Cheaptoons #12: Pac-Man

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Any gig’s better than going back to Pac-Prison

S2E12, “Around the World In 80 Chomps” (1983)

We’re going back in time a bit here, back to 1983, and back to the very first cartoon based on a video game—and what an auspicious start for this category of entertainment, surely portending great things to come…

So, it makes sense that Pac-Man would be the first game to get a cartoon adaptation; the game starred what is easily the first recognizable character to appear in a game (even more impressive because he was such an abstract one at the time, just a pizza with a piece missing), and was a certifiable phenomenon at the beginning of the eighties, what with the novelty songs and the like. It even makes sense that the first ones to try would be Hanna-Barbera, who had been almost solely responsible for filling the television airwaves with garbage for the previous decade or so, and likely thought they were destined for another hit after they lucked into The Smurfs the year before this one premiered (Les Schtroumpfs casts a long shadow over this show—and yes I will be keeping my wording that melodramatic—but we’ll get into that.) In short, this is the most 1982 thing that possibly could be made.

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Cheaptoons #11: Darkstalkers

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EVERYTHING IS WRONG

S1E13, “Everyone’s a Critic” (1995)

Wrapping up the Capcom Trilogy of Errors, here is the least likely of the three. Darkstalkers was a decent enough success in the arcades, but it was never on the same level as Street Fighter (which had its cartoon on at the same time, albeit on a different channel), and consequently this show had a short run, making it feel like a bad decision hit-and-run. Despite not reaching the blockbuster status of other Capcom games, I’d argue that Darkstalkers lingers on as a cult touchstone among fighting game fans not just because of its fun concept and great character designs, but because it has some of the best 2D sprite animation of any fighting game of its era, or possibly any era—leaving behind any pretension of realism, it becomes a fluid squash-and-stretch bonanza that is as Loony Tunes-inspired as any fighting game to this day. It’s just such a goofy, kinetic experience—which makes this nineties trash cartoon interpretation of it all the more sickening; what was done to the looks of the characters and the general style is a crime.

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ORANGE

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I only started listening to Boards of Canada in the last year, after a friend gave me a digital download of Music Has The Right To Children he received with a vinyl purchase, but sometimes it feels like I’ve been listening to them for a lot longer. Maybe it was just the obsessive immersion of the endeavour, deep diving through their entire release catalogue over the course of nine or so months (every LP, every EP, even some of the obscure stuff when I could find it), or reading the entries on their fan-made wiki that were clearly written by actual obsessive weirdos, but a duo that wasn’t even really on my radar before that initial download has very steadily wormed its way into my soul in subtle ways. Listening to their music again and again, I’m reminded of very specific periods of my own life, times long before I had ever listened to that music (and sometimes before I even got into electronic music in the first place), and began to conflate the atmosphere of the albums with those times. It feels like a strange intrusion on my psyche, but I can argue to myself that maybe if I had known about this music back then, I’d be really into it and make the connection organically; would my life have been any different had I been listening to Boards of Canada back then?

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Cheaptoons #10: Mega Man

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No additional commentary necessary

S2E5, “Master of Disaster”

Following on my previous post on the Street Fighter adaptation, we’re continuing the theme of “why do this plot for this series?” Long before I decided to subject myself to this experiment in human endurance, a favourite pass time of mine was to read the Wikipedia episode synopses for television series and see at what point the writers just gave up, blatantly plugging their characters into cliche plots, regardless of whether they made sense, and calling it a day—in the case of this Mega Man cartoon, it appears to be the second episode. But then again, this show was one of the final productions by our friends at Ruby-Spears, who after spreading their mediocrity over the course of three decades, probably just didn’t have enough left in ’em to do much more than the barest of minimums. So here’s Mega Man, based on a video game about a robot (a “super fighting robot”, as this show’s theme song tells us) who fights other robots, and in this episode the bad guys summon a genie because why even bother.

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Cheaptoons #9: Street Fighter

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Seeing this in action is a joke!

S2E10, “The Beast Within” (1997)

Street Fighter is not a series with a particularly coherent narrative—it’s really meant to be a place where colourful, wonderfully two-dimensional characters compete against one another, and they may have a multitude of simple backstories and goals that are referenced more for flavour than anything else. The solution to that dreamed up by people adapting it to other mediums, in both the terrible Street Fighter movie and this cartoon that is clearly based on the movie, is to turn it into a team of good guys against a team of bad guys, following the toyetic model pioneered by He-Man and G.I. Joe (and just think that someone thought that Street Fighter wasn’t toyetic enough on its own.) The martial arts tournament aspect is mostly relegated to the periphery, and it simply becomes Team Guile (because the American had to be the main character—or, just as likely, the main character had to be someone who had a direct connection to the antagonist…and also wasn’t a woman; sorry, Chun-Li) fighting against the world domination schemes of M. Bison…or in the case of this episode, assorted other things that have nothing to do with martial arts.

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He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s Maximum Pink

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I’ve been playing the Kirby series for a while now—over twenty years at this point—and while there were some fallow periods in there, I have been pretty consistently buying each new release as soon as they come out. While I can definitely chart which entries are slightly more or less interesting over the years, in general I tend to enjoy them no matter what—partly this is by their design, as from conception the aesthetics and gameplay of Kirby and his world are meant to be full-throttle pleasant. Everything is pastel-coloured, every character good or bad is drawn in an appealingly cute style, and as a game made to be approachable to anyone, including younger kids and maybe more casual adults, it is never designed to be a real challenge to play through—no boss requires deep strategy, no puzzle is mindbending (although the better ones still have some creative element to it), and the bulk of the main game is never very long. This isn’t Mario or Mega Man, where the need for precision and a quick adaptive mind are often drilled into your soul; Kirby can almost literally fly over every bit of platforming if he so desires, and the style set by the SNES entry Kirby Superstar, which has eventually been adopted as the de facto style of the series, borrows as much from beat-em-ups like Final Fight as platforming games (maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve stuck with both Kirby and beat-em-ups for so long.) What the games are meant to be, I think, is a romp, or like a toy box: you get all these different action figures (which, in these games, are the dozens of abilities Kirby can copy from enemies, each with a different feel and a decently-sized list of unique commands) you can try out, including some old ones you remember from childhood and some new ones you’ve never seen before, in an open-ended and stress-free environment. It’s not a challenge of your skills, it may not even be meaningful what toys you end up playing with before putting them all back in the box, but it’s enjoyable regardless, something consistent and engaging, something that doesn’t demand too much from you and that produces such warm feelings. I know Kirby, and Kirby knows me.

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Cheaptoons #8: The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog

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Your mind will go through the blast processing, then you too will become like us

S1E37, “The Magic Hassle” (1993)

There’s a good quote from Ben Edlund, creator of The Tick, where he (basically) said he wanted the animated adaptation of his comic to look less like bad nineties animation and more like bad seventies animation. I have a feeling that the people behind Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog had a similar aim, only they obviously wanted it to look like bad sixties animation—the way backgrounds utilize odd colour choices and blobby, semi-abstract drawings seems to be an honest attempt to invoke something of the UPA cartoons or Rocky & Bullwinkle…it just never really works. The style ends up making the world look like a stark wasteland as seen in an old cereal commercial (there’s a bird that briefly shows up in this episode that looks a bit like the Cocoa Puffs mascot), the one-off background character designs are distressing and I wanted them to leave my sight immediately (a complete contrast to the amusing sideshow that was Captain N), and unfortunately, the nineties-ness can’t help but intrude on and ruin any attempt to make a coherent retro homage.

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