Video game characters transcending into other mediums is not a new phenomenon. A few decades ago, this was a major testament to the popularity of a character and their respective game. This trend especially hit home when it came to Saturday morning cartoons during the 1980s and 1990s. Several video game characters during this era found themselves starring in their own shows.
While they’re all sure to invoke a sense of nostalgia, fans would point out that each met varying degrees of success. Some of these series proved to be ideal adaptations, but others had us questioning if the show’s creators had bothered to do their research. Either way, we came to appreciate these characters even more. Here’s a look at five (technically six) old-school video games characters whose cartoons changed how we saw them.
It’s not surprising that Nintendo’s mascot would find his way into his own animated series. Mario would end up starring in three, with The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! as the most famous. The animated segments are based on Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2. They’re bookended by live-action segments starring Captain Lou Albano and Danny Wells portraying Mario and Luigi respectively. Both The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World feature no live-action and are based on their respective games.
The effort put into each show should be admired aside from just the animation and voice acting. These series bring to life the elements of the games, such as SMB3’s unique power-ups. They also don’t shy away from creativity, like having Bowser interacting with Wart’s minions from SMB2. Anyone looking to get acquainted with the early era of Mario should give these shows a watch.
Sonic the Hedgehog
The lightning-fast blue hedgehog who put Sega on the map has starred in several animated series throughout the years. The first of these, Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, did at its best, a mediocre job with the characters. Sonic is the infallible hero, and Tails is your standard sidekick. Robotnik’s bumbling is only outmatched by his even more incompetent minions, Grounder and Scratch. Even for a show geared at younger viewers, it didn’t need to force our characters into such uninspired stereotypes.
Around this same time, Sonic the Hedgehog (or Sonic SatAM) was also on air. This show’s iterations of the characters are much more in line with fans’ expectations. Sonic and Tails are more dynamic characters here. Robotnik is every bit the foreboding and intimidating villain we expect. Expanding on the storyline of the games, the show also introduces several new characters who aid Sonic and Tails in their mission to rescue Mobius from Robotnik’s dictatorship. Sonic the Hedgehog proves a worthy animated adaptation of the blue hedgehog is possible, given a little effort.
Long before the Castlevania series that’s currently streaming on Netflix, Simon Belmont first garnered fame on Nintendo as the hero of the Castlevania game franchise. He became so popular that it spun one Genesis-exclusive title in Bloodlines. It would only make sense that, when Captain N: The Game Master came along, Simon would be one of Kevin Keene’s allies in defending Videoland against the forces of evil.
This iteration of the vampire hunter is sure to turn fans on their heads. Here, Simon is vain, egotistical, and prone to cowardice. He may possess his signature whip and special abilities, but this Simon Belmont is no worthy successor to his video game original. In a series already known for not putting forth its best effort with Nintendo’s characters, this didn’t help matters. It’s nice finally seeing the Belmont name get its due in animated form today.
Gamers interested in something a little different could look no further than Earthworm Jim. No two levels are alike, making for a unique gaming experience sure to keep you on your toes. Even more impressive is the offbeat humor combined with a colorful cast of characters. It’s no wonder the game became a staple of both the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.
The game inspired a cartoon that expands upon everything that makes the game and its sequels great. The titular earthworm is given an attitude to match his dorky, but lovable persona from the games. Supporting protagonists Pete the Puppy and Princess What’s Her Name are given interesting backstories and play more active roles in Jim’s exploits. Second banana Psy-Crow becomes an even greater foil for Jim than archnemesis The Evil Queen Slug for a Butt. Earthworm Jim is guaranteed to send some good nostalgic vibes your way. If Jim’s voice sounds familiar at times, it should as actor Dan Castellaneta voices both him and Homer Simpson.
Link and Zelda
There was a unique reason why The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! was originally created for weekday syndication: on Fridays Mario and crew took a backseat for The Legend of Zelda. Based on Nintendo’s flagship franchise, this series sees both Link and Zelda teaming up to protect Hyrule from Ganon’s evil schemes.
As with Mario, this series finds creative ways to bring the characters to life. These versions of Link and Zelda may even be superior to their video game counterparts. It’s great seeing Zelda break free of the “Helpless Princess” trope she’s subjected to in the original games. Link’s “Well excuse me, Princess!” line, while corny, gives him a unique comedic edge. Zelda is a nice addition to the Super Show that would’ve been worthy of spinning off into its own show.