The 1980s was a golden age of videogames, with the advent of the video arcade, the rise (and fall, and subsequent rise again) of the home gaming market, and the beginnings of videogames being accepted into the popular culture. This was also the era of Star Wars, and its behemoth marketing campaign that essentially made it common and acceptable practice to sell absolutely anything to children. It wasn’t long before the videogame industry realized Lucas had the right idea.
It started off rather innocuously, with things like Pac-Man t-shirts, lunch boxes, plush toys and one-hit wonders. But in a time where arcades were often considered seedy dens of debauchery where delinquents hung out while ditching school; parents weren’t likely to allow their children to spend time in their local electric coliseum. With the home gaming market taking off in the early ’80s, it wasn’t long before the videogame industry targeted youth with what could be considered crack cocaine for ’80s kids: Cartoons.
With the large amount of cartoons that were produced in the ’80s both here and abroad, the quality of some of them was bound to be questionable — for every The Real Ghostbusters, Centurions or Robotech, you had a Turbo Teen. But when it came to cartoons based on arcade and console classics, it’s pretty safe to say that the majority of them were total crap. The following are some of the absolute worst cartoons that originated from videogames.
10) Pole Position
Likely the most influential driving videogame of all time, Pole Position and its sequel (the aptly named Pole Position 2) were instant arcade hits, with the original being the top selling arcade game of 1983. The game of Pole Position is a rather simple one: race around a track. So when they opted to make the game into a cartoon, one would think it might be boring… which is why someone threw in a secret government agency.
The cartoon begins with a title sequence which explains the disturbing truth: Teenage stunt car drivers Tess and Dan Darrett, upon their parent’s deaths in a fiery automobile crash, are told by their Uncle Zack that aside from being stunt car drivers, their parents were actually secret agents. As members of the underground government organization Pole Position, they embarked on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, the powerless, in a world of criminals who operate above the law. When mom and dad did their best Owen and Beru Lars impression, their jobs and their talking, flying, computerized cars went to their children.
Essentially, Pole Position is an animated version of Knight Rider with a few parts Speed Racer mixed in for good measure. Annoying pre-teen sister Daisy and a freakish-looking raccoon-monkey genetic abomination made by their evil genius uncle,played the roles of Spritle and Chim-Chim, respectively, with two annoying-ass talking cars filling in for K.I.T.T. The problem is aside from driving, this show has absolutely dick in common with the classic game. The concept that a government crime fighting organization has to travel under the guise of a “stunt show” is asinine at best, but even a child’s suspension of disbelief has to be challenged when the keys to two super-powered, artificially intelligent automobiles are handed to two teenagers without any sort of training. Thankfully after only one season, Pole Position failed to qualify, though in my heart I’ll always have a little crush on Tess and her poofy short ’80s hair. The only place I’ll be able to see her, though, is on the DVD boxed set from 2008.
9) The Legend of Zelda
As one of the most popular series in the early NES lineup, Legend of Zelda was paired up with the most popular Nintendo franchise at the time, Super Mario Bros. as the other half of The Super Mario Brothers Super Show. Monday through Thursday, The Super Mario Brothers Super Show consisted of a live-action portion starring Captain Lou Albano as Mario, as well as a 15-minute Mario cartoon. Friday however, was dedicated to something almost as annoying as a Rebecca Black song: The Legend of Zelda animated series.
The story seemed to take place after the first Legend of Zelda game, with Link living in Hyrule Castle, guarding the Triforce of Wisdom from Ganon and his minions. Each week, Ganon came up with a slightly clever scheme to steal the Triforce, and Link and Zelda always manage to thwart him. Multiple monsters from the games appeared as foils to Link, as well as Link’s Newton-defying bag, which holds limitless amounts of weapons, items and accessories by shrinking them to miniature size. However, the most disturbing change this series provides to Zelda franchise is its characters, namely Link.
The Link that I remember from the original Legend of Zelda was a young, hopeful and silent protagonist. But the Link of the animated series lacks the ability to shut his frakking mouth, and spends most of his time sounding like a complete douchenozzle. His catchphrase: “Well, excuuuuuuuse me, Princess!” is spoken no less than 26 times in the duration of the series, which only lasted 13 episodes. Link spends most of the show acting like an obnoxious asshole, seemingly modeled after a younger version of Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler (including the mullet). To make matters worse, the cartoon’s voice cast also reprised their roles on select episodes of Captain N: The Game Master, where Link is just as much of a prick as he is in his own series. If you are truly a masochist, the series is available on DVD. Meanwhile, the only thing worse in the Zelda universe than this cartoon is the trio of deplorable Phillips CD-i games, which have actually been categorized as violations of the Geneva Convention.
8) Dragon’s Lair
The first time anyone saw Don Bluth’s first foray into the realm of videogames, Dragon’s Lair seemed almost too good to be true. While its gameplay was simple and limited, the magnificent hand-drawn animation of Bluth’s animation team mesmerized audiences, forcing them to line out the doors for their chance to play the game. The comedic antics of the bumbling knight Dirk the Daring, as he searched out for his purloined buxom bride-to-be, the scantily clad Princess Daphne, was a smash hit in arcades, and is one of the most ported games in history. Its instant success led to an instant marketing campaign, which included the obvious cartoon series.
The Dragon’s Lair cartoon paled in comparison the Don Bluth’s original vision in many ways. First, the cheap bastards at Ruby-Spears (makers of such fine products at Turbo Teen, the Mr. T cartoon, and the infamous Rubik, the Amazing Cube) decided to do their own animation rather than hire Don Bluth’s studio. The result is something that tries to imitate the Dragon’s Lair style, but comes nowhere near the production values of the original game. Secondly, while Dirk in the game was brave but bumbling, in the animated series, he becomes a complete dipshit, full of needless bravado. Daphne, to keep from being the subject of every male pubescent child’s wet dream, is toned down immensely, replacing her revealing sequined leotard with a rather modest pink dress. Dirk is also given a needless sidekick Timothy, and an obligatory animal, Bertram the Horse.
The show also toned down the violence of the original game: Giddy-Goon eviscerations were replaced with monsters just flashing out of existence. While the storylines never involved any of the original game’s untimely demises for Dirk, an attempt was made to make to show seem slightly interactive; Before commercial breaks, Dirk was presented with two options, one that led to what we can only imagine is Dirk’s sudden death, the other the correct path. After a commercial break, the show demonstrated what would happen if Dirk (and you the viewer) chose the incorrect path, usually alluding to Dirk’s untimely demise. In 2011, the entire series was released on DVD, only available from the Warner Bros. website. Additionally a Space Ace cartoon was also developed, though this time it was attached to the second season of the Saturday Supercade program. While it too sucked, it was Shakespeare compared to its Supercade compatriots. Lead on, adventurer, your crappy animated series awaits!
Of the many videogames to be featured on the animated anthology of asinine entertainment known as Saturday Supercade, one of the worst had to be Q*bert. Teenage greaser Q*bert, along with his girlfriend Q*tee, brother Q*bit, and friends Q*Mongus and Q*Val inhabit the 1950s-esque cubical town of — wait for it — Q*Berg, generally doing things that normal 1950s balls of fur do: attend Q*School, act in Q*Theater productions of the Q*Wizard of Oz, and participate in disc races, the only circular things in their universe. Of course, their fun and antics are usually foiled by Coily and pals, who for some reason are dressed like they just stepped out of a community theater production of West Side Story.
Of course, Q*bert is generally able to thwart the machinations of Coily, usually by emulating block-jumping scenes from the game, or by using his snout to fire “Slippy-Doos”, greenish paintball-like devices that cause Coily and gang to slip and fall, giving Q*Bert and friends time to escape. One aspect of the cartoon remained faithful to the game: Profanity. In the videogame, upon getting clunked in the head by a snake, ball or other heinous object, Q*bert squeals out some unintelligible sound and a comic-style word bubble appears above his head showing what can be presumed as censored profanity, a concept which follows him into the cartoon series.
Like the other cartoons featured in the Saturday Supercade, Q*bert had a short run time, around 7-8 minutes, and surprisingly was one of only two of the first season shorts to actually be renewed for a second season (the other one being Donkey Kong). Though Q*bert has been shown occasionally on Boomerang, if you are holding out hope that it will be released on DVD, all I can say is “You’re &$#*@^!”, as licensing issues continue to prevent a home video release.
If there ever was a videogame success story in the ’80s, Pac-Man would be it. The first game to achieve complete widespread acclaim, by the ’90s it had earned over two billion dollars, mostly in quarters. It was obvious that marketing experts were salivating to get their hands on the Pac-Man property. When they finally did, one of the worst products hell-spawned from the arcade classic included the Pac-Man animated series.
Pac-Man, his wife Pepper, Pac-baby, and their pets live in the also aptly named Pac-Land. Of course, all is not well in Pac-Land, for the evil villain Mezmaron and his Ghost Monster minions are constant in their search for the source of Pac-Man’s strength, the videogame version of PCP: Power Pellets. Apparently Mezmaron was a true believer in Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, and waged a supernatural war on drugs in Pac-Land. In actuality, all of Pac-Land apparently runs on this Pac-Crack and the only way Mezmaron will seize control is if he cripples the Pac-Men’s(?) ability to function.
Every episode was similar to The Smurfs, with Mezmaron plotting to destroy the Power Pellet facilities and his ghosts trying to make the Pac family into tasty treats. The similarities are not unexpected, as both The Smurfs and Pac-Man were Hanna-Barbara productions. The show was moderately successful, spawning merchandise of its own, including a videogame sequel to the series, Pac-Land, which is generally considered the first side-scrolling platform game, released a year before the infamous first entry in the Super Mario Bros. franchise. Only one season of the show is available on DVD; however, the two Pac-Man holiday cartoons — Christmas Comes to Pac-Land and The Pac-Man Halloween Special — are still shown on Cartoon Network and Boomerang during the holiday seasons.
The story of the Konami arcade classic Frogger is a simple one. A frog wants to get home, which happens to be across a highway, and a crocodile infested river. Putting safety aside, Frogger tries to cross the road. Another member of the Saturday Supercade family, the Frogger animated series decided to expand on the naturalistic storyline of the videogame. The anthropomorphized Frogger has moved on from crossing streets to a career to the world of investigative journalism. Yes friends, Frogger is now a reporter for The Swamp Gazette. Humanity is his beat, and he’s hopping to it! Frogger spends most of his time embedded in humanity, typically writing stories about human behavior. While he does not have any obvious enemies, Frogger shows children the realities of adulthood by observing Frogger carrying out his job under the cruel tutelage of his overbearing boss Tex.
Of course, being an embedded reporter is not without its risks, and often we see our amphibious friend flattened by a car or other heavy object, though he generally recovers. Alligators also make attempts at dining on his frog legs, but in all of the episodes I endured for this article, at no point was Frogger successfully dined upon. Thankfully, the Saturday Supercade producers realized quickly that Frogger was a boring ass show, and sent our intrepid reporter off to the science lab for dissection after one season of shorts.
4) Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm
With Mortal Kombat‘s popularity — and infamy — being so enormous, it was only a matter of time before the greedy execs of the ’90s got their paws on it, and Mortal Kombat made the transition from badass videogame franchise to ass-bad cartoon. Gone were the blood, guts and gore that were the trademarks of the franchise; instead, Defenders of the Realm became the typical Saturday morning pulp that infested the airwaves of the ’90s. The plot is simple: Shao Khan decides to mass an army of cybernetic warriors to invade Earthrealm and achieve the whole universal domination thing that most villains are going for. Elder God Raiden assembles a team of heroes, including Liu Kang, Stryker and Sonya, to take on Khan’s forces. Of course, Khan’s forces are defeated and the team has other adventures, including encounters with Scorpion, Reptile and his race of lizards, and pretty much every other Mortal Kombat character.
Besides the toned down content with all references to blood and fatalities removed, other more ridiculous aspects were introduced in the show, including our heroes traveling to “Kombat” zones on dragon-shaped aircraft. It did, however, also introduce MK4 baddie Quan Chi, the only contribution to franchise that this series made. Thankfully, the series was limited to a single season, but unfortunately, all 13 episodes of this stinkburger are available on DVD.
3) Donkey Kong Jr.
The story of the Donkey Kong Jr. animated series acts as a continuation of the game, and as a side story to the Donkey Kong cartoon. In the original DK animated series, our venerable ape is on the lam from Mario and his niece Pauline, with Mario is hot on his trail. Most episodes played out like a Road Runner cartoon, with Mario devising some trap or scheme, and Donkey Kong evading it, usually capturing Pauline for a brief period of time.
Junior’s (played by Frank “Megatron” Welker) story picks up immediately after Donkey Kong first makes a mad dash away from his circus. DK Jr. happens upon his father’s empty cage and is heartbroken, do he sets out with an Arthur Fonzarelli clone on a mission to find his estranged father. Unlike DK, Junior has the ability of speech, though his communication is annoying at best, having taken a page from the dark lord of annoying anthropomorphized cartoon animals like Scrappy-Doo, Junior is often quick to action, screaming “Monkey Muscle!” as some sort of simian war cry. While this Caesar-wannabe and his human companion set out to find Dad, Junior often finds himself in trouble, leaving his hooligan friend “Bones” to be his savior, and then ride in the sidecar while an underage chimp drives their motorcycle. Donkey Kong Jr. only kept his hunt alive for 13 episodes before being put down. Thankfully, the rights holders have realized that this shit is bananas and have opted not to subject future generations with this mindless drivel.
2) Double Dragon
One of the first hit beat-’em-up games was the arcade classic Double Dragon. After witnessing Billy’s girlfriend Marion get sucker-punched in the gut and hauled away by an evil gang, brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee embark on a two-man tale of vengeance, beating the living shit out of any man, woman or Abobo that crosses their path. The arcade game was a smash hit, but it took six years for the animation company DIC to adapt the game franchise based on revenge and brutal fisticuffs into a kid-friendly animated series.
The series began with the brothers separated at birth, with Billy raised by the kind, gentle Oldest Dragon, while Jimmy ended up cohabitating with series douchenozzle the Shadow Master. Of course, by the end of the second episode, Jimmy is betrayed by the Shadow Master, and teams up with his estranged brother to kick some Shadow ass. The brothers eventually learn that they possess the power of the Double Dragon and that when they cross their swords of penile compensation and chant out some lame transformation speech, they become the super-powered, masked vigilantes known as the Double Dragons. Their “uniforms” were essentially a blue or red gi, strategically cut to show off their ample pecks and cheesy dragon tattoo, then topped off with a Zora from Legend of Zelda for a helmet. They then proceed to fight evil everywhere, with the help of their super-powered vehicles and later, specialized armor and weapons including armor that essentially turns Billy into a helicopter, and equips Jimmy with the ancient martial art weapon The Dragon Blaster. Yes, true believers, study martial arts long enough and you can either become Blackout from Bayformers or learn to shoot lasers.
The videogame franchise was already tired and stale before the animated series debuted, though it did actually get renewed for a second season, making it one of the longer-running programs on this list. Thankfully, there are no current plans for this festering pile of dung to be released on DVD.
Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors wasn’t Capcom’s most famous fighting game series, but its supernatural, monster-filled combat made it a cult favorite when it debuted in 1994. Capcom sold the rights to produce a Darkstalkers animated series to Graz Entertainment, who immediately took a pair of pliers and a blowtorch to the game, creating the abomination you see in the YouTube video above.
Evil space alien Lord Pyron abducts vampire and lost Kid’N’Play member Dimitri to wage a war using comedic-looking monsters, all because Pyron likes to collect planets and wants Earth to be the next one he pockets. Meanwhile, alleged teenage descendent of Merlin and complete ass-hat Harry Grimore and a group of other even more comedic-looking monsters fight back and defend the Earth. Major changes were made to the storyline including making videogame seductress and anti-hero Morrigan into a bitchy, entitled descendant of Morgan La Fey. The horror aspect of the game was replaced with infinitesimal comedy on the levels of early ’80s shows like Turbo Teen — a perfect example is the scene above, with our nerdy hero staring into a crystal ball, thinking about his furry companion Felicia.
While the game was very beautifully animated with vibrant colors, the Darkstalkers cartoon looks like it was animated by a team of interns fired from Highlander: The Animated Series. In its quest to apparently lower the collective IQs of America’s youth, the Darkstalkers animated series also introduced such concepts as Hairball, the obnoxiously voiced nephew of Sasquatch, now called Bigfoot because I suppose no one thought kids of the era knew what the hell a Sasquatch was. Of course with the animation being as bad as it is, Sasquatch and his nephew end up looking like the product of a bizarre sex experiment involving a Wampa and Ronald McDonald’s former friend Grimace. Sadly, other characters fared worse than she did.
In watching some of this series for this article, I have yet to find a single redeeming quality about it. It truly is one of the worst examples of ’90s animation ever conceived, and that is regardless of its videogame connections. The fact that it perverts one of the more unique fighting game series of the ’90s in order to pander to prepubescent males is a crime against humanity. Why someone was insane enough to release this turd burger on DVD back in the early 2000’s I’ll never know.
A fan of video games and science fiction from the moment he discovered his father's Atari 2600 and Star Wars, Jason Helton has been contributing to The Robot's Voice since 2011. Prior, he wrote for the UK's Den of Geek and was the producer and host of Iron Otaku Radio on XM's UPOP 29 channel. A die-hard fan of Battlestar Galactica (both old and new), Doctor Who, and pinball, you can follow him on Twitter @Razgriz1138.