The Retro Bin: SMES (Saturday Morning Entertainment System)

Kids love Saturday morning cartoons, and kids love video games, so wouldn’t it be great if someone made a Saturday morning cartoon based on a video game? Thankfully, someone did. Today the Retro Bin looks at SatAM video game-based cartoon shows. Shows such as The Super Mario Brothers Super Show! ..Or Captain N: The Game Master…. ..Neither of which I’ll be discussing here. These shows have already been covered quite tellingly by other online personalities, most notably Doug Walker (the Nostalgia Critic) and Chad Rocco (CR!), so there’s nothing I can say about these cartoons that hasn’t already been said. We also won’t be covering The Power Team or Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures since Twinsanity has already discussed those shows here and here. There was also a little thing called Club Mario….

(Yeah, this happened)

…But the less said about that, the better.

“What were they thinking?!?”

Now on to the shows we will be discussing. The very first American cartoon based on a video game was Pac-Man, which ran on ABC Saturday morning from 1982 to 1983.

OK, one thing I never got about this show: what was that guy Mezmaron’s deal? Who or what was he? Why was he the only humanoid in Pac-Land? Why did he want the Power Pellets anyway? And why did he need them take over (or whatever his motivation was)? The guy was a freaking GIANT compared to the Pac-Landers; he could’ve just stomped through the city Godzilla style to get what he wanted. Come to think of it, I could never truly get into this show because of how badly Hanna-Barbera messed up on the ghost characters… They made Clyde the boss, Inky the dufus and Blinky a coward. Have these people not played the game? Were they really that blind to Pac-Man lore? It was NEVER like that in the games. Anyone who’s played the games knows that BLINKY is the lead ghost, as he’s the fastest, Pinky tries to ambush Pac, Inky’s moves are random and Clyde is the slowest ghost, hence their names:

CHASER (Blinky), AMBUSHER (Pinky), FICKLE (Inky) and STUPID (Clyde).

There were never 5 ghosts and there was no purple ghost. Yes, Virginia, there was a Sue, but that was just the name of the orange ghost in Ms. Pac-Man. if HB wanted a female ghost, why didn’t they just make Pinky female like every other adaptation of Pac-Man did? And why were called the “Ghost Monsters” anyway? That’s redundant, like saying “Vampire Ghouls”.

Moving on, in response to Pac-Man on ABC, a year later CBS countered with Saturday Supercade, produced by Ruby-Spears, figuring if 1 video game cartoon was working for ABC, then surely a show with several video games would work for them. Surely. Saturday Supercade featured no less than 5 separate segments, so much so that 2 of them, Pitfall! and Q*Bert had to rotate in order to fit the 60-minute allotted time frame.

The first season roster went thusly: there was Donkey Kong, in which the titular gorilla had escaped from a zoo and was now roaming the countryside, relentlessly pursued by Mario and Pauline encountering highjinks along the way. (Clearly we the audience were supposed to be rooting for the gorilla, which is weird considering how in the original game Mario was the character you played as. This series seemed to be following the continuity of Donkey Kong Junior, which begins with Mario having captured DK. Given the video game icon Mario would go on to be, seeing him as the antagonist was kind of funny.) Running concurrently along that series was the aforementioned Donkey Kong Jr., in which Junior is also roaming the countryside looking for DK Sr., also encountering highjinks along the way.

So are the Days of Our Lives.

Then there was Frogger, which depicted the title character as an investigative reporter for the Swamp Gazette, and all of his assignments involved him crossing some street and getting hit by a car, leaving him squished flat with flies buzzing over his carcass.

“Ew.” “Seriously?” “So gross.”

Q*Bert featured the orange Noser as a teenager in a quasi-1950’s suburban setting, complete with malt shops, jukeboxes, his game enemies Coily, Ug, Wrong-Way and Viper as Aaron Von Zipper-esque greasers, a little brother named Q*Bit, a girlfriend named Q*Tee (get it?), a dimwit best buddy in a Fonzie jacket named Q*Ball and as an added bonus, one of the show’s background characters was a female Noser named Q*Val who despite the 50’s era setting, spoke stereotypical Valley Girl lingo (this was the 80’s after all)…and that was her entire character shtick! Q*Val proved so popular with fans that in the second season, she supplanted Q*Bit as the 4th main character, so were were treated to even more lines like:

“I am totally, like, cubing out to the max!”

“Wow. She sure mastered that one dimension.”

The final attraction was Pitfall!, based on the Activation game of the same name, which featured the game’s hero Pitfall Harry, his niece Rhonda, a cowardly panther mascot named Quickclaw and lots and lots of swinging on vines. Saturday Supercade‘s second season only had 4 segments, so no 2 needed to rotate.

For season 2, Pitfall!, Frogger and Donkey Kong Junior were each given the ol’ pink slip, so if there ever was a heartfelt reunion between DKs Senior and Junior, we never saw it. As for whatever became of Frogger and Pitfall Harry?

The new attractions were Kangaroo, again based on the game of the same name, starring the titular star (here named KO Katie), her joey, imaginatively named Joey, and their friends having mild adventures in a city zoo. The Monkey Biz Gang (Bingo, Bango, Bongo and Fred), enemies who kidnapped Joey in the game, were here given Bulk & Skull status: not actually evil, just selfish, scheming and stupid. The show deserves some credit for remembering Kangaroo; most of our contemporaries have forgotten that game ever existed. The other new segment was Space Ace, which basically followed the same plot as the game: a blond bohunk space ranger battles an evil blue skinned alien named Borf (excuse me!), whose main weapon of choice was the dreaded Infanto Ray, which turned its victims into babies. Ace gets hit by the ray prior to the first episode, but of course he’s too much of a manly man to be fully transformed, so instead of getting turned into an infant, he just occasionally switches back and forth between his normal form and that of a 19 pound weakling called ‘Dexter’, whom Ace’s partner, Officer Kimberly, tries to pass off as her little brother, so as not to alert their superior officer of Ace’s condition (though you’d have to be blind or terminally stupid to not guess that they were one and the same; Space Ace and Dexter were never seen together, they had the same hair color and outfits, sometimes dude would transform right in front of the guy and he never spotted it!). The most notable thing about the Space Ace cartoon was that Kimberly was voiced by Nancy Cartwright (aka the Woman who Would Be Bart Simpson) and how she went from looking like this…


To looking like this.


USA Network has also tossed their hat in the video game cartoon ring. There was Street Fighter: TAS.

Hey, here’s an idea: let’s make a cartoon based on Street Fighter, but instead of making it like the game that everyone loves, let’s base it on that craptacular live-action movie, you know, the one where Belgian action star Jean-Claude Van Damme was hilariously miscast of all-American hero Guile, M. Bison was made into Magneto, Chun-Li became Lois Lane, Blanka was Charlie, Dhalsim was a scientist with hair, E. Honda was a hacker, Balrog tried typing on a computer while wearing boxing gloves, Ryu and Ken, the main characters of the game, were remade into the Two Stooges, Zangief worked for Shadaloo even though he never had any association with them in the game, Sakura appeared in a single episode and sounded like a 30-year-old and had a completely different back story, Akuma had a British accent, nothing in it resembled the game in any way and it sucked? Let’s go with that!

“Ew.” “Seriously?” “So dumb.”

USA also gave us Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm.

Hey, another idea: let’s take Mortal Kombat, a game known for its’ graphic violence, murder and gore, a game which all but forced the ESRB ratings system into existence, and turn it into a watered-down kids’ cartoon without a drop of blood and no one ever dies? I love it! Give me 13 more!

Well, the show at least featured Clancy Brown as a snarky, sarcastic Raiden, so there was that.

Finally, take that Donkey Kong Country cartoon that aired on Fox Family…please.

“Ew.” “Seriously?” “So cheap.”

OK, this was only around 1999-2000, CGI was in its’ Stone Age, so I can overlook the creaky graphics, what I can’t excuse is how there were so many fun, and entertaining elements to the games this show was based on, and it utilized absolutely NONE of them. Where were the inventive levels? Where was Rambi, Squitter, Engaurde, Gnawty Beaver et al? What’s all this business about a Crystal Cocunut? What is Congo Bongo? The name of the place is Donkey Kong Island. Why is there a factory in the jungle? Who is this Bluster character? If they wanted a rival Kong for an adversary, why didn’t they use Manky Kong? Why’d they change so much? Did they think if the show resembled the game that no one would take it seriously? We’re talking about a game series about a clan of gorillas protecting their banana horde from sinister reptiles. What were they expecting? The Last Emperor?

Not all video game cartoons were perfect, but there was a certain charm to some of them. They weren’t the worst things video game related to hit TV.

Not by a looooooong shot.

One thought on “The Retro Bin: SMES (Saturday Morning Entertainment System)

  1. Another thing that I disliked about “Donkey Kong Country: The Animated Series” aside from the fact that the show contained almost no elements from the games that it was based on, like you mentioned, was that many of the shows’ characters were rendered without eyelids. Their irises would stay open and their pupils would blink! That was creepy! I get that this was 2000 and the show didn’t have Pixar’s or DreamWork’s money, but if animating eyelids was really beyond their scope, then they might as well have just used hand drawn animation.

    Regarding “Saturday Supercade” On “Q*Bert”, I didn’t like it when Q*Val was turned into a main character. I wasn’t in love with Q*Bit, but at least his entire personality wasn’t based on an annoying 1980s fad. Also, in season 2, “Q*Bert”‘s writers seemed to simply abandon the quasi-“Happy Days” format and instead placed the characters in generic situations that you could see on any cartoon show.

    It’s interesting how games like Q*Bert, Space Ace and even Pitfall! and Frogger are still remembered now, yet Kangaroo has completely faded into obscurity. Mind you, that game was never a major commercial success even in it’s hey day. In any case, “Kangaroo” stands out as one of the few Saturday morning cartoons in which the title character was a mother with a child. That’s rare, even by today’s standards. I thought that the zoo setting was a tad restrictive, though.


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