When Netflix announced that it was working on an animated show based on the popular Castlevania series fans were both excited and a bit weary at how it might turn out. Judging by the first trailer, it would seem that Netflix is sticking to the dark gothic (and gory) atmosphere that the game is so well known for. Unfortunately not all video game animated shows stay true to their source material, with some even re-imagining beloved characters completely. With this in mind, I decided to look back at some of these animated series both good and bad (but mostly bad). So grab your NES Zapper, put on your SEGA cap and get ready for some nostalgia induced love and anger.
Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm – Definitely no fatalities here.
I would assume that the discussion when coming up with the Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm animated show might have gone something like this:
Executive: “We should create a kids show based on a popular video game franchise, any ideas?”
Writer: “Yeah, why not base it on a game known for it’s extremely violent finishing moves, gory combat, and scary characters?”
Executive: “I don’t know, sounds risky.”
Writer: “We’ll make lots of money.”
Executive: “Sounds, like a great idea! Let’s do it!”
Well, at least that’s how I presume it must have gone. Why else would someone decide to create an animated Mortal Kombat series aimed at kids?
Staying true to the video game, the show centred around a group of fighters summoned together by Raiden. These warriors were tasked with protecting Earth Realm from the evil Shao Kahn and his minions. To its credit, the show did try to stay as true as possible to the Mortal Kombat lore and even added to it in some instances.
So, how would the series get around showing a bunch of ninjas and buffed up fighters kicking the crap out of each other? By having them face off against a continuous onslaught of robotic ninjas, of course. Basically, this allowed the show to get straight to the action but skip the nightmare inducing spine ripping segments. Most of the character designs were taken from the MK3 and MK2 games with some blending the two’s aesthetics.
I have to admit that I actually enjoyed the show as a kid, something about seeing Sub-Zero and Scorpion come to life as animated characters made me look past its faults.
The Legend of Zelda – Well, excuuuuuse me, princess.
The Legend of Zelda animated series originally aired as part of the very popular Super Mario Bros. Super Show.
Hearing that familiar theme song for the first time gave me goosebumps, little did I know of what awaited me.
As with most shows of the era, the story was a cut-and-paste ‘stop the bad guy from taking over the world’ adventure and followed our hero, Link, as he continually foiled the evil Ganon’s plans to take over Hyrule. Most episodes saw Ganon scheming to either steal the Triforce of Wisdom or kidnap Princess Zelda.
Known mostly in the show for his sarcastic catchphrase, “Well, excuse me princess”, which he would utter when his attempts at kissing the princess would fail, Link rarely came across as the hero of Hyrule we all knew and loved. Let me be honest, the series played fast and loose with the lore from the video games. It does, however, feature some recognisable monsters, items, and locations from the games.
Strangely, the show even went as far as to explain how Link was able to carry such a huge amount of items in the games. This was achieved by shrinking them in order to make them a more manageable size. Even with its sometimes overbearing characters, sloppy animation and bad (so bad) voice acting, I still found myself enjoying it. The fact that the show never took itself too seriously became part of its charm.
Double Dragon – Billy and Jimmy take on the bad guys.
What is it with studios trying to turn violent video games into kid-friendly animated series?
For goodness sake, Double Dragon (the video game) kicks off with a guy literally punching a woman in the stomach. The fact that the writers were able to extract a coherent story out of the video game’s non-existent narrative is to be commended, even if it is a cliché filled mess at times.
The show follows Billy and Jimmy Lee, two twins separated at birth (who have some absurdly proportioned bodies). Both twins end up being trained by martial arts masters, with Jimmy quickly discovering that he has actually been training under the evil Shadow Master leader of the Shadow Warriors. After this revelation, Jimmy joins Billy and the two become the legendary Dragon Warriors. This affords them the honour of donning some really silly dragon themed headgear that no self-respecting martial artist would ever wear.
It’s an over convoluted tale that serves only to explain why Billy and Jimmy continually beat up bad guys. The fact that Double Dragon regular Abobo was removed from the show in the second episode of season one was an early indication that the show would do as much as possible to remove itself from what little lore there was. Why would anyone remove one of the franchise’ most beloved and well know characters? Heck, Abobo even featured in the truly horrific Double Dragon live-action movie (yes, there actually was one).
Overall, the show could have been called ‘Magic Dragon Twins Fight Evil Shadow Dude’. All that linked it to the gaming franchise was the names of its leads and the title of the show. Plus, the show probably had the worst intro music ever heard by human ears. It still haunts me to this day.
Captain N: The Game Master – Down the Ultimate Warp Zone we go.
Speaking of shows that take liberties with the source material, Captain N: The Game Master was a show made to capitalise on the popularity of various Nintendo characters.
The show introduced us to Kevin and his dog Duke, who gets sucked into the Ultimate Warp Zone and transported to Videoland. Kevin finds out that he is ‘The Chosen One’ (dum dum duuum) who is supposed to stop Mother Brain and her minions from taking over Videogame land. Armed with his trusty NES Zapper, controller and with help from some well know video game characters, Kevin sets out to save the day.
So far, so good.
Where the show totally looses the plot is when it comes to its interpretation (and I use this term loosely) of the various video game characters that hinder and aid our hero.
First off we have Simon Belmont, from the Castlevania series. Instead of being a brave selfless hero who whips the crap out off vampires and monsters, he is turned into a self-obsessed blubbering idiot. Then we have Kid Icarus, who ends each sentence with the word ‘Icus’. This gets really annoying really fast-icus (see I’ve already annoyed you). Lastly, we have short overweight Mega Man (reminiscent of the classic Mega Man NES box art), who possibly has one of the most irritating voices in the history of animated shows (think, someone who smokes 30 packs of cigarettes a day).
It might sound like I loathed the series as a kid but, actually, it’s quite the opposite. As a kid who didn’t know better, I actually enjoyed the series and I loved seeing these characters interact with each other. It’s just that it could have been so much more had they stayed true to the essence of who these video game characters were.
It basically feels like a missed opportunity.
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog – WTF?
The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog was a batsh*t crazy, hyperkinetic, over the top series.
It followed Sonic and Tails as they foiled Dr. Robotnik and his two henchmen Scratch and Grounder’s plans to take over the planet of Mobius.
Unlike the excellent and just as over the top Ren & Stimpy show, Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog lacked the necessary focus (and skill) to make it work. And even though the series was aimed at a younger audience, many of the episodes made absolutely no sense. The animations were terrible and frequently felt unfinished. Basically, it served as a way to capitalise on the character’s popularity, which at that stage started dwindling.
The worst part of the show was that the blue hedgehog came across as an absolute sarcastic jerk. And even though I do understand that it was deemed ‘cool’ to behave in this manner back in the early 90’s, it made Sonic truly unlikeable. Having said this, there were a few episodes that went as far as to expand on the universe’s lore in a meaningful way. One such episode even explained how Sonic and Tails met, something the video games rarely ever touched on.
If only the show included more of these types of episodes, the series might have been fondly remembered.
Earth Worm Jim – He’s such a groovy guy!
The 90’s was a strange time where even a lowly earthworm was able to ascend to the role of video game hero and in many ways a mascot for the Sega Genisis.
The premise, much as the era’s fashion, was ‘far out’ and ‘totally weird’. Our hero Earthworm Jim, called so because of the fact that he is an actual dirt crawling earthworm, discovers a ‘Super Suit’ that just sort of fell from the sky. Slithering into the suit Jim not only gains a set of arms and legs but super strength as well. Possibly the kid’s cartoon with one of the zaniest and best intros ever, the show demanded your attention from the get-go.
After being ‘blessed’ with the super suit, it’s up to Jim to protect it from falling into the clutches of the shows numerous villains. This was a show that revelled in its absurdity, and rightly so. From memorable characters such as Evil the Cat, Princess What’s-Her-Name, and Bob the Killer Goldfish, there was no way that I could not love this show.
It’s proof that even a game with a nonsensical narrative could turn out to become something strange and wonderful if done right.
The show continuously broke the 4th wall (which as a kid I didn’t even know existed), had colourful animations, fast gags, and a really great voice cast. All these elements combined into a gooey wonderfully weird mess of a show that I wished lasted more than 2 seasons.
Battletoads – definitely not the Ninja Turtles
Not only was the 90’s a weird and unique era, but it also gave birth to some of the best kids cartoons of all time. One of these (which originally started in the 80s) was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, probably my favourite show as a kid.
With the show’s success came a slew of inferior cartoons trying to hop on the ‘teenage animal somethings’ bandwagon. Not only did we get the totally radical Street Sharks (which turned out to be not as radical as one would think) but we also got Battletoads.
Based on the hard-as-nails NES game with the same name, Battletoads the cartoon served as a sort of a prequel to the video game and saw three regular teenagers given the ability to transform into the Battletoads. With their super strength and the ability to morph their limbs into weapons the now aptly named Rash, Zitz, and Pimple (truly hardcore 90’s names) was charged with protecting Princess Angelica from the Dark Queen. There was no doubt that the show hoped to capitalise on the success of TMNT.
With some of the worst animation to ever grace our TV screens, not even the shows catchy Beach Boys-inspired intro could save it. The show never received more than one episode. It would seem that the execs quickly realised that the show might be one warty mistake.
Pac-man – Chomp Chomp!
Why, oh, why would someone think that basing a kids show on Pac-Man could ever be a good idea?
Released in a time when everyone, including my parents, were obsessed with the yellow round-shaped hero, the Pac-Man animated series featured Pac-Man, his wife Pepper Pac-Man (why not Ms. Pac-Man?), Pac-Baby, Chomp Chomp their dog and Cat Sour Puss. Each episode saw Pac-Man and co. battling it out against the Ghost Monsters, who would try and gain to control of the source of Power Pellets.
If this isn’t weird enough for you, the show’s main bad guy, a Darth Vader look-alike named Mezmaron, commanded the Ghost Monsters but rarely featured in the episodes.
How someone was able to extract all this narrative out of a game featuring a yellow circle gobbling up smaller circles is beyond me. There is no doubt that the shows owe its two seasons run to the popularity of the Pac-Man game and little else.