Sunday, January 25, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons - When Video Games Ruled the Airwaves Part 1

The early 1980s were the golden age of video games as well as cartoons, so it was only a matter of time before TV networks and their animation production houses got the idea to merge the two in an orgy of marketing. For a couple of years, it seemed like every other show on Saturday morning was based on a video game, with some networks packaging them into hour-long programming blocks. Some were fun, others were typical cotton-candy storytelling, but because the games they were based on were so hot, everyone I knew watched the spinoff cartoons.

Video game-inspired cartoons were so popular that there were too many for me to include in just one post, so this is going to be a multiparter over the next couple of weeks.

Grab a stack of quarters and tell the kid behind you that you're gonna be a while — it's time for the Saturday morning cartoon rewatch!

First up: Frogger. How the writers and producers got from a game that was about getting a frog across a busy highway and hazardous river without getting killed to a show about a reporter and his sidekicks solving mysteries is beyond me, but that's the direction they went in for this spinoff. While I admit that I was a regular watcher of this show, I have to state categorically that it had no influence on my decision to be a reporter later in life. Of course, there were some similarities: the way the corporate end of the private radio industry in Canada works, sometimes I did feel like I'd been run over by a truck. (intro)




If there was going to be a whole new lineup of cartoons based on popular video games, there was no way producers would overlook the king of them all: Pac-man. Sure, by the time these shows came out, video games had become more sophisticated in terms of digital appearance and skill challenge, but Pac-man was a classic that still sucked down plenty of quarters at the arcades, and was a must-include when Atari first came out with its roster of cartridges for its home gaming system. At the arcade, I was always more of a fan of Ms Pac-man (especially if it was on a sit-down table model machine), but I didn't turn my nose up when Mr got his show on Saturday morning. I have to confess though, I have absolutely no memory of what the show was about, or what Pac-man did on it when he wasn't battling ghost monsters or hanging out with his family. (intro)



And to finish off with something slightly more cool, there's Dragon's Lair. This show was a rare example of double cross-pollination, where not only did the video game inspire the cartoon, but the look of the video game itself was inspired by cartoons. While this level of graphic illustration may be more-or-less commonplace today, back in the old days you would have seen huge crowds of kids clustered around the Dragon's Lair machines just to watch this slick-looking game. And so, when the cartoon version hit the air on Saturday morning, we all had to watch. Which was more fun than actually playing the video game itself. Over the years, pretty much anyone I've talked to about this arcade classic agrees that it was a total waste of money to play because the game never gave players much warning that it was about to shift from the extended animated no-play filler sequences to the actual player-controlled game sections; once the game sections did get under way, the control systems were very clumsy and the hero, Dirk the Derring, rarely did onscreen what the player was trying to get him to do; and the game-play sequences were very fast and inevitably fatal. Better to just save the effort of fighting through the crowd of bigger kids to get a turn to play, forget the joystick, hold on to your quarters, and watch the show on Saturday morning from the comfort of your own chesterfield in your own living room. (multiple episodes)



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