In theory, video games should make excellent TV shows. Even the shortest games still take four or five hours to complete fully, giving the player a deep connection to the game’s characters, story, and lore. Then there are the games that take literal weeks to complete fully, thanks to their difficulty level and hour-long unskippable cut scenes (not to point any fingers, but… Metal Gear Solid). This sounds like the perfect formula to adapt into a TV show spanning twenty-plus episodes across multiple seasons!
In the age of the NES it seemed like everyone was hopping on the bandwagon of making game-based shows; some were decent and others were terrible abominations that fans of the games never want to speak of again. The trend continued as we got into the 16-bit and modern eras, with companies trying to make a quick buck by adapting the latest hit game for TV with varying results. But perhaps worst of all was that the majority of these game-based shows were forgettable. We’re going to take a trip down memory lane and dig out some nostalgic pieces of video game history!
Here are 15 Video Game TV Shows You Forgot Existed.
15. Mega Man
The Mega Man series of video games was one of the flagship Nintendo titles back in the days of the NES and SNES. The plot was pretty straightforward: Mega Man was a good robot who battled against eight robot masters who had been reprogrammed to do evil deeds by the mad scientist Dr. Wily. After the Blue Bomber would defeat one of these enemies he would gain their powers, which he could use in the other stages.
Around the time that the character was making his transition to the Super Nintendo, animation company Ruby-Spears teamed up with Capcom to bring the Blue Bomber to the small screen. The story followed the classic series, with the minor exception of turning Proto Man (Dr. Light’s original robot) into a full-time villain who worked for Dr. Wily. Rush and Roll were also given larger roles than in the game, with the dog acting as the “Scooby-Doo” of the series and Role playing the spunky sidekick who usually turned into a damsel in distress.
Despite ratings the show being a mega-hit (#1 on the Nielsen Ratings, at one point), the show was canceled after just two seasons and twenty-seven episodes, due to merchandising issues. Later this year, the Blue Bomber is set to return in an all-new TV show. Let’s hope it sells enough toys!
14. Kirby: Right Back At Ya!
Much like Mega Man, Kirby was a staple of the early Nintendo systems. Unlike Mega Man, however, he is still consistently popping up with games today; most recently Kirby was seen in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse for the Wii and Kirby: Planet Robobot for the 3DS. This little pink marshmallow is known for being completely mute, puffing himself up in order to fly, and being able to devour his enemies to gain their special abilities. Now that we mention it, Kirby is slightly more terrifying than we remember!
In 2001, the he finally got his own show. Kirby: Right Back at Ya! featured the character as a member of the Star Warriors, an army of fighters who were all but wiped out by the evil Nightmare and his monsters. Kirby crash-lands on the planet Pop Star, where he befriends the locals of a small village. King Dedede and his loyal assistant Escargoon become jealous of the fluffball and start purchasing monsters to eliminate him.
Much like the Mega Man cartoon, this show was very popular when it first came out; Right Back at Ya! ran for one-hundred episodes total and received mostly positive reviews. However, nobody really talks about it anymore. You hear about how endearing TMNT or Power Rangers or even Teen Titans are, but rarely do you ever hear people mention this show in the same vein.
13. F-Zero GP Legend
In the early 2000s, 4Kids Entertainment was the master of re-purposing old shows. They rebooted the Ninja Turtles and often would take Japanese anime series (like Kirby) and redub them for American audiences. F-Zero: GP Legend was one of these cases.
The F-Zero games were the first real “futuristic” racers in video game history and broke ground with the first game’s three-dimensional backgrounds on a 16-bit system. Since then, the series has become a beloved Nintendo classic, with five games under its belt and its characters being featured in the company’s other titles (like Smash Bros. and Mario Kart). Despite its popularity, though, F-Zero hasn’t had a new game since 2004.
Right around the time of the final game’s release, the show F-Zero: GP Legend hit the small screen. This show (which takes place outside the series’ canon) follows Rick Wheeler, a police officer who nearly dies from a car accident while chasing a perp and gets revived in the year 2201. Now, he is tasked with helping the Mobile Task Force stop the prize money for the F-Zero Tournament from falling into the hands of evil.
Along the way Rick meets several of the characters who are staples of the video game franchise. Captain Falcon is a series regular in GP Legend, acting as a mysterious bounty hunter/racer who often ends up helping the Task Force in their missions.
12. The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog
This is the first entry on our list that is intrinsically “bad.” No, we’re not talking about the amazing Sonic the Hedgehog show that took the series’ characters and story to new levels of awesomeness. We’re talking about the Saturday morning cartoon that tried to take the speedy hedgehog and turn him into a Bugs Bunny-type with goofy antics and catchphrases galore. Sonic has gotten so much flak over the last few years; despite being the mascot for SEGA, he hasn’t had a decent game since the days of the Dreamcast. Shows like The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog did little to help the guy’s image.
This show featured Jaleel White, aka Steve Urkel, as Sonic – using a similar voice as his Family Matters character. But one annoying voice actor doesn’t make or break a show. Besides, White played Sonic in the good version of the show. Oh wait… Dr. Robotnik has two robot sidekicks who have annoying voices of their own? And he himself is as competent as the original Shredder? And Sonic is obsessed with Chili Dogs? Huh.
At the end of each episode there would be a PSA for kids (entitled “Sonic Sez”) about different life lessons including (but not limited to) brushing your teeth, not smoking, and the dangers of sexual harassment. Wait, what?
11. The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3
Similar to the Sonic series, the Super Mario Bros. franchise had multiple cartoons in the ’90s. The first, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show had live-action segments featuring wrestler Lou Albano as Mario and Danny Wells as Luigi. The two plumbers would have famous guest stars come to their shop before introducing the animated segments of the show, which were usually spoofs of popular movies. It was just as so-horrible-that-it’s-great as it sounds. But then, after the show’s cancelation, Nintendo decided to go a different way with the franchise.
The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 (lengthy title, we know) was based on, you guessed it, Super Mario Bros. 3. The words “smash hit” don’t even describe how popular this game was; Nintendo wasn’t about to let the opportunity for franchising slip by!
This version of the series was strictly animated and made sure to include the characters, power ups, and locations that were found in the third entry of the Super Mario Bros. franchise. Unlike previous Mario cartoons this one tried to keep somewhat of a continuity, with story arcs spanning multiple episodes at a time.
10. Donkey Kong Country
We have Donkey Kong (well, and Pac-Man) to thank for the modern video game phenomenon. Way back in the 1981, the great ape’s self-titled arcade game hit the scene and ate up our quarters like nothing else. Donkey Kong helped usher in the arcade boom and the franchise spun off into phenomenal success with games appearing on every Nintendo system since the SNES. It was only natural that the conglomerate would want to get in on the game-based show trend in the ’90s…
If our eyes could vomit, they would. We have no idea what they were thinking when they greenlit this show. Seriously, we get that CGI was still somewhat new back in 1998, but what on earth is this supposed to be?! The graphics of the SNES game look better than this!
Donkey Kong Country was all about Kong and his family as they tried to protect the legendary Crystal Coconut from King K. Rool and his minions. Did we mention that it was also a musical? Like, every single episode featured at least one song. And they were just as ear-wrenching as you would imagine.
9. Earthworm Jim
Why hasn’t there been another Earthworm Jim game yet?! This series only has three entries, but is one of the most beloved games of the 16-bit era. The Earthworm Jim games had some unique level designs and ridiculously difficult platforming segments, but what made them stand out the most was their downright zany humor! The premise is that a super suit falls from the sky upon a regular earthworm, transforming him into Earthworm Jim. Our hero must then fight his way across distant planets and villains like Bob the Goldfish, Pshycrow, and Queen Slug-For-A-Butt to save Princess Whats-Her-Name. Jim would use his head as a whip and players had the ability to catapult cows through the air.
The games got a short-lived TV show in 1995 starring Dan Castellaneta (best known for playing Homer Simpson) as Jim. Earthworm Jim saw the titular character and his sidekick Peter Puppy getting into all sorts of wacky adventures, from trying to save the world from an evil alien Queen to traveling across country to see the famous fur-bearing Trout.
If you can’t tell, the show played up the franchise’s humor to a tee; every episode would end with one of the characters getting crushed by a falling cow (a callback to the one that you get to launch in the first game). Sadly, the series was canceled after just two seasons.
8. Double Dragon
At this point you may be wondering what Nintendo game didn’t have its own show? Everyone remembers the fast paced beat ’em up action of the Double Dragon series. Players took on the role of Jimmy and Billy (or “Bimmy” in Double Dragon III) as they tried to rescue their girlfriend from the clutches of evil. The games were most memorable for giving the players the ability to fight each other and to pick up elements of the environment to use as weapons. In 1994 Imperial Entertainment Group released a Double Dragon movie starring Robert Patrick as the eccentric villain the two teens must stop from taking over the world. Unlike the games, the movie was so bad it’s nearly unwatchable.
1993 saw the creation of the Double Dragon cartoon. Despite having some loose similarities to the plot of the games, this show was nearly unrecognizable. It starts off with Jimmy and Billy being separated at birth and raised by two sdifferent factions of martial artists; Billy is raised by the “good” one and Jimmy is raised by the Shadow Master. Of course, Jimmy sees the error of his ways and joins his brother, both of them becoming “Dragon Warriors” that would often wear dragon-shaped masks during their missions. The game’s most famous enemy, Abobo, appears in the pilot episode and then is never seen again.
7. Monster Rancher
The Monster Rancher games are a piece of nostalgia that many forget about. Although it has a similar premise to Pokemon and Digimon, it never became a lucrative hit like those franchises. The first game came out for the original Playstation in 1997 and allowed players to breed and raise different types of monsters which they would then use to fight in a tournament. The games are somewhat hard to get your hands on; the fourth entry in the series often goes for upwards of $200!
Just like Kirby and F-Zero, this franchise got its own cartoon as an anime that was then adapted for U.S. audiences. The story starts off somewhat meta as it takes place in our world; Genki Sakura is just an average boy and avid fan of the Monster Rancher games. After winning a tournament he gets a special game disc as a reward. When Genki puts it in his console, however, it transports him into the world of the game where an evil overlord named Moo rules with an iron fist. He meets up with a girl named Holly and the two set off on a quest to find the legendary Phoenix monster and bring an end to Moo’s rule once and for all.
6. Street Fighter
Why does it seem like nobody can adapt Street Fighter properly? You have everything you need for a successful show or film right there: The series is filled with colorful characters with somewhat unique backstories and powers. Plus, it has a massive following; any adaptation that would even be halfway decent would make a boatload of money! If the Street Fighter movies and this show are any indication, a proper adaptation of this game series may be next to impossible.
The Street Fighter cartoon premiered just after the film and borrowed some elements from the Van Damme-led flop. The main character was Colonel Guile, who acted as the leader of the “Street Fighters”, a group of peacekeepers who defended the world from villains like M. Bison using martial arts and advanced weaponry. Well, there’s strike one… There’s no tournament in a Street Figher series?!
If you’re anything like us, your first question must be, “How?” The Pac-Man games aren’t exactly known for their critically-acclaimed story. In fact, other than a few screens of dialogue in Ms. Pac-Man, there’s no story to the original games at all. Instead it is pure arcade madness as players control the little yellow character as he goes around avoiding ghosts and gobbling up pellets. Surprisingly, Hanna-Barbera decided to adapt the game into a television series that ran from 1982 to 1983.
The story for this show is just insane; it follows the adventures of Pac-Man and his family (his wife Pepper, his son Pac-Baby, his dog Chomp-Chomp, and his cat Sour Puss) as they try to prevent the four ghosts from stealing the “power pellets” that power everything in their city.
But it doesn’t stop there… the four ghosts work for Mezmaron, a being that looks like a cross between Martian Manhunter and Darth Vader. Mezmmaron wants to use the energy from the power pellets to do evil deeds and the Pac-Man family is the only thing standing in his way.
Yeah, it’s really weird. Pac-Man was similar in concept and humor to Hanna-Barbera’s other famous property, The Smurfs.
4. The Legend of Zelda
You thought the Zelda games for the CD-I were bad? Well, they were– but this is bad too. What can be said about the Legend of Zelda that hasn’t already been said? The games are probably the most consistently well-reviewed of all time; the two top-rated games ever are Ocarina of Time and now Breath of the Wild. This is the one series for which fans actually want to see a live-action adaptation or animated mini-series!
Until that day comes, we are unfortunately stuck with the short-lived The Legend of Zelda cartoon from 1989. It was bad. Really bad. Link is normally the “strong, silent type” in the series; he rarely ever talks and if he does, it’s only a sentence or two. The Link featured in this show never wanted to shut up! He spoke in an arrogant and sarcastic tone and acted more like an angsty teenager than the hero of Hyrule. Link spouted his tired and true (and totally original, right?) catchphrase of “Excuuusee me, Princess!” whenever Zelda yelled at him.
He also spent the entire series trying to goad the Princess into giving him a kiss, only to be interrupted every time the act was about to happen. Thankfully, the show was canceled alongside The Super Mario Bros. Super Show in December of the year it premiered.
3. The Power Team
This is far and away the weirdest entry on this list. Video game publisher Acclaim was responsible for some of the greatest titles of all time, such as Double Dragon and Mortal Kombat. When the company decided to create their own Saturday morning cartoon based on their most famous characters, you’d think they would have a sure-fire hit on their hands. Right?
Well, the result was The Power Team. The show reversed the premise of the popular Captain N show by bringing video game characters into the real world. And which characters did they choose, you ask? The cop from Narc, the Monster Truck from Bigfoot, the basketball player from Arch Rivals, the warrior from Wizards & Warriors, and whatever the hell Kwirk is from Kwirk.
The team is led by Johnny Arcade, the show’s host who guided the group in their quests safely from his living room. This motley crew served as Earth’s only defense against the villainous Mr. Big and his henchmen. Somehow, The Power Team ended up lasting two whole seasons before being canceled.
2. Maniac Mansion
Really, this one was an adaptation in name only. The original Maniac Mansion game was one of the iconic sleeper hits in the early days of PC gaming. It followed the characters of Dave Miller and his friends as they navigated a booby-trapped mansion on a rescue mission. The mansion in question was owned by a scientist who had been taken over by a sentient meteor (don’t ask), turned evil, and had kidnapped Dave’s girlfriend. Maniac Mansion was a point and click adventure that could be completed in a number of different ways and contained different endings based on the player’s actions. The game would eventually find its way to the NES in 1990.
An adaptation of Maniac Mansion had to be a sci-fi adventure show, right? Nope. Instead, the adaptation took on the format of the average sitcom; it was about the Edisons, a family of geniuses led by their mad scientist father. The family consisted of your average group of a father, his wife, their daughter, their toddler who had his brain put into an adult, and their brother who was a giant fly with the head of a human.
1. Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm
Your are reading that correctly. There was at one point in time a Mortal Kombat cartoon series that resembled the style of the DC Animated Universe of the ’90s. The idea sounds great in theory; Mortal Kombat is probably the most memorable fighting game of all time. What’s not to love about it? The series features a ridiculously deep lore, unique character designs, and the iconic gory fatalities that it’s so well known for.
But therein lies the problem of Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm. The games are know for being brutally violent, to the point that parents tried to get it banned from the arcade when it first came out. A Saturday morning cartoon can’t have that sort of content! The showrunners got around this problem by having the characters face armies of mindless robots and skeletons that could be destroyed without any viscera in sight.
Then, there was the writing. It may have had a similar art direction as so many of the hit ’90s shows, but you’ll cringe way too many times just from listening to the dialogue of just a single episode of this series. It’s a shame because the show featured a great cast, including Clancy Brown (the villain from Highlander and Mr. Krabs from Spongebob) as Raiden, Luke Perry as Sub-Zero, and Ron freaking Perlman as both Stryker and Scorpion! Oh, what could have been…
Did you remember any of these shows? Or did we bring up some repressed memories of your favorite franchise? Let us know in the comments!