Before we turn the power off on the whole Cheaptoons project, let’s go a little deeper into the well to make this feel as complete as possible. You wouldn’t think so judging by the general quality of the shows, but there were some video game adaptations that didn’t even make it past the pilot episode—they got their one chance, but even in the bottom-of-the-barrel world of game-based cartoons in the nineties, they weren’t considered good enough to get even a single season. Now, there’s many reasons why a television show doesn’t get picked up, and in the case of a licensed property-based show like these, there are even more potential roadblocks before getting a full season order—even so, you have to wonder if there was something about the shows themselves, the final product, that forced all the networks to turn away after giving them one shot. We are here to determine if these certified failures among the failures somehow managed to do anything worse than what ended up being aired.
E16, “Friend or Foe?” (1999)
You have to give it Sonic: even as his heyday was winding down, he was still enough of a household name to be used as the main character in a cartoon that otherwise has nothing to do with what he is about—he can join the pantheon of characters like Zorro or Sherlock Holmes who also had bad European-made cartoons where they find themselves in a the future or whatever. Someone at the production company desperately wanted to make a new Sonic the Hedgehog animated series, and if they had to awkwardly shoehorn Sonic and Robotnik into some generic Sci-Fi/fantasy nonsense, then that is what shall be done! What this means is while the “freedom fighter” aspect seen to varying degrees in the previous two cartoons is still there, now there is a prophecy! And a royal family! And magical music instruments! And Sonic has two siblings!
E23, “True Colors” (1990)
For one thing, that is an extremely ungainly title, the inevitable result of mixing marketing and an utter lack of imagination. Secondly, the narrator in the intro tells us that this is “a legend no one will forget” underpinned with a decidedly mock-epic score (the intro is also book-ended by scenes of Mario and Luigi reading an actual book, which could be a vague nod to the meta-presentation of the game as a stage play, but that’s probably giving the producers of this too much credit, which is to say any credit)—this seems to be selling us the idea that this incarnation of Super Mario Bros animation is the real deal, not like that lightweight Super Mario Bros. Super Show piffle. This being the bridge between Super Show and Super Mario World, it axed the live action segments, had shorter cartoons, and changed some of the voice actors; I’ve already talked about those changes in the World post, but I thought maybe you needed to be reminded of the brave new paradigm we’ve entered.
E2, “Sir Timothy’s Quest” (1984)
There is some grand irony in a game used as a vehicle for high-quality animation being adapted into a eighties Saturday morning cartoon show—I can only assume that Don Bluth never saw this, because he kept making things rather than dying of an aneurysm in 1984. We are once again looking at a product of the Ruby-Spears cartoon factory, who felt that Dragon’s Lair was good enough for its own half-hour show rather than joining its companion Space Ace on the previously-analyzed Saturday Supercade; I mean, there’s obviously so much more to the story and characters of Dragon’s Lair that needs double the run-time. It’s not like the game was just a sequence of random scenes played one after another with little connecting them, there’s a lot of fully-explained backstory there. Obviously.
As an aside, you can definitely tell that someone respects the quality of the show because of how poorly-cropped the Youtube version of it is.
E3, “Acid Tongue” (1996)
You already start off with a major handicap when you decide to translate Mortal Kombat into a Saturday morning cartoon—when 75% of the appeal of the game is its over-the-top violence, having to tone it down to basically nothing in order to fit television standards is guaranteed to turn away most of the series’ fans (the movie had a similar problem, albeit to a lesser extent.) So, when MK has to go completely bloodless, where does it turn to? Why, dumbed-down psychodrama, of course!
S2E3, “Virtual Reality Bytes” (1994)
See, when I started this whole project, I kind of assumed that every show I watched would be exactly like this: minimum-effort Saturday morning filler that makes no sense and has only a nominal relationship to the game it is based on (as it turned out, that was only mostly accurate.) You can practically taste the marketing in every action-figure-hocking minute of this show, with teams of wacky characters martial-arting each other in poorly-animated ways; we certainly were not out of the era of animated advertisements disguised as TV series in 1994. And whose name do I see prominently displayed in the credits? Why, it’s Phil Harnage, auteur of “Mama Luigi”—albeit, he wasn’t the one who wrote this particular episode, but that’s not to say he shouldn’t share some of the blame for this. Everyone involved in this production has to own up.
S2E8, “The Void” (1994)
There was only one upstart video game franchise that had the hubris to get two entirely different animated adaptations that aired at the same time, one made in Canada for syndication (which we’ve already looked at) and one made in America for Saturday mornings (thus earning it the title of SATAM among The Internet.) Did we really expect less from Sonic in 1993, probably the peak of his popularity (and oversaturation)? Everyone wanted a piece of it, and who was Sega to deny a licensing agreement when they were raking in all that exposure and green? So, yeah, get Sonic everywhere—we won’t stop until every kid in modern society sees that little blue bastard in their sleep!