In 1982, ABC debuted the first video game-based TV cartoon, “Pac-Man.” This was successful, and soon others got in on the video game craze. In 1983, CBS and Hanna-Barbera debuted this hour-long anthology series, “Saturday Supercade,” which ran for two seasons.
Like its similar package show/anthology show brethren, “Supercade” consisted of various shorts based on different early video games. No interaction between the segments (save for two) was implied or shown, save in a few bumpers and the opening/closing credits.
I watched this show as a kid, and have played most of the games this show’s based on, even the now-obscure “Kangaroo.” Yes, all of the shorts took quite a few liberties from their respective games—especially since early video games often didn’t have any plot to base a TV show on. See for yourself in the segments below… but first, here’s the opening credits for each season, plus some of the original segment openings. The first season’s opening was a bit more creative for the title scene, where we saw the characters actually interact.
“Frogger” saw the star frog, Frogger, working for a toad-run newspaper based in a swamp. Each episode saw him and his friends, a turtle named Shelly and a female frog named Fanny, try to get some sort of scoop, usually involving humans. Like the game, Frogger would get flattened by some sort of blunt object in each episode, though here, he gets re-inflated by Shelly wielding a bicycle pump.
“Donkey Kong” saw the famous primate make his animation debut as an escaped circus gorilla, on the lam from his keeper, Mario (also making his animation debut). Also joining them from the game is Mario’s fellow trainer, Pauline, the Fay Wray-esque woman Donkey Kong kidnaps in the game. Most episodes saw Mario, Pauline, and Donkey Kong thwart some actual villain’s scheme, before Donkey Kong gave the humans the slip again.
Mario seemed to be some ordinary circus owner here. There’s no signs of his being of Italian descent, a plumber, or having a brother, as “Mario Bros.” and “Super Mario Bros.” didn’t debut until 1983 (the same year this show debuted) and 1985 respectively.
Donkey Kong was voiced by Soupy Sales, a popular 1950s/1960s children’s TV star.
Donkey Kong Jr.
“Donkey Kong Jr.” tied into “Donkey Kong,” being about the big ape’s son. Unlike Dad, Donkey Kong Jr. spoke perfect English and wore clothes (a tunic with a “J” on it). The shorts focused on Junior’s constant search for his on-the-run father. Joining Junior on the search was his pal, a human greaser named Bones.
Similar to Scrappy-Doo’s “puppy power!” catchphrase, Junior would yell “monkey muscle!”
“Q*bert” was set in a 1950s-meets-1980s cube/Q*bert-inspired town called “Q*Burg.” (Think “The Flintstones,” but with a cube/”Q” theme.) Q*bert in this show was a teenager attending high school, where he hung out with his friends, including characters from the game. Coily, the villain of the game, also appeared in the show as a rival classmate/greaser bully. Yes, two greaser characters in “Supercade”—the popularity of “Happy Days” (and the Fonz) was still strong in the early 80s.
Elements of the game thrown into the show included the comic-strip-style garbled-swearing word balloons/sound effect, and Q*bert re-enacting the game’s light-up-square-hopping when being pursued by Coily. The latter happened once an episode, and no matter where Q*bert and the gang were—on a city sidewalk? Hopping on top of cars at a drive-in? Crossing a stream? It’d happen.
One deviation from the game: Q*bert was able to load and shoot black ball projectiles (“slippy-doos”) from his nose, used to make oil slicks for Coily and his gang to trip up on.
Q*bert made several other cartoon appearances after this series, including in 2012’s Disney movie “Wreck-It Ralph” (where he’s back to his usual game self).
“Pittfall!” saw the game’s star, Pitfall Harry, along with his niece Rhonda and their cowardly pet mountain lion Quick Claw, go on various jungle adventures in search of treasure.
The second season of “Saturday Supercade” saw “Frogger,” “Donkey Kong Jr.,” and “Pitfall!” cancelled. They were replaced by two new segments: “Kangaroo” and “Space Ace.”
“Kangaroo” was about a mother kangaroo named Katy and her joey named, well, Joey. They lived in a zoo, where they dealt with the troublemaking antics of the Monkeybiz Gang, four misbehaving monkeys. Being an 80s cartoon, Katy didn’t use her kangaroo boxing skills directly on the monkeys, but found more creative ways to use her skills.
Voicing the zoo keeper was Arthur Burghardt, an African-American actor who appeared in mid-70s movie “Network” and the soap opera “One Life to Live.”
“Space Ace” was the other second season newcomer. A generic muscular, handsome spaceship captain tasked with protecting the galaxy, Ace was hit by a villain’s “Infanto-Ray,” which caused him to switch back-and-forth (a la the Incredible Hulk) into a wimpy alter-ego named “Dexter.” Dexter/Ace and his partner Kimberly tried to keep his dual-identity a secret.
Wikipedia claims this is the one segment of the show that’s gotten some airplay post-cancellation, as shorts on Cartoon Network in the late 90s, and on Boomerang.
On DVD/digital video
Aside from the above “Space Ace” reairings, this show’s gone largely unseen since it left the airwaves in 1985. Due to the nature of the video games’ separate current owners, the rights for “Supercade” are in a fractured state. This probably makes putting this show on home video difficult or impossible. In 2013, Warner Home Video expressed interest in a home video release, but there’s been no word since. Clips of the show have appeared on YouTube, however.
The owners of the segments, as far as I can tell:
- Q*bert: Sony. Columbia briefly owned the company that produced the original game, and apparently have kept the character rights since.
- Donkey Kong/Donkey Kong Jr.: Nintendo.
- Pitfall!: Activision.
- Frogger: Konami.
- Kangaroo: Sunsoft?
- Space Ace: Possibly Digital Leisure, a Canadian software publisher that holds the license?