I don't mean to be all, "You damn kids today have no idea how good you all have it," but you damn kids today have no idea how good you all have it. Sometimes I'm just floored at how our connected world makes it easier than ever to acquire high-quality supplementary media based on the games and properties we love.
I was inspired to start shaking my cane at all you punks on my lawn after Twitter user Tanooki Joe posted some concept art for the never-aired Super Mario Bros. Power Hour. The proposed Power Hour cartoons (which would supposedly have run alongside The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3—a series that was near and dear to my heart for all the wrong reasons when I was a kid) are based on Metroid, California Games, Double Dragon, and Castlevania.
Holy shit. Someone just put up promo art for The Super Mario Bros Power Hour on eBay! These were concepts for other video game based cartoons to run along side Super Mario Bros 3. None of these ever got past the concept phase. pic.twitter.com/eIFft21T3u— Tanooki Joe™️ (@TanookiKuribo) May 7, 2019
It might be hard to imagine in a world where game developers in another continent are a mere Tweet away, but in the '80s and '90s, communication between game developers in Japan and the creators of supplementary media like cartoons and comics was close to nil. Shows like Captain N: The Game Master were born around untranslated concept sketches and whatever details artists could garner by squinting at the screen ("Mega Man is green, right?").
That's why I'm not the least bit surprised the Metroid cartoon concept casts beloved bounty huntress Samus Aran as a spaceman with a bad haircut. It's honestly the most "'90s video game cartoon" thing in the world. Nobody had the time, the money, or the passion to play through the original Metroid quickly enough to see the ending in which Samus reveals her gender. Heck, it still takes a strong person to finish the original Metroid quickly enough to see that special ending.
The Metroid concept isn't even the saddest sight in Tanooki Joe's collection of images. That "honor" goes to the Castlevania promo, which features two rubber-bodied teens gawping at a collection of classic monsters ("Zoicks! Let's get outta here, Scoob!"). There are no whips, no chains, no muscled barbarians wearing fur pelts over their groin. Hm, that sounds kind of kinky for '90s kids TV. I think I just unwittingly described the reason for the change. In any case, the change still sucks. And here I thought things couldn't get worse than Simon Belmont becoming a bomber jacket-wearing egomaniac in Captain N: The Game Master.
Interestingly, there's one clear winner in the concept art collection. The picture for Double Dragon seemingly echoes the classic NES games closely, with protagonists Billy and Jimmy Lee kicking the bejesus out of some bat-wielding thugs. We eventually did get a Double Dragon cartoon, but it's based on the softer, much more cartoony SNES games. The Dragon Boys wield energy weapons they're not allowed to use and throw punches that never seem to land. Even the intro stresses a real Dragon Master "lives by the code," i.e. they don't start shit. It's pretty standard stuff for '90s cartoons based on frankly violent properties, and it's all terribly boring. I doubt the proposed Double Dragon cartoon would've been a work of genius, but at least we might've seen Billy Lee actually drop-kick some fools in a post-apocalyptic New York City.
It's honestly cool, if a little shudder-inducing, to look back at stuff like this collection of concept art. It reminds me how far we've come. Detective Pikachu is packed with unashamed Pokemon references, we had a truly excellent Mega Man comic for a time, and Netflix's Castlevania series is likewise great. Yeah, I picked some nits over its padded length and dialogue, but at least it's not a Scooby Doo rip-off minus the talking stoner dog.
Then again, there's also the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Well, we can't expect everyone to exit the '90s at the same pace. Not even hedgehogs who're usually famous for breaking the speed barrier.