Video games are awesome. Yeah, that’s a blanket statement — but you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t agree on some level! That said, do you know what isn’t awesome? Video games adapted for other forms of media. Movies are notoriously hit or miss, but that’s a tired subject. No, the topic of today’s long-winded list is going to be cartoons based on video games — but more specifically, the diamonds in the rough that are frequently overlooked. Care to cast your eye on these hidden gems?
Donkey Kong Country
For those unaware, Nintendo’s iconic anti-hero received his own cartoon series in 1996… and it wasn’t that great on the surface. Like ReBoot before it, the Donkey Kong Country television series was an early foray into computer-generated tv programming. Originally airing before Beast Wars: Transformers even hit the airwaves, it was a bold risk, and an impressive marvel in terms of the technology it utilized. It ain’t Toy Story, mind you, but the animation and 3D characters models are still pretty pleasing to the eye today – even in spite of the nightmare fuel that is Candy Kong.
While some may find the voices of DK and his pal Diddy to be grating, others will find some decent humor and fun stories throughout the course of these two seasons. Indeed, there’s a handful of good, memorable episodes in store for anyone willing to sift through the rest- and for that, it makes the list.
The Ruby-Spears MegaMan cartoon, Mega Man (using a space in the title like the video game’s many spin-offs) just may have the most kick-ass intro on this list. Seriously, just try getting that music out of your head! More than that, the story about a basic helper robot-turned-superhero is rife with potential for a great cartoon… but we’re still waiting on one.
But, the 1994 Mega Man cartoon wasn’t bad. Even burdened by laughably bad voice acting, choppy animation, and mostly unremarkable scripts, this show still managed to be entertaining. That in itself is a feat! Maybe it’s because the idea of Megaman is charmingly simplistic while still scratching at our imaginations, or perhaps there’s just enough weirdness throughout both seasons to be endearing. I mean… the female robot has a vacuum cleaner hand for a weapon. A freakin’ vacuum cleaner hand! Also, let’s not forget that random Mega Man X two-parter that completely butchered X’s story, but somehow managed to be both insanely awesome and appropriately extreme! That one rocked the socks off my childhood, dude.
Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm
Odds are you didn’t even know the infamously violent, bloodstained Mortal Kombat series ever had a cartoon… let alone the fact that it was actually kinda good! Yeah. I said it. Created as a sequel to the first Mortal Kombat movie long before Mortal Kombat: Annihilation drove the film franchise into the depths of hell, Defenders of the Realm had a pretty good starting point and made perfect use of it.
While it wasn’t perfect in and of itself- mostly because Johnny Cage was replaced by Stryker(!) — it still had a lot going for it. With most episodes picking up where the previous ended, this 13 episode series essentially served as a six hour animated movie. It also leaned heavily into the lore that went largely ignored by the movie, expanding upon the Lin Kuei, the creation of cyborgs, Liu Kang’s newfound immortal status, the Sub-Zero/Scorpion rivalry, and even introduced Quan Chi into the franchise.
Also, although they were saddled with some terribly corny catch phrases like “Combat Time!” and “Kiss off,” the voice cast was actually surprisingly good – and even featured the gravelly chords of Ron Perlman as Stryker(?!) of all people! Clancy Brown’s Raiden is also a standout, with his dry humor and fantastic timing. There’s something here for lots of Mortal Kombat fans to enjoy- as long as you keep your expectations in check. It’s better than Annihilation, at least. And I actually like that trainwreck.
Whether you are a fan of the Earthworm Jim games or not (I’m the latter), there’s a lot to love about this particular animated series. Incredible voice talent, zany humor, memorable characters, and off-the-wall plots all make this worth a watch — even if the weirdness makes it hard to describe. It also happens to have one of the greatest intros of all time. For a series about a worm in an advanced mech suit with a snot creature for a pet, this one is pretty friggin’ good.
Oh, and the toys were ten kinds of awesome when I was a kid.
Sonic the Hedgehog (AKA Sonic SatAM)
There has been no shortage of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons over the years. Surprisingly, the overall quality has been much more consistent than the video games themselves. Sonic X adapted many of the characters and stories from the beloved Sonic Adventure games, Sonic Boom is much more kid-oriented but delivers numerous laughs per minute, and Sonic Underground was… something to watch. Okay, they weren’t all winners — but the second cartoon series simply titled Sonic the Hedgehog (referred to by fans at SatAM because of its Saturday morning schedule) is my favorite to this day.
Casting Sonic and Tails as members of a freedom fighter force that uses guerrilla tactics to battle Dr. Robotnik, SatAM was notably darker than the source material. Many of Sonic’s friends (plus his dear old Uncle Chuck) are captured throughout the show’s run, becoming “roboticized” and turned into mindless, murderous robots. One of his closest allies is also a triple amputee, and lots of humor is mined from her faulty robotic limbs which malfunction or fall off at the most inconvenient times. That’s heavy material, doc.
Honorable mention: ReBoot
ReBoot’s one fault is that it wasn’t based on a video game, and was instead an entirely original creation. Even so, its Tron-esque storyline about sentient computer programs entering video games as the player’s opposition made for an intriguing premise. Plus, it ventured into some pretty tragic territory with Enzo Matrix, a young boy whose destiny takes a drastic turn and propels the series in a new direction. The first handful of episodes are kid-oriented, but do yourselves a favor and check this one out — if only for the Evil Dead episode.