The world of video games is a difficult one to translate into other medias without the controller or pacing desired by the player. While the film world has had its share of bringing the beloved game icons to the silver screen, there have been very rare moments of success. 2016 was even recognized as the year of video game-inspired films, with Hollywood releasing Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, Ratchet & Clank and even an Angry Birds Movie. Was that to be the year for a profitable and wel-recieved adaptation? Sadly, it was not. No overwhelming box office numbers and ratings on a scale between okay to Uwe Boll proved fans may be better off with their own story mode at the palms of their hands.
Though lacking the ability of where the story goes, the route of animated serials has a better use of the medium, especially since not everything can be represented in two hours of live-action. Episodes upon seasons could establish the worlds explored and the adventure of the character while audiences are able to be fixed alongside the ride and connect the same manner many players are able through the journey of a game.
Like movies and other interpretations, a lot of the animations are either heavily dated or work too hard to promote a product that provide a cohesive story. Rather than surrounding ourselves with the Captain Ns and Legend of Zeldas, let’s dig further and find the real diamonds in the rough that are actually worth looking.
This is ScreenGeek’s Top 5 Animated Shows Based off Video Games, with some mentions worth talking. The rules to make it to the list:
Needs to come after release of game – To have a proper first impression of the source material and have a series inspired by it with its creative differences is part of the fun. Plus it makes comparison harder when exposed to a show before a game, hence the word “based” being especially in the title.
One per franchise – There are numerous incarnations of some of these video game shows, and though many varied, going through the same one more than once would take up this short list too well.
Official broadcasts only – We’re going to be a bit stricter on this and not have fan series involved, otherwise there would be too many to consider. We’re picking shows that are produced in either a television block or streaming service. Official outlets only.
Popular does not equal quality – There are enough lists that are based off widespread popularity or saturation of the fandoms. Exactly why you won’t be seeing Pokemon in the list.
Let’s blow our cartridges and boot them up.
5. Earthworm Jim (1995 – 1996)
Following the absurdity of the title itself, Earthworm Jim is based off the 1994 game of the same name that follows very similarly to the source material: an earthworm is transformed to an intergalactic hero after obtaining a super suit that saves the universe. Followed by his sidekick Peter Puppy and love interest Princess What’s-Her-Name, Jim must go through nonsensical adventures that makes you question what sort of drug-infused writing process was going on making the stories.
Such examples include obtaining a pop-up book that is capable of destroying the universe, going against a killer goldfish with a bad laugh, protecting his super suit from Psy-Crow and Queen Slug-For-A-Butt or even facing another dastardly invention by Professor Monkey-For-A-Head.
What really made this adaptation work was the satire behind the writing in addition to the oddity of the plots. Unpredictable with its hilarity and playing along the idiocy of Jim, the formula of the show has a lot of what would grow to the likes of Disney’s Dave the Barbarian or Warner Bros’s Freakazoid.
In fact, the narrator of Dave is the same one in Earthworm Jim, which marks the second point: the voice work. The show makes use of its execution with some of the best voice actors in the business, with the likes of Jeff Bennet, Charlie Adler, Jim Cummings, Kath Soucie and even legendary Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson) as the eponymous Jim himself, delivering some of the most hilarious line deliveries.
The show received positive praise to both fans and casual watchers. Sadly, much like the previously mentioned program greats of Dave and Freakazoid, Earthworm Jim also succumbed to an abrupt demise. Caught in a time-slot demotion by Universal, viewership count was drastically cut upon the second season, causing a promised third to never happen and concluding with 26 episodes. A revival of the show was also announced back in 2008 by the game’s creator Douglas TenNapel, but nothing has been furthered since, leaving the animated world as dormant as the game series now.
Though the series lasted this long, it left enough of an impact on the fan base that the sequel game Earthworm Jim: Menace 2 the Galaxy was heavily inspired by the show itself. Characters exclusive to the animation, as well as art styles, were brought into the mainstream games and gamers that play the series recall the show just as fondly.
Though short-lived, Earthworm Jim was ahead of its time and one of the craziest examples of a video game that was simply meant for the television world.
4. Sonic SatAM (1993-1994)
Spanning one of the most versatile histories in video game-adapted animations, the blue blur has gone through 5 incarnations. They ranged from absurdly over-the-top YouTube Poop source material to lackluster sideline anime to even, well, a band. While some would argue the latest series, Sonic Boom, deserves a spot on this list for its meta writing and self-aware humor, I personally feel the “tongue in cheek” comedy is a bit too pushy with a more “tongue poking through cheek with excessive rotations” approach.
Point being, Sonic Boom feels too reliant on snappy quips and video game culture that it’s very in-your-face if not a fan of the long history of the series. To that, I lean to something more subtle and self-contained in the form of 1993’s Sonic the Hedgehog.
Dubbed SatAM since it ran the same year as another Sonic serial, Sonic SatAM took a much darker world than the Green Hill Zones we’re used and wrote a surprisingly good storyline of Sonic and his rebel alliance of Freedom Fighters taking on the tyrannical Dr. Robotnik. The plot twist here was that Robotnik had already transformed a good portion of the world and its inhabitants into his cybernetic dystopia of robotized slaves, forming a real machine vs. nature foundation with beautiful sets draw to reflect the grittiness of the industrial infection.
More dramatic, well-developed characters (well, most), and a subtly-put environmental message, SatAM has really made its own impression count. This is also in addition to the fact their main reference at the time is of an almost nonexistent game story of a blue hedgehog fighting robots.
One of the biggest impressions left was the sinister alteration of Dr. Robotnik for this interpretation. Gone was the silly mad scientist and what we got was a very malicious tyrant with zero empathy. His scary voice performance has become very notable for the legendary Jim Cummings himself, the same man who brought us Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. Jaleel White, best known for playing Steve Urkel, as the voice of Sonic and Cow and Chicken’s Charlie Adler as Snively with some great chemistry with Cummings.
Even with some blunder filler episodes revolving more around the ever-annoying Antoine and some weird animation kinks at points (what’s there to expect with DIC?), the show, in general, was actually great. Even with two seasons and a strong cliff-hanger to lead to a third, the show was ultimately canceled before wrapping the way it intended to. That doesn’t go without saying its huge influence in the general Sonic fandom.
With positive praise of the show, the official Archie comic lines were heavily inspired by a lot of the original characterizations and relationships from it and ran for it for quite a few years. Sonic SatAM is a real surprise for the fans and casual viewers whose effort and journey can be seen by everyone.
3. Castlevania (2017 – )
Being the first video game inspired series on Netflix, the first impression has us hooked; and for good reason. With two out of five films in our Top Fan Films based off comics produced by him, Adi Shankar astonishes us again with producing this adaptation of the classic Konami series, unapologetic with its gore and content.
The story takes its primary sources from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It follows a graphic tale, as protagonist Trevor Belmont (voiced by Richard Armitahe, known for his role as Thorin Oakenshield) to continue his family’s work taking on a vengeance-fueled Dracula with the world and church against him for his bloodline’s use of the dark arts.
Writer Waren Ellis (Red, Justice League animated series) is no stranger to games content, having worked the scripting for the Dead Space game and Revisioned: Tomb Raider animated series. He has been on board with creating this since 2007, when it was initially meant as a direct-to-video animated movie. Through Castlevania, he excels at showing character interaction and development in this series, with examples such as Trevor’s process of accepting his role to fight through the episodes when he merely started as a snarky drunkard sleeping under trees.
The most significant is the first episode alone, capturing Dracula’s side of the conflict in a suitable length and use of imagery (while still keeping his villain role), has us somewhat understand his pain for what must be done.
The animation is gorgeously smooth and paints the Gothic architecture and nocturnal horrors of this adaptation with vivid color and amazing sets. This sort of style feels heavily familiar to Hellsing Ultimate mixed with the darker portions of Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. One cool reference used is the color palettes used for characters like Trevor and Sypha, which reflect the sprite colors of the original game.
There really isn’t much else that can be said that others haven’t already. Professional critics stood with viewers and fans with wide praise, with the only complaints from mothers believing the anime was suitable for children. The love of this new serial and even the Belmonts being included in the new Smash Bros game showed the Castlevania hype was back.
With a second season closing in with an additional 8 episodes recently, promise is really showing for a greater scope of what further tales we have of this great introduction. We finally have our video game animated equivalent to Game of Thrones.
2. Wakfu (2008 -)
For anyone who ever hoped for a proper animated Zelda series and adored the tone of Avatar: The Last Airbender, your answer is simple: Ankama Studio’s Wakfu.
Based on the French MMORPG fantasy Wakfu, the series revolves a more linear plot around a young orphan who is given to a retired bounty hunter of a small village to raise him until he is to find the truth of his past. As Yugo grows older and discovers his abilities to harness the energy of Wakfu and his Eliatrope bloodline, he journeys out with his newfound friends to discover his purpose and defend the World of Twelve.
The production spans this series has gone through lengthy efforts since its birth in 2008. The first season spanned two years to 2010, a second one starting immediately after with 2011-2012 and having to wait 5 years for a proper conclusion with a third season in 2017. In addition to the OVAs in between the time, the series spanned 65 total episodes that puts dedicated hiatuses in other shows like Venture Bros. to shame. The third season and 4 OVAs couldn’t have been conceived had it not been for the Kickstarter that was responsible for almost $400,000 with 5,700 backers, the immense support making it one of the most successful backings for an animated series yet.
The delays are very much worth it, however, with one, if not the most, impressive animations conceived in Flash animation. The design of the world itself is immersive and more exuberant with some of the most unique character designs that flare its animated personality. The general animation ranges with alluring tension, to madcap silliness, to even enjoying a moment of beauty in the environment; natural splendors that are the forests and diverse lands explored.
Fight scenes render a subtle does of 3D to its 2D layout to achieve stunning visual of the intensity of the battles that demonstrates the vulnerability of our heroes.
Though this is a show that caters to the younger demographic, the writing is quite mature. Darker themes (and more adult humor) not akin to common children’s programming stands on its own very well here. In addition, phenomenal character development is portrayed not only for our protagonists but even going as far as making antagonists vulnerable and empathetic. Villain motives feel so fleshed out that it has us even question the actions of the heroes we follow, with a grey spectrum to show not everything is a simple good and evil battle.
Though a good number of filler episodes are present, much of the time it is used to build character relationships and helps the audience peer into the motives of the main leads.
While some of the earlier episodes had humor and drama not entirely congruent with the tone of the scene, it does gradually improve to either commit to the comedy well or the dark nature where it needs to. When it focuses on the main plot with its finales, every action feels like a high stake and every feeling is an emotional roller coaster, encapsulating the series very well.
Even preferring English dub material myself, it is highly suggested to watch this in the original French dub. Aside from the third season with an entirely new team of veteran voice actors, the general English dub provided feels more like a mediocre afterthought that hasn’t been polished enough.
With how season three concluded, it is unknown if we will be getting a continuation. There was a huge story to pull off and it feels like the doors have been closed in a bittersweet way. However, Ankama has registered the rights to another successor game in its lore, Starfu, which could very well take place after the events. In addition, the prequel series Dofus also exists (as well as a movie), predating the events of Wakfu.
We might not hear anything for quite a while, but in the meantime, the world of Wakfu is worth exploring a multitude of times over and reliving the eminence it has made for video game adapted animated series. It is currently available for viewing on Netflix worldwide in both English and French.
1. Steins;Gate (2011)
Take this as someone who doesn’t even watch anime: Steins;Gate is the perfect representation of what anything video game, anime or even generally animated serials should strive to be. While a large part of the narrative in the games is more open with the branched choices you have and the already phenomenal writing, taking the limitations of an animated series with only a few set paths has really shaped for the better with this telling of 5pb’s 2009 video game of the same name.
The story of Steins; Gate follows Rintaro Okabe, a melodramatic self-proclaimed “mad scientist” who invests into his bizarre hobby of inventing “future gadgets” in hopes of riches. His lab accomplices consist of Mayuri Shiina, his best friend and “hostage”, Hashida “Daru” Itaru, a perverted hacker, and new resident Kurisu Makise who discover the miraculous use of sending emails back in time to change past and present events.
As the use becomes more abused and the choices more extreme, small divisions of time threads become chaotic paradoxes that deviate the lives of every character and the mental turmoil Okabe must face for going deeper into the realm of time.
While most animations would take a rush to go with the game at hand, it was two years of gleaming animation that took its time with this one. Many of the unique designs of the game are brought to life and convey every point of atmosphere. The quality of expressions and depth are shown well and have yet to look dated even years later.
The series has a progressive tone that leads you to believe it an innocent anime and delves you head first into a sci-fi thriller in its own right, taking advantage of your trust in this happy-go-lucky journey. The first half takes its time exploring the relationships of the characters and even intimate moments that feel genuine.
Character pasts and futures unwind from the events Okabe causes with his difficult choices, triggering multiple fates and splitting into many emotional paths that this slice-of-life setting seemed so unrelated to. The narrative is very well constructed, dedicated to making the emotions matter with the unpredictable twists and the payoff to the climax and ending of the series leaves your mind blown. If that isn’t enough, a film sequel made afterward ups the ante with the psychological effects that came with the suffering. It’s a hell of a ride.
Whether the original Japanese voices or Funimation’s perfectly cast English dub, you cannot go wrong with either version as they exhibit the exhilarating characters with such passion. The presence the characters feel so personal through both writing and voicework that the synergy leaves you easily attached to them. I was personally introduced to the series in its American dub and could not find a more complimented effort of casting and profound acting.
A large part goes to J. Michael Tatum, who not only provided the voice of the lead Okabe but oversaw the ADR scripting and shaping the writing of the dub to what it is. The music in the series also sets every scene to its perfect mood, from cheerful to intimate to even gut-wrenched melancholy. It’s even with audio alone is a euphonious experience.
While the first bit offers little context and some build-up, the time spent acquainting the characters at this time really counts when the plot really goes underway. We are much more impacted by the fates and relationships through the eyes of Okabe and are more troubled when we begin to see the traumas that develop the troubled characters.
There are 24 episodes, a well-wrapped 2013 film and a 2018 sequel series based on an alternate timeline with the emotional toll as effective from start to finish. The whole series is available on Crunchyroll and BluRay, and the official run of Steins; Gate0 is currently on Funimation’s streaming service.
Even counting the initial animated series alone, there is so much to take in from the ride and a real sense of closure not offered by many other shows on the list.
With its phenomenal writing, faithful attachment to the source material and amazing acting, the journey of Steins;Gate will leave viewers everywhere drained yet fulfilled in emotion and storytelling.
That being said, Steins;Gate is the definitive example of everything an animated show based off a video game should aim to be, earning its number 1 spot on the list.