go Fast," and more "Snorks but with worse production values." By the time you reach Sonic's hacky, government mandated safety tips at every episode's climax, the formerly cutting-edge mascot feels about as hip as a trip to the dentist.
Original concept: A spherical, orange creature hops from one cube to another while avoiding snakes and trolls.
The execution: Q*Bert feels like a game made by drug-addled college students, but even the most chemically impaired wouldn't reimagine it as a cartoon version of Happy Days. Q*Bert and his nasal-voiced friends Q*Tee, Q*Bit, and Q*Ball all attend Q*Berg High, in a light teen comedy that tests the viewer's ability to stomach Q-related puns. Episodes cover everything from surfing contests and school plays, to celebrating Thanksgiving and attending sock hops; you know, all the things you expect Q*Bert to do when not hopping on cubes. Q*Bert will occasionally speak in his trademark nonsensical symbols, but those brief shoutouts to the arcade title are very limited. The producers are more interested in having the cast drive around town in their souped-up hot rod.
Donkey Kong Junior
Original concept: A young ape battles against a mustachioed man to free his imprisoned father.
The execution: This cartoon is accurate for about 11 seconds... then it's all downhill from there. It starts with Junior saddened by his father's absence and ready to begin his search for Donkey Kong, which is exactly when Bones, a leather jacketed greaser, offers to help. The two then hop on Bones' motorcycle (apparently a baby gorilla can drive), and start a cross-country road trip where they do a terrible job looking for DK. Additionally, Junior is like a more annoying version of Scrappy Doo, usually investigating haunted mansions and arguing with ventriloquists instead of climbing vines and dodging crocodiles. And because the show only lasted 13 episodes, Junior and Bones never get close to finding Donkey Kong. Junior would've been better off ditching that Fonzie ripoff the moment he met him.
Original concept: A frog must cross the road to reach a lily pad.
The execution: The car troubles of one amphibian can barely fill two minutes of gameplay, so Frogger is recast as an intrepid reporter out to expose the ills of society. He's assisted by a turtle named Shelly and Fanny Frog, another bit of writing that proves American animators aren't all that informed about British slang. It's noble of Frogger to become a muckraking journalist, though he's often assigned to investigate things like a "super skateboard fuel formula," which I don't think has earned anyone a Pulitzer Prize (yet). The cartoon did occasionally have Frogger get crushed by an alligator, but if that's all you needed to be accurate, then this classic Seinfeld scene is the most accurate TV recreation the game ever received.
The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3
Original concept: Mario and Luigi fend off King Koopa and his seven Koopalings from conquering The Mushroom Kingdom, ultimately freeing Princess Peach from Koopa's captivity.
The execution: Based on this opening, the show gets off to a pretty good start, staying true to the third Mario game--it even has Kuribo's Shoe! It's full of the game's sound effects, settings, enemies, and all seven of the Koopalings are present, though they all have different names for some reason. Adventures is definitely closer to its roots than Super Show, but the whole thing breaks down once celebrities get involved. The oppressively '90s singers Milli Vanilli guest in one episode, playing a concert the whole gang attends. Not only is it inconceivable that Princess Peach would actually pay money to see Milli Vanilli, but the episode had the poor timing of airing days before the two men were revealed to be lip-syncing frauds. It's a destructive dose of reality that basically ruins the entire series in retrospect.
Captain N and the Gamemasters
Original concept: The stars of Mega Man, Kid Icarus, Castlevania, and more team up with a Nintendo superfan to save the video game world.
The execution: If you're looking for the series that will provide the most inaccuracies per minute, consider Captain N the undisputed leader in liberty-taking media. This type of mascot team-up would be a huge deal today, but back then it was merely a platform to misunderstand almost every popular NES game of the era. Simon Belmont is a vapid pretty boy, Pit is an unintelligible wuss, Mega Man is green, and every new world they visit is another chance to screw up some other series. The bad guys take the misinterpretations to Dada-esque levels by re-envisioning Metroid's Mother Brain, the silent alien cerebellum, as Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors. Seriously, the animators hired the same voice actor, R&B singer Levi Stubbs, then painted lipstick and eyeshadow on Samus' most dangerous enemy to make her the evil schemer of the show with her incredibly obscure cohorts Eggplant Wizard and King Hippo. And don't even get me started on the Game Boy.
The bad old days
So, after seeing all those crimes of cartoons past, it makes the Sonic Boom redesigns seem pretty reasonable, huh? If I missed any other exceptionally bizarre gaming recreations, tell me all about them in the comments. I will sacrifice a surprising amount of time to watch more terrible cartoons.
Want more melding of games and animation? Check out the 15 esoteric game-to-anime adaptations worth discovering and 8 weird things you forgot about the Pokemon animated series.