Much like toys in the ’80s, video games had an almost symbiotic relationship with cartoons in the ’90s. Saturday morning cartoons based on popular video game franchises were standard viewing for those growing up in the 1990s. In this article, we’re going to look at the five of the best cartoons inspired by video games.
Street Fighter II V
One of the biggest video game franchises of the ’90s was undoubtedly Street Fighter. After a somewhat lackluster original, Capcom rebuilt the game pretty much from the ground up. When it was released, Street Fighter II was an instant hit. It elevated fighting games from a fun pastime to an art form. It was the title against which all future fighting games would be judged.
As such, it’s no surprise that Street Fighter II spawned several animated films and two cartoon series. Not to be confused with the rather rubbish American Street Fighter
While the series takes many liberties with the source material, it is still a hugely entertaining take on the Street Fighter mythos. They made all the characters much younger, and their designs are somewhat different than they appear in the games. Many characters from Super Street Fighter II Turbo make an appearance (sadly, Blanka, Dee Jay, E. Honda, and T. Hawk are absent from the series). Street Fighter II V is self-contained, so you don’t need to be well versed in Street Fighter to follow along. It’s well worth checking out for both fans of the series or just fans of martial arts anime in general.
Anyone who has played the Earthworm Jim games will know just how out there they are. It makes sense that the animated series based upon it would carry on this tradition. The show is filled with wacky humor and is constantly breaking the fourth wall. This surrealist animated series followed Jim and his pals Pete the Puppy and Princess What’s-Her-Name across the galaxy as they battled their enemies and tried to return Jim’s neighbour’s eggbeater — which Jim lost after borrowing it.
The episodes, much like the games, feel more like a crazy stream of consciousness than any kind of show with a plot, but it works wonderfully. If you’ve never seen the Earthworm Jim series, which lasted for two seasons between September 1995 and December 1996, it is certainly worth checking out. You’ll laugh, you’ll probably not cry, but you’ll certainly wonder what the heck you just watched.
Sonic the Hedgehog
In his 28 year history, Sonic has had quite a few animated series to his name. While they have mostly been of decent quality (stay away from Sonic Underground, however), generally the most fondly remembered is the 1993 Sonic the Hedgehog series. Called “SatAM” by fans due to its airing on Saturday mornings, the series was an interesting take on the story from the video games. The show is known for greatly expanding Sonic’s supporting cast, and it was rather dark for a children’s cartoon. The world of Mobius is already under the control of the evil Doctor Robotnik (as Eggman was called in the West until 1998’s Sonic Adventure).
With much of the planet reduced to a polluted, industrial wasteland, only a small portion of the planet was left unaffected. It’s from here that Sonic leads the Freedom Fighters in a battle against the evil Doctor. The series filled in the gaps of lore not explained by the games and builds much of its own. Arguably, many Sonic fans of the time would be more familiar with the lore established by the show than what little was in the games up to that point. The show was canceled after two seasons, although work had begun on a third. Sonic the Hedgehog shows just how interesting a seemingly simple premise can be when time is given to developing the world and the characters that inhabit it.
Given the dark, violent nature of the Castlevania series, it’s no surprise that a weekend morning series was never adapted from the hit. However, thanks to Netflix and legendary comics writer Warren Ellis, we finally received an animated series following the vampire-slaying antics of Trevor Belmont in 2017. Adapting Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, the series is a strictly adult affair with buckets of blood and gore. It offers beautiful animation inspired by Ayami Kojima’s artwork from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and highly stylized action that one comes to expect from anime. This series is a lot of fun that is sure to please fans. Happily, a third season has also been green-lit.
It’d be rather remiss to make a list of video-game inspired cartoons and not mention what is arguably the most famous of the lot. While the video games were, of course, popular, it can be argued that the Pokémon anime actually has a broader reach and more recognition within the general public — especially during the early years of the franchise.
Hugely popular, the series made a household name of Pikachu who, until the anime, was just another Pokémon. It also introduced a whole new audience to the games. Starting in 1997 and continuing to this very day, each series follows the events of whichever Pokémon game title was out at that point. Spawning a spin-off series and a dozen films, it looks at if the Pokémon animated series will continue for as long as there are games from which it can draw inspiration.
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