Friday, October 1, 2010

Nintendo Cartoons Perpetuate Weirdness

It's not until I viewed the cartoons of my childhood with an adult lens that I realized how truly bizarre the world of Nintendo is when its attempts to tell a coherent story on the small screen. When you're playing a video game - especially on the godly Nintendo Entertainment System - storylines don't have to make much sense. Take the plot of 1990's Bad Dudes, by Data East: "The president has been kidnapped by ninjas! Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the president?"

Then the player says, "Uh, sure, as long as I get to beat up hundreds of palette swapped ninjas." See? Instant story.

Now imagine trying to make a Bad Dudes cartoon. Would they try to save the president every week? How do you keep the series going? Either the president would have to be kidnapped every Thursday, or the Dudes would have to fail in their mission to save him a bunch of times. That's neither very good for the country nor a positive reflection on our favorite dudes' badness.

In the '80s and '90s, video game based cartoons like Pole Position, Darkstalkers and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show faced a very similar problem: How do you take off-the-wall, paper thin video game plots and turn them in to weekly or even daily cartoons? The answer was simple: Emulate shows like Thundercats and Voltron by having the heroes beat the villains every time, but somehow, the villains come back just as strong in the next episode.

The results were a mixed bag, but for the most part, anyone unfamiliar with Nintendo would think these cartoons were written by someone who is very familiar with the Wacky Weed. Let's take Captain N: The Game Master for example. Here's the intro:

So 15-year-old Kevin Keene is the savior of video land, which apparently only includes Metroid, Kid Icarus, Donkey Kong and Castlevania. Screw Mario Bros.; that game was overrated anyway!*

*No it wasn't.

Kevin's mother continues to badger him to "clean up [his] room" as he's sucked into a 15 inch television set, just like in real life. Then he's given the ability to "pause" the action around him, jump several stories high and shoot enemies with his Zapper gun as long as he's got enough energy. If you've never played a Nintendo game, this makes no sense. And even if you have, you're likely to be more than a little confused when characters like the abnormally vain Simon Belmont and the inexplicably green Mega Man start, uh, doing ANYTHING.

Kevin battles against an obviously African American (and decidedly more kick ass than in the game) Mother Brain, a light blue King Hippo who's nothing like his Punch-Out!! counterpart, and a very angry Donkey Kong. Also, the soundtrack features high-pitched, off-key singers belting out classic radio hits like "Walk Like a Man." My brain was reduced to a thick pea soup within three weeks of watching this tripe, and I was, and still am, a Nintendo maniac. Anyone had never been ensnared by the NES's hypnotic grip who caught a few episodes of Captain N must still in therapy right now.

Despite the inconsistencies and mind-numbing craziness featured in Captain N: The Game Master and the other video game based shows, I've got plenty of fond Saturday morning memories of my video heroes come to life on TV. Take a minute to reminisce with these awesome intros for the Super Mario Super Show and the Legend of Zelda if you lived through them. And if not... well, I'm sorry I just hurt your brain.

Super Mario Super Show intro featuring the late Lou Albano as Mario and Danny Wells as Luigi

The Legend of Zelda intro, from the Super Mario Bros. Super Show (Fridays)

The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 Opening


  1. You know, I remember the Super Mario Bros shows and when I was younger, I thought they were awesome. Well, I've looked back on some things that I liked when I was younger and they aren't nearly as cool as they were back then. Anyway, at least the NES games that these shows are based on are still awesome to this day.

  2. I agree on all counts, although I still love to watch all this stuff. It's just not an obsession anymore. But the games themselves, well... I'm running a blog about them, right? :)