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1. Captain N: The Game Master
Strictly speaking, there is no one game that Captain N: The Game Master is based on. Instead, it stars a number of fan-favorite Nintendo heroes and villains as well as Kevin, a Nintendo fanboy who gets sucked into “Videoland.”
The animation and plots are engaging, but the real fun comes from seeing these different characters working together. Where else can you see Mother Brain, King Hippo, and Dr. Wily fighting against Mega Man, Kid Icarus, and a giant walking Game Boy?
2. Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?
The Carmen Sandiego games have had multiple TV adaptations, including an awesome cartoon. But it’s tough to beat the live-action Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? For sheer entertainment value.
This kid’s game show had a bit of everything. Lynne Thigpen’s performance as The Chief was captivating, and house band Rockapella churned out some genuine jams. And the actual game show gameplay did the impossible: it made learning about geography seem fun!
3. The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!
As befits a true gaming icon, there are multiple TV series based on Mario. However, none of the others have the insane charm of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!
In the live-action segments, Mario was played by the incomparable WWF/WWE Hall of Famer Captain Lou Albano. He helped to win audiences over while also voicing the character in the animated portions. And if you still don’t understand what made Albano so awesome, check out his adorably-strange song “Do the Mario.”
4. Sonic the Hedgehog
At times, it feels like we’ve had nearly as many Sonic the Hedgehog TV shows as we have had games. But among these shows, the absolute best one is the 1993 show on ABC.
This show helped to flesh out the struggle between Sonic and Dr. Robotnik. Sonic is now part of a crew of plucky freedom fighters, including fiery love interest Sally Acorn. We also learn weird trivia, including that Dr. Robotnik stole the roboticizer from Sonic’s uncle!
For Sonic fans, this show is downright mandatory. If nothing else, you will now have context for the ways that this show helped to shape the comic as well as future games.
It’s impossible to discuss TV shows based on games without discussing Pokémon. Across decades of television and even multiple movies, this show has helped to create multiple generations of fans.
Interestingly, the popularity of the show also affected the game series. It didn’t take long for players to get a special Pokémon Yellow version of the original game that capitalized on the emerging popularity of Pikachu from the anime.
Most of the shows on this list are a bit older. But Castlevania is downright new: this show premiered in 2017 on Netflix and is still going strong.
It’s a great show because you don’t necessarily need to be a fan of the games to enjoy the engaging story, awesome voicework, and thrilling animation. But if you are a fan of the games, you’ll get a special kick out of all the lore and special Easter eggs crammed into each ep.
7. Kirby: Right Back at Ya!
Kirby: Right Back at Ya! Is a very charming series focusing on Kirby and his friends. And with more than 100 episodes of entertainment, there is a lot here for a Kirby fan to unpack!
The animation holds up very well, and the introduction of some new characters and settings is handled nicely. But the big focus is on familiar Kirby characters, and that’s a good thing. These characters aren’t very well-defined in the original Kirby games, and this show breathes new life into them in some unexpected ways.
8. Saturday Supercade
Saturday Supercade is not a show inspired by a single game. Instead, it’s a show that’s all about the early days of the arcade. That means it focused on games like Frogger, Donkey Kong, and Q-Bert.
The result was animated episodes that fleshed out these characters and provided some serious entertainment. I’ll put it to you this way: if not for the wild success of this show, there might have never been a market for televised video game adaptations.
9. Wing Commander Academy
Wing Commander has always been a mixed bag when it came to adaptations. For example, the series shift to live-action was great in the games featuring Mark Hamill. But the live-action movie was one of the most forgettable science fiction films ever made.
But Wing Commander Academy is something else entirely. This is a cartoon prequel to the game series and features familiar characters like Blair and familiar ships like the Tiger’s Claw. The voicework is awesome (Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell return to the franchise to voice their individual characters), and every single frame is brimming with Easter eggs that show a real love for the series.
There are only 13 episodes. Be honest: why aren’t you watching this show right now?
10. Mega Man (1994 TV series)
There have been multiple shows based on everyone’s favorite Blue Bomber. But the best one is the 1994 series simply titled Mega Man.
This is a very character-driven show, and we get to learn more about Dr. Wily, Dr. Light, Rush, and Roll as well as Mega Man himself. And there are dozens of villainous robots from the games in the show as well as cameos by Mega Man X.
11. The Legend of Zelda
Here’s the deal: it’s easy to dismiss The Legend of Zelda cartoon because of the meme surrounding the infamous “well, excuuuuuse me, princess” dialogue. But if you find cheesy dialogue part of the charm of old games and shows, you’ll really dig this show.
The animation is decent, and getting to learn more about Link, Zelda, and Hyrule is a lot of fun. And the show even offers explanations for how the characters can carry so many items. It’s because these things magically shrink down to fit into any bags these characters are carrying.
Hell, that’s already more of an explanation than we ever got for Optimus Prime’s disappearing trailer!
12. Dragon's Lair
For many gamers, Dragon’s Lair feels like a fever dream. The characters are iconic and the arcade game was nothing short of revolutionary. But the game is also brutally difficult, and most players never make it very far.
If you’d like a closer look at these characters and their world without surrendering your quarters, I recommend the Dragon’s Lair TV show. It integrates game elements nicely while also adding its own creative touches to Dirk the Daring, Princess Daphne, and the rest of the crew.
13. Donkey Kong Country
For a hot minute, Donkey Kong Country was everywhere. The awesome SNES game helped to reinvent the character while giving him a new supporting cast. And the Donkey Kong Country cartoon helped fans explore more of this brave new world.
The series was pretty awesome and made a huge splash in America, France, and Japan. And it even managed to influence some of the later games, including Donkey Kong 64. If you’re a fan of DK, this one is a “must-see.”
14. Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist
If you’re a Street Fighter fan, it can be tough to find good adaptations. The anime series and various movies are fun but offer little substance. And the less said about the American cartoon version, the better!
Weirdly enough, the best adaptation is a live-action show few have heard about. Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist is amazingly faithful to the characters and their stories. And at only 12 episodes, it’s pretty easy to watch this whole series in-between fighting characters from around the world.
15. Maniac Mansion
Most of the shows on this list had relatively short runs. But Maniac Mansion ran for three seasons and a whopping 62 episodes!
The plot was very loosely based on the game of the same name. While I’d recommend the show to anyone, it’s particularly fun for Schitt's Creek fans. That’s because this show was created by Eugene Levy himself!
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