Looking back at TV Shows inspired by Video Games
Having been born in the 80's, I've been fortunate to grow up with some awesome television shows like He-Man, Ghostbusters, and Transformers. Even the likes of Thundercats and Ducktales hold a special place in my younger days. I was also a huge fan of video games growing up with such classics like Battletoads (that badass pause music!) and Super Mario Bros. 3. Knowing that a lot of kids shared these similar interests, television executives jumped at every opportunity to capitalize. This is a look back at the shows I specifically remember and how they hold up today.
Captain N: The Game Master
When first thinking back on this topic, I knew Captain N: The Game Master had to be mentioned. This show introduced Kevin, an average young kid, who gets sucked into the world of video games where he gets to meet heroes like Simon Belmont and Kid Icarus. The idea alone was a dream come true for any kid with an escapist fantasy. Admit it. While playing Super Mario Bros. 3, you wished you could stomp on goombas and fly in the air wearing a Tanooki Suit all day.
As awesome as this idea sounded like on paper, there were some serious off-putting elements that any gamer will spot out immediately. These blatant changes were confusing at best and just plain ignorant at worst. Probably the worst offence was Mega Man sporting a puke green color and sounding like he has lung cancer. He's not nicknamed the "Blue Bomber" for nothing. His constant use of the word "mega" may have been endearing as a disillusioned kid at first but that got real old real fast.
"Don't ask me why they mega-screwed up my character."
Kevin, Captain N himself, was an obvious attempt to relate to the viewer. While his character was a stereotypical white suburbanite, at least he had the Nintendo Zapper gun. His constant squabbles with the cocky and arrogant Simon Belmont made for some chuckle-worthy moments.
Super Mario Bros. Super Show
This show holds a lot of fun memories for me as a kid. You know you "did the Mario" back then. In a lot of ways, this was one of the first sitcoms I ever watched because of the way it was formatted. I'll use an old VHS tape I owned as an example. Famed wrestler/actor "Rowdy" Roddy Piper brings in his bagpipes to get fixed despite the fact that the Mario Bros. are plumbers. He comes to visit and check on them when it's revealed that Mario mistakenly turned his bagpipes into a vacuum cleaner. The show cuts to the cartoon then returns after the brothers "fix" the problem by modifying the vacuum cleaner to play bagpipe music automatically. It's probably best not to ask how that works exactly.
The humor, acting, and production value is straight-up Disney Channel level. Seeing Mario and Roddy Piper together on TV was pure gold for me back in 1989. Now? Oh, the pain! Nostalgia aside, this is a show that has aged like milk. I'll give Lou Albano some props for playing as a more accurate Mario than Bob Hoskins in the Mario Bros. movie but that's not really saying much.
There was a Legend of Zelda cartoon that would usually play on the same block. Thankfully, there was no washed-up wrestler in green tights to introduce it but the show itself wasn't any better. Let's just get the "Excuuuuuuuse me, princess!" line out there and call it a day.
Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog & Sonic the Hedgehog: The Animated Series
Not to be outdone by Nintendo, Sega's own mascot Sonic the Hedgehog had a couple of shows of his own. One was the more kid-friendly Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog while the other, which I most remember liking, was Sonic the Hedgehog: The Animated Series.
I remember watching a bit of the Adventures series but grew tired of the overly "kiddy" nature of it. This was the 90's now and being at an older age made me crave for something that wouldn't talk down to me.
Around the same time, the Animated Series came out which still had a cartoon-ish flavor but with some darker themes. Robotnik was more of an evil badass as opposed to the bumbling version in Adventures. There was also the concept of Sonic and Tails being part of a group of "freedom fighters" who would try to save their animal brethren from a soulless robotic fate.
Despite the cooler concept and a much better theme song than the previous series, Sonic the Hedgehog: The Animated Series also suffers from aging poorly. I'm not sure if it's the voice of Jaleel "Steve Urkel" White or just the way he portrays the character but Sonic comes off extremely one dimensional trying to be the cool kid on screen at all times. This may still be entertaining for kids now if they can bypass some of the 90's lingo and mannerisms.
"Hey! I'm still cool!"
We now start getting into shows of a higher quality starting with the mid-90's Mega Man animated series. Badass intro and song? Check. Slick animation? Check. No annoying voices or side characters? Checkmate!
"Super fighting robot... MEGA MAN!"
Oh yeah! Anyone who has seen at least one episode from this show had that intro song stuck in their head at one time or another. The entire intro alone was simply awesome and got you pumped for whatever episode was coming up next.
Okay, so maybe Mega Man wasn't the best role model with his misogynistic views towards his sister Roll and a tendency to litter energy cans (3:14 - 3:51). He was still badass though thanks to the direction of the show making him look and act older. Having his "brother" Proto Man as a personal rival made for some excellent fights between the two that always seemed to mess up Dr. Wily's plans. The episodes have a very formulaic way of fleshing out characters and moving the plot that's reminiscent to a lot of anime shows. Mega Man does justice to the source material and still holds up pretty well to this day.
Just like every young gamer in the 90's, I was a fan of Pokemon. The show started shortly after the original games were released and a phenomenon was born that hooked Japanese and American kids alike.
(from left to right) Brock, Misty, Meowth, Jessie, Pikachu, James, and Ash
The basic concept of the games had you fighting and collecting monsters echoing the famed catchphrase "Gotta catch 'em all!" This made for an easy to translate story of a young Pokemon trainer named Ash going on a journey to be the best. As addicting as this idea for the show was, I want to say the characters are what really made Pokemon the show popular. You have everyone's favorite cute yellow conductor Pikachu of course along with the "oh so cool" Brock. The absolute "show-stealers", however, have to be the bumbling baddies of Team Rocket comprised of Jesse, James, and Meowth.
I absolutely loved these guys. I call this the "Dick Dastardly complex" where the villain (or villains in this case) of a show is just so awesome and/or hilarious that they become the main reason to tune in. There was a time in the series where Jessie and James were replaced by a more successful duo named Butch and Cassidy (I see what you did there). It was that change which had me move on from the show entirely.
There were some other notable shows that also come to mind that I'd like to briefly mention. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? was an excellent kids game show that aired on public television. There were a lot of notable villains like RoboCrook and Vic the Slick along with the Chief (played by Lynne Thigpen) who would brief you on your case. That final round where you had to place 8 markers on different countries of a map within 45 seconds was brutal!
Another show I have to bring up is Battletoads. You may be asking yourself, "Really? There was a show based on Battletoads?" Well... sort of. Only the pilot episode aired and the concept took some liberties with the source material such as having the main characters as teenage kids who can change into the anthropomorphic amphibians at will. It mainly served as a prequel to the game but that didn't prevent it from looking like an obvious knockoff from the popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon which was hot at that time.
I hope you enjoyed this look back down memory lane! Please share some of your favorite video game inspired television shows in the comments below.