For decades, marketers knew one fundamental truth about kids. Kids watch cartoons. The other truth is that what kids watch, they want. In the 1980s, that meant cartoons were often nothing more than long toy commercials. In the 90s, the focus shifted to cartoons inspired by video games.
Video games weren’t the massive industry that they are today. They didn’t typically feature voice acting, and a title that sold a few million copies was considered an unbelievable success.
The massive appeal of the SNES, released in 1990, was the very beginning of the snowball that led to today’s trillion-dollar industry.
The struggle to communicate with kids hungry for video games, when the marketers themselves might have barely understood what they were, might be why there were so many video game cartoons that decade.
Cartoons were made from franchises big and small. Often they had nothing at all to do with the game’s story or mechanics. Sometimes they were weirdly faithful. Sometimes they even influenced future sequels in the franchise.
We’ve scoured history to find a whopping 11 cartoons inspired by 90s video games. If you were around for this, enjoy a trip down memory lane. If not, bask in the crazy!
The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3
Yes, that’s right. Not the Adventures of Super Mario Bros. Not even The Adventures of Mario. It’s The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3. Highly specific. Just couldn’t resist that tanooki suit.
The show ran for 26 episodes in 1990, two years after the release of the game. It ran alongside Captain N: The Game Master, which just barely missed this list thanks to beginning in 1989.
Taken together, the pair are the holy grail of cartoons-as-commercials. Where Captain N relied heavily on the use of in-game footage, the better to sell them with, Mario 3 was animated with a sense of loyalty to the source material that was almost bizarre.
Gameplay elements like the tanooki suit, mushrooms, and coin blocks were all present in the show, and all behaved much as they did in the game.
Maybe the strangest thing about the show? Lemmy and Iggy Koopa were both voice acted by Tara Charendoff, who would later marry and become Tara Strong. That’s Harley Quinn in Batman: Arkham City, and Twilight Sparkle in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.