Video games have a long history of animated adaptations, dating back to the 1980s, and while some are decent and others even good, most are just plain bad. Seriously, there is some truly awful stuff out there. With upcoming animated reboots of certain games (most notably “Mega Man” in 2017), now is the time to offer new cartoon versions of some beloved video game franchises.
In the list below, you’ll discover games from the 1980s and 1990s that have all, at one time or another, been the subject of some variation of cartoon adaptation — good or bad — but would surely please fans of all ages with a new, updated series. From mutant, fighting toads, to space-faring galactic wars, these games deserve new animated reimaginings, and so do we!
15. DONKEY KONG
The popular ape known as Donkey Kong was first introduced by Nintendo — facing off against the (in)famous Mario — to the gaming world via his 1981 arcade game of the same name. Since his first incarnation, the titular character has been the focus of numerous games for various systems, in a wide variety of genres. But one thing is for sure: as fun as it is to play as Donkey Kong — or against him — in each iteration, it’s time for a new animated program to showcase the Kong family’s adventures.
Having been a part of “Saturday Supercade” in the early 1980s, and finally starring in his own computer-animated show (“Donkey Kong Country”) in the late 1990s, which aired on both CBS and Fox Kids, it’s been almost 17 years since fans have seen Donkey Kong on air. It would be fun — as multiple generations have come to love the character since his origin — to see Donkey and Diddy swinging about tropical areas, scooping up bananas, crashing into barrels and battling King K. Rool on whatever pirate ship he may be commandeering. (Insert excited ape sound here).
Anthropomorphic toads who can fight: what more is there to say than this elevator pitch? “Battletoads” is a “beat ’em up” video game franchise from Nintendo that was first released in 1991. Spanning five games in all — including a crossover with “Double Dragon” — the series focuses on Rash, Zitz and Pimple (yes, they’re named after skin conditions, deal with it) and their battle against the Dark Queen. While the games were entertaining themselves (and strangely difficult), “Battletoads” has never had a successful animated adaptation — but it deserves one.
In November of 1992, a 30 minute pilot episode was released, but never made it to a full season order. The episode served as a prequel to the first “Battletoads” game, allowing fans to discover how three men would become heroic toads, as well as their history with the Dark Queen. It has been quite some time since Rash, Zitz and Pimple have made their way onto the small screen — in any format. What better way to reintroduce the trio to older fans of the franchise and a new generation than with a cartoon adaptation, fully realizing the Battletoads’ world?
13. DRAGON QUEST
Who doesn’t like a good old fantasy tale in which a hero must rescue a princess from from the clutches of evildoers, and save his land at the same time? Countless titles have used this common trope, but in 1986, when “Dragon Quest” — a game from Square Enix and Nintendo, whose original cover art titled the game, “Dragon Warrior” — was released, it sure as heck was fun to be able to do so in a video game setting!
With many games in the franchise’s arsenal, “Dragon Quest” finally made its way into the animated world, as an anime called “Dragon Quest: Legend of the Hero Abel” in 1989. Following a similar format, the story revolved around the teenage Abel’s quest to rescue his best friend, Tiala. It’s a simple concept, sure; but why shouldn’t a story like this be adapted for the modern age? Fantasy has been popularized with adults through television shows like “Game of Thrones.” Why not offer a contemporary anime version of “Dragon Quest” for an all-ages audience? A sure-fire hit would be something in the same vain as “Avatar: The Last Airbender” Are you listening, Nickelodeon?
12. MUTANT LEAGUE
Sports games have always been popular, no matter what video game system would release one. But what about sports games in which the players are mutants? “Mutant League: Football” and its successor, “Mutant League: Hockey,” both produced by Electronic Arts for the Sega platform, were developed with the Madden game model. However, the gameplay saw players not only competing in a sporting event, but battling each other to the death as well. Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which humans have turned into mutants, the dead have risen and aliens have invaded, the “Mutant League” franchise was a lot of ridiculous fun!
The game saw its own cartoon spin-off called “Mutant League,” which aired for two full seasons from 1994-1996. A rebooted adaptation of this property needs to happen! How cool would it be to see a Netflix animated cartoon (because mutants killing during sports games isn’t something that many network cartoon programmings would go for) that would follow one sports team — whether it be football, hockey or anything else, really — as they become mutants and try to survive in their new world and league? Sounds brutally awesome!
The first “fighting game” on the list comes from Capcom and Dreamcast/Playstation. The original “Darkstalkers,” which hit the market in July of 1994, is a two-dimensional tournament game set in a gothic world with an anime-like art style. The plot revolves around Earth’s merger with another realm called Makai. The most powerful creatures of the Makai realm duke it out for night-stalking rights on Earth.
The first game led the way to four sequels, an anime series, comic books and an American cartoon adaptation in 1995. “Darkstalkers” certainly has the makings of a great cartoon, and considering it’s been almost 20 years since the anime version was released, it is definitely time to bring back this series in cartoon format. Imagine a new adult-oriented anime in which the dark forces of the night are truly in control of the lives of humans, even to the point of taking out the competition in order to be the top creature of the night. Sounds to us like an intriguing, supernatural video game adaptation!
10. EARTHWORM JIM
Earthworms are probably the most boring creatures on the planet; that is, until they’re equipped with robotic armor that enhances them with not only human appendages like arms and legs, but also with the desire to fight evil! In “Earthworm Jim,” a 1994 video game from Playmates Interactive Entertainment and Sega, Jim must rescue Princess-What’s-Her-Name from a plethora of bad guys, including Queen-Slug-For-A-Butt.
Having appeared in a sequel in 1995, a remake in 2010 and a slew of other non-related earthworm games, the title character was given his own television cartoon on Kids’ WB that ran for two seasons in the mid-90s. If a new reimagining of the video game series was released today in animated format, it would please older fans of the games and original cartoons, hitting them right in the nostalgia. Given the popularity of similar fare today, it would allow a younger audience to explore and experience the bizarre and oftentimes outlandish world of “Earthworm Jim.”
9. FATAL FURY
Terry Bogard, also known as “Lone Wolf,” joins a fighting tournament called “The King of Fighters,” run by crime lord, Geese Howard. Howard’s champion, Billy Kane is undefeated in this contest, but all that changes when Bogard arrives. The fighting game known as “Fatal Fury” was first introduced by SNK for the Neo Geo system in 1991, while its many sequels have been released on a variety of gaming platforms.
Aside from the “Fatal Fury” gaming franchise, three animated films were released in the early 1990s, with two following the games’ storylines, and one containing an original story. The thing about these fighting games is that they really have the potential to make great animated adaptations. In the case of “Fatal Fury,” a full multi-season series covering the storylines from each game, it would surely be an entertaining, action-packed adventure; crime syndicates, conspiracies and a whole lot of fighting — bring on the King of Fighters!
8. DOUBLE DRAGON
Quite possibly the epitome of beat ‘em up games in the ’80s and ’90s, “Double Dragon” was first released in 1987 by Technos Japan in the arcades, followed by Nintendo. The plot goes something like this: brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee are masters of the martial art known as Sosetsuken, a combination of multiple forms. Traversing the mean streets of New York City, the Lee brothers are bent on putting an end to the most powerful crime organization around, the Black Warriors gang.
“Double Dragon” has had a slew of video game sequels (including a crossover with previous entry, “Battletoads” — how cool!), as well as a terrible live-action film adaptation and a cartoon series that ran from 1993-1994. In January 2017, “Double Dragon IV” was released for Playstation 4, and though it has received less than stellar reviews, it’s current enough to warrant a new animated series. The brothers Lee would make an excellent addition to the vigilante-saturated television programs of today, with a fresh, yet nostalgic bent. Plus, who wouldn’t want to see Billy and Jimmy taking on an updated version of Abobo?
7. FINAL FANTASY
The first Role Playing Game (RPG) on this list, “Final Fantasy” is a cross-genre video game franchise that incorporates elements of fantasy and science fiction into its plot lines. First introduced in 1987 from Square Enix, the series includes close to 20 games, including sequels, expansions and spin-offs. With many of the games representing new storylines, each typically consists of a group of heroes facing off against evil, world-dominating powers.
There have been multiple film and series adaptations of “Final Fantasy,” the latest of which (“Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV”) was released in 2016; however, with such a popular franchise, there is always room for more. A new anime version of “Final Fantasy” — because anime suits the particular brand nicely — with a new cast of characters and not based on any games, would be a great way to introduce the beloved title to a new generation, while at the same time, whetting the fantasy appetite of longtime fans.
6. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA
Gannon, The Prince of Darkness, is after the Triforce of Wisdom, having already stolen the Triforce of Power. In an attempt to prevent this from happening, Princess Zelda breaks the Triforce of Wisdom into eight pieces and places them in various locations throughout the land of Hyrule — only to be captured herself by Ganon shortly after. Witnessing the courageous act of a young boy named Link, Zelda’s nursemaid tasks him with saving the kingdom and the princess. Thus begins “The Legend of Zelda,” the first in an epic series of 19 high fantasy video games from Nintendo.
With “The Legend of Zelda” being such an expansive and beloved series, it’s certainly a surprise that the only animated adaptation aired for a short, 13 episode season almost 30 years ago in 1989. While there have been rumors of a future Netflix original live-action series based on the game, that’s all they really are: rumors. This is the type of series, however, that would do incredibly well as a cartoon (or live-action) show. With its deep mythology, comprehensive world-building and excellent cast of characters, the world of Hyrule on the small screen would be a fantasy come true.
5. MORTAL KOMBAT
“Finish him!” One of the most successful fighting games since its introduction, “Mortal Kombat” was released by Midway Games in 1992. Known for its over-the-top, gory violence — particularly with the finishing moves that would end an opponent’s life — the original game and its many sequels have continued to remain relevant in an ever-growing gaming industry.
The franchise has had its share of adaptations, including two films in the 90s (one was just okay, while the other, well…), a cartoon television program called “Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm” in 1996, a two season web-series in 2011-2013 and a new film supposedly in the works from Warner Brothers. However, this isn’t the type of game that a studio can just adapt by slopping together a subpar script and expect fans to rejoice. No, with such a vast history, incorporating fighters from multiple worlds and realms, this needs to be taken seriously and crafted with care. Even for an animated series (which would work the best), it needs to be outrageously bloody, with that ever-reserved R-rating attached. Can it be done? Yes. Should it be done? Yes. Fight!
4. WING COMMANDER
Humanity is at war against the Kilrathi Empire. How can we fight them? Space battles, that’s how! In “Wing Commander,” a space flight simulator game from Origin Systems, Inc., the player controls the character of Christopher Blair on the space carrier, TCS Tiger’s Claw in an attempt to disrupt the Kilrathi’s advances and save the human race.
Another video game franchise that has had plenty of opportunities to shine in other media formats, “Wing Commander” has not only been produced as an awful hollywood film starring Freddie Prinze, Jr., but also as a short, one season-cartoon on the USA Network in 1996. But with the resurgence of science fiction space adventures in popular culture (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”), now is the time for a studio to latch onto the “Wing Commander” franchise, bringing a new, fast-paced, exciting animated adaptation to the screen. It might even be fun to go the same route as “Hardcore Henry,” making the viewer feel as though they’re taking part in the epic space action.
3. SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
He’s fast; really fast — and he’s going to save the world. In what is probably Sega’s most famous video game franchise, “Sonic the Hedgehog,” first released in 1991, tells the story of Sonic and his friends, and their adventures in preventing their greatest enemy, Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik, from taking over the world. The video game franchise, in almost 30 years, has produced close to 50 games — spin-offs included.
Unlike many of the entries on this list, and aside from the games themselves, “Sonic the Hedgehog” has actually benefitted from many cartoon adaptations, with some actually even being good — including the most recent “Sonic Boom.” While a new series isn’t completely necessary, it certainly wouldn’t be unwelcome. No matter how old you were when you first played as Sonic, he’s a character that everyone loves; and just as Marvel and DC are constantly coming out with new iterations of their most popular characters in cartoon format, Sega could easily profit from another new animated “Sonic” show.
2. STREET FIGHTER
When you think of fighting games, it’s likely that the first to come to mind is “Street Fighter.” Released by Capcom, the first game in this series was released in 1987, but the Hadoukens didn’t stop there. With over ten games, including various offshoots, and an array of other multi-media platform ventures, “Street Fighter” has become a household brand. The story revolves around Ryu, a young martial artist who wants to prove his prowess in a tournament amongst the greatest fighters — including his partner and friend, Ken Masters. But that’s just the beginning.
“Street Fighter” has had multiple animated adaptations as well as a failed live-action Hollywood movie. In recent years, Capcom provided funding to a small film company (led by actor/director Joey Ansah), who created the definitive backstory to the major players through a web series called “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist.” The series was excellent, and plans for a sequel called “Street Fighter: World Warrior” were announced in 2014, but have not moved forward. It’s unclear what the hold up is, but in the meantime, couldn’t the same creators tide the fans over with an animated show? If anyone could do the franchise justice through a cartoon, it’s Ansah.
1. SUPER MARIO BROS.
Of the games to be featured on this list, it’s hard to argue that the most iconic of all is “Mario Bros.” Created for the arcade by Nintendo in 1983, the series truly garnered massive success in its second installment, the 1985 game, “Super Mario Bros.,” which began the eponymous plumber’s journey through the fantastical Mushroom Kingdom in hopes of saving Princess Toadstool from King Bowser and his Koopa Army.
In 1986, an anime called “Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach” was distributed by Holly Planning Production; in 1991, “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!” hit the television screens for one season of cartoon episodes; and in 1993 “Super Mario Bros.” the film was released by Hollywood Pictures (and boy was it awful!). It’s now been 24 years since any form of adaptation has graced the screens — it has got to be time for a new animated adventure! Let’s see Mario and Luigi traverse kingdom after kingdom in search of their princess; let’s see Yoshi make his animated debut; let’s see a cartoon adaptation of grand scope and depth. “Mario Bros.” is a legend in video game history, and deserves only the best. So do its fans!
Which video games do you think deserve an animated reboot? Let us know in the comments!