Cartoons From The ’80s That Would Make Great Video Games

Cartoons From The ’80s That Would Make Great Video Games

The amazing-looking He-Man game is still going strong. Head to where the side-scrolling smack-’em-up can be downloaded, on Game Jolt, and you’ll see a stream of comments, requesting new abilities and offering suggestions for extra characters, both from the original 1980s cartoons and entirely unrelated series.

The game’s developer, username bWWd, has turned to television for inspiration before: Rocko’s Modern Game, added to Game Jolt a year ago, is based on 1990s cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life and plays a little like Sega’s Alien Storm. He-Man is more in the Golden Axe vein, using sound effects and character models faithful to the He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe show, which ran for two years from 1983. As someone who was a member of The Masters Of The Universe fan club — I still have the badge, somewhere (and when I find it, I will post photo evidence) — I’ve been following these developments closely.

He-Man makes perfect sense presented as it is by bWWd — big sprites, boisterous action, bonus Lion-O (sure, why not) — but what about other great cartoons of the 1980s? Plenty of shows saw iconic characters leap from Saturday morning TV to Sunday afternoon gaming sessions: ThunderCats was released for a variety of formats in 1987; the Autobots and Decepticons of Transformers have been waging joystick-waggling warfare ever since 1986’s Ocean-published effort; and three games based on M.A.S.K. were released by Gremlin Graphics during the decade that gave us an actor in the White House, acid house and parachute pants.

But equally, many of my then-favourites didn’t. So why not dream a little? Perhaps you’d like to dream with me, and even suggest adaptations of your own. No cheating though: if it’s already had a video game based on it, it can’t count (or else I’d definitely have M.A.S.K. below, Metal Gear Solid style).

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Visionaries: Knights Of The Magical Light

Which was: Visionaries lasted for just a single series of 13 episodes, in 1987. The plot saw rival factions — the Spectral Knights and the Darkling Lords — compete for power on the planet Prysmos, a once-advanced society that had collapsed to an archaic state. Old magic became the only worthwhile currency — if you had it, you had power. Based on Hasbro’s action figures, the Sunbow-produced series was largely written by Flint Dille, the same Flint Dille who helped shape the story of 2004’s award-winning The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay.

Which could be: given the great challenges that both the Spectral Knights and Darkling Lords had to overcome to even get their powers in the first place, I’m going with a Dark Souls-style action RPG grind. That fits the fantasy aspect of the Visionaries aesthetic — although the more future-focused vehicles would look pretty out of place in Drangleic. I’m sure Vendrick could ultimately get over it, if the cursed undead even care about noise pollution.

Says today’s press, probably:Visionaries is an unfortunate flashback to a time where toy sales took priority over any semblance of plot-line sense, a trait carried over to this confusing combination of hacking and slashing and talk of who’s got the biggest ‘power staff’. Like the action figures it’s based on, best left in the bargain bin.”

Likelihood of this appearing on Game Jolt: Never gonna happen.

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Ulysses 31

Which was: A 31st century-set sci-fi series based on Greek mythology, this French-Japanese production lasted 26 episodes, running from 1981 into 1982. (I saw it repeated on the BBC in 1985, having been two at the time it was cancelled.) The main character, our hero Ulysses, is sentenced by universe-ruling gods to drift in space without any clue as to how to get home to Earth, or to reanimate his incapacitated crew, frozen unless he can find the Kingdom of Hades. He got there come episode 26, where he tells the God of the Underworld himself where to stick it, and ultimately realises his dreams. Hooray!

Which could be: Incredible challenges, lost in space? Let’s say Ulysses 31 riffs on Subset Games’ FTL: Faster Than Light, but with a little God Of War thrown in, what with the whole ancient Greece thing. How’d that possibly work? Who cares! It’s Ulysses — nobody else can do the things he does. And Kratos wouldn’t stand a chance against a powered-up Nono.

Says today’s press, probably: “While faithful to the original art direction of Tokyo Movie Shinsha, now part of Sega Sammy, Ulysses 31‘s limited cast fails to charm as it did on your tellybox; your suspended crewmates offer not the slightest bit of Mass Effect-like banter. Still, at least the voice of Telemachus from the ’80s show, Adrian Knight, is back to reprise his role after his gaming debut in 2002’s Splinter Cell.”

Likelihood of this appearing on Game Jolt: You know, I wouldn’t rule it out. It’s got the right sort of cult credentials to foster hardcore followers, some of whom just might be handy with coding.

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Dungeons & Dragons

Which was: Running from 1983 to 1985, this series was, perhaps obviously, based on the table-top role-playing game of the same name. It follows the adventures of six friends who are teleported from an American theme park into a strange fantasy world, in which they’re gifted powers by an overseeing Dungeon Master. Their attempts to find a way home are constantly thwarted by the evil wizard Venger, voiced by Peter ‘Transform, and roll out’ Cullen. Indeed, Venger ultimately emerged the victor of this battle between good and evil, as the heroic sextet was denied escape; a final episode, working title ‘Requiem’, was never produced. Damn you, Optimus!

Which could be: This one’s easy enough. Featuring six characters with D&D abilities — the ranger, the cavalier, the acrobat, the magician, the barbarian and the thief — this has to be a Diablo-style affair. And with no end available for our protagonists, it’d use a constantly generating roguelike structure, above ground and within dungeons, to constantly steal away any hope of salvation. How do you win? You don’t. As Venger tells us in the show’s titles for its second and third seasons: “There is no escape from the realm of Dungeons & Dragons.” Damn you, Optimus!

Says today’s press, probably: “So tough you’ll want to brain your four-legged companion Uni just an hour in, this taxing title takes the most testing aspects of its pen-and-paper progenitor and amplifies them to the extreme. Damn you, Optimus!”

Likelihood of this appearing on Game Jolt: Depends entirely on the time available to the most sadistic of developers out there. Cullen might cost a little more to bring back into the equation these days. What’s Abraham Benrubi up to?

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The Centurions

Which was: Wearing its Transformers and M.A.S.K. influences unashamedly, The Centurions saw a squad of agents, the titular Centurions, use an array of high-tech exo-frames, beamed to them from a space station HQ, to combat a wicked cyborg, the couldn’t-they-do-better-name-wise Doc Terror. Jack Kirby, co-creator of several X-Men and the Fantastic Four, contributed to the characters’ design, as did Gil Kane, who worked on Green Lantern and (The) Atom comics for Marvel. With 65 episodes over two long series, The Centurions packed in a variety of themes familiar to fans of superhero literature, from sci-fi elements — the show is set in the near future, albeit of 1986 (which is funny in the way that hearing “It is the year 2005” at the beginning of The Transformers: The Movie remains a kick) — to ecological matters and supernatural indulgences.

Which could be: The Centurions‘ main trio of protagonists, Max Ray, Jake Rockwell and Ace McCloud (brilliant), each possessed equipment relating to specific environments, namely water, land and air respectively. So a developer could tackle this a few ways. As a Fall Of Cybertron-style third-person affair, where different stages require different abilities, or even offering a twist on the Lego games’ approach to level design, where returning with newly unlocked characters allows access to new areas. Or perhaps a Mass Effect/The Bureau: XCOM Declassified-aping squad shooter? There’s an abundance of opportunity within the framework of The Centurions, so it seems strange, debuting as the show did in the mid-1980s beside its own comic and toy line, that it never made the move to gaming.

Says today’s press, probably: “How did this not happen sooner? The bombastic premise of The Centurions — that you beam down abilities-enabling mech-suits from an orbiting base of operations, in the middle of battle, quite probably while fending off a swarm of angry android foes — is just as much of a blast to play as it is to watch over the shoulder of someone losing themselves to throes of laughter. Imagine The Wonderful 101 stripped of 98 participants but turned up to 11: that’s The Centurions.”

Likelihood of this appearing on Game Jolt: No chance, obviously. It was left trailing well behind the likes of Transformers and ThunderCats in the ’80s playground pretending stakes.

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The Raccoons

Which was: If your Saturday mornings meant tuning into Phil Schofield and Sarah Greene on Going Live!, then you know all about The Raccoons. It was shown during the live broadcast, giving presenters and crew alike a break from the pressures of beaming their perma-smiling mugs into the living rooms of millions. The Canadian show began in 1985 and ran for an impressive six years, documenting the conflict between Evergreen Forest’s furry residents, The Raccoons, and merciless aardvark antagonist Cyril Sneer, who wanted to chop every last tree down for a tidy profit. The problem for Cyril is that his son, Cedric, is pals with The Raccoons, led by the sometimes reckless Bert Raccoon. And, eventually, Cedric turns his pops around — by the end of the show’s run, Cyril had become a softer touch.

Which could be: Two words: Animal Crossing. Take away the good versus bad dynamic and switch to a more meditative, nature-focused scenario. The show always highlighted environmentalism, so use that as a basis for gentle tasks. Or failing that, just re-skin a Sly Cooper game, submit and get the beers in.

Says today’s press, probably: “This is just Sly Cooper, isn’t it? Somebody get Sucker Punch on the phone, stat…”

Likelihood of this appearing on Game Jolt: The Raccoons was well loved by viewers and critics, and won several Gemini awards. It’s one of those shows that is probably overdue a revival — and should it return with a 21st century spin, you can bet that someone will attempt to make an accompanying game.

Cartoons From The ’80s That Would Make Great Video Games
This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour with a U from the British isles.

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