The CBS Saturday Supercade is proof that God exists. I refuse to believe that sheer evolution was strong enough to grace our world with a Frogger cartoon. There must be a higher power. We've always looked for that one indisputable 'sign,' but the Lord works in mysterious ways. He's not going to make lightning flash at your beckoning call - that's way too cliche. God's too creative for that. No, he'll prove his existence by birthing people who thought Q*Bert should wear a varsity jacket. I never felt too strongly about God, but if he's responsible for Saturday Supercade, I think it's time I broke out the Jesus Fish bumper sticker.
This show was a gold mine, it really was. Seeing it again now was one of the sincerest celebrations of lost youth and nostalgia, because it's just such an opus of what people consider when they're reliving their childhood days. You've got your two main staples - cartoons and video games - wrapped into one neat little package complete with tons of Space Invaders sound effects. It wasn't very successful in it's day and didn't have a long run, but I don't think you'll find a more perfect tape to hunt down if you're itching to feel like a kid again.
Saturday Supercade was actually a compilation of five short-episode shows based on the time's popular video game characters. This was before the advent of Nintendo, so games - or more specifically, characters in games - weren't as nationally relished as they would be in the coming years. A few became icons, but not too many. Bad timing, I guess. They took characters from relatively simple games and gave them distinct personalities, fitting them into goofball adventures which weren't all that interesting, but fun nonetheless.
I didn't think the shows themselves were engaging enough to warrant actual episode reviews, so instead I'll just give you an overview of what each was about, and how the characters you loved playing were represented. We'll start with Frogger because he's a frog and frogs should always go first. It's an unspoken matter of etiquette that I firmly believe in, and I hope you'll remember it if you're ever in a position to decide a frog's placement on a venue. Yeah.
In the game, Frogger was just your typical amphibian who just happened to live in the most trafficked area on the planet. Thing is, it wouldn't have been a very entertaining program if all Frogger did was leap on lilypads and avoid getting squashed by car tires week after week. Especially since it's a kiddie show and you know nobody would have the balls to kill the guy off. Without that risk factor, there's nothing to the story. Even if you loved Frogger to death, there was always going to be some small part of you who really wanted to see his guts fly out of the side of his head. I don't consider it a 'bloodlust' because it's common knowledge that frog blood doesn't count as real blood. Frog blood is fun blood.
Since they weren't going to show us any of Frogger's blood, how would they present the little guy? The answer may surprise you. Not only is this Frogger fully clothed, but he's also a talented journalist. That's a serious success as far as frogs go.
Regular frogs are small creatures who eat crickets and piss on themselves. Frogger does all that, but he also speaks English and has a girlfriend. The cartoon focuses in on Frogger's exploits as a field reporter - he's always on the lookout for the next great story, either finding them on his own or being ordered to cover some godforsaken grand opening of another 9.95 Chinese buffet by his chief editor, who also happens to be a frog. See, Frogger isn't a frog living amongst the world of humans. He's a frog infiltrating the world of humans to report on our stupid behavior to his own kind. We find frogs amusing, frogs find us amusing. The moral messages about fair give-and-take situations was crystal clear in my eyes - I just wish one of the people on the show would've pointed out how odd it was to be interviewed by a toad in a yellow sweater.
By the way, the sweater's a turtleneck. Frogger's such an amphibian elitist.
Frogger wasn't alone on his adventures in journalism - he's frequently accompanied by Fanny Frog and Shelly Turtle. Fanny has nicer hair than most of the girls I know. The trio usually only seek out stories that will ultimately lead to them being chased by someone holding some type of bludgeoning weapon. They're not masochistic, they just enjoy the sense of adventure. If you're wondering why Frogger's a writer, I can sum it up real easy: he's a frog who knows how to write. If you're a person who just has this innate ability to perform surgery on brains, there's no way you're not gonna be a brain surgeon. Likewise, if you're a fucking frog who knows how to write, how can you avoid that career path? Frogger can't deny his supertalents.
The cartoons that come out nowadays are getting progressively more intricate and involved. It's nice that we're getting all these wonderful deep stories told by animated hippos and Japanese kids with triangle-shaped hair, but I miss the old days. Somehow I doubt anyone would have enough faith in our modern ideals to put a show on television about a news reporter frog. It's a lost art. Lost Frog Art.
Next, we move from talking frogs to talking monkeys. I so wish I lived within the continuity of Saturday Supercade. If my tank of firebelly toads could tell me knock-knock jokes, I'd smile twenty-three hours a day. The twenty-fourth hour is reserved for non-smilage out of fear that my face would stick in that position, causing awkward moments during funerals and Tom Hanks dramas.
Donkey Kong's cartoon is, of course, based on the original game and not the newer ones where he had lots of monkey friends with breasts, boom boxes, or pilot's licenses. This is vintage, barrel-chucking DK - not so smart and not so talkative. Some episodes will go by where the monkey only says his name, but it wasn't so bad since he put a hell of a lot of energy into it. He wasn't just 'Donkey Kong,' he was 'Dahhhhhhonkey Donkey DaHONKY-HONKY KA-WUNGGGED.' Voiced by Soupy Sales of all people. It was pleasant to hear, but by the time he was finished telling someone his name, half the show was over.
Vaguely following the antics of his smash hit arcade / home console game, Donkey Kong probably has the most historical significance of all the entries on Saturday Supercade, because it costars a certain someone who'd go on to become the most popular video game character of all time. No, not Vince from Ikari Warriors. Someone even bigger!
Here's the premise: Donkey Kong is a prisoner of the circus. Obviously, most circuses would love to have giant apes who can talk. Once a circus gets their hands on one, there's nothing that'll persuade 'em to let it go. Now escaped, DK is perpetually on the lam, running from the one person talented enough to catch him. Along the way, he'll have plenty of adventures that usually result in mass banana feasts or someone putting comical sunglasses on him, but he'll always need to have one thing in the back of his mind: stop moving for too long, and Mario will throw a giant net over his head.
Yes, Mario made his first animated appearance on Saturday Supercade. His work here wasn't as successful as his later run on The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, but how could it be? He wasn't being introduced by Lou Albano, and he didn't unearth his innate Italian charm till Luigi showed up with plates of rigatoni a while later. There's nothing really Mario-like about him here - he's just a guy, constantly on the trail of a big ape. I'm not sure if he works for the circus or is just freelance bounty hunting, but either way, he sure acts a whole lot different from what we're used to.
It's pretty odd to see Mario in an environment where he can't overcome his obstacles by eating huge mushrooms or spitting fireballs. He seems totally naked without the raccoon suit. Voice-wise, he sounds nothing like what you'd picture. Just a normal guy. A normal guy with a thirteen inch mustache who spends every waking moment hunting a big gorilla. On the plus side, he's not going about this endeavor by himself. The cold, lonely nights on the trail of monkeys are tough to bear, so Mario's taken along his favorite niece, Pauline...
I always thought Mario was trying to save his girlfriend in the game. Would you really go through all that trouble just for one of your nieces? Also: if Pauline is Mario's niece, wouldn't that mean she's Luigi's kid? If so, why isn't he the one jumping over barrels and grabbing bonus umbrellas? Deadbeat dad. No wonder Princess Toadstool picked Mario.
I could never really figure out the show, since by the time Mario and Pauline caught up with Donkey Kong, they seemed to lose interest in bringing him back to the circus. I guess this is because they're going about the hunt on-foot, and the thought of lugging a 600-pound gorilla on their backs for several hundred miles wasn't worth whatever the top circus clown was paying.
The third show on the Supercade was Pitfall Harry. You know, based on Pitfall. I'm not reviewing that one since it brings back too many tormenting memories about falling into the bottomless pits of the Congo. Instead we'll skip it and move on to the Little Orange Ball That Could...
Q*Bert was probably the best show on the Supercade, because it displayed the most effort in transcending the characters into real stories that didn't depend on the same trick over and over again. Ah, who am I kidding? It was the best because Q*Bert wore a jacket with big 'Q' patches on it.
The premise here was that Q*Bert and his friends lived in a town where everything was made up of cubes. Most of the action took place within their school, where they usually ended up at odds with the resident bullies, who happen to be the same guys Q*Bert squares (IT'S A PUN!) off against in the video game. It's neat to see what they came up with based on characters who were literally just a few one-color pixels with zero background. With an almost totally clear drawing board to work from, here's what they conjured up:
Q*Bert himself was what you'd expect - heroic, cute, fuzzy, orange. The only thing I knew about the guy outside of his ability to hop was that he's supposed to speak in a weird dialect that only included syntax symbols and stuff - a Q*Bert storybook I own has him saying things like "#*#**@*@*(!!", with a translation key on the back cover. It was a cool idea, but usually all Q*Bert ended up talking about was how brave he was and how his snout looked like a rolled-up diploma. He took great pride in that for some reason. Fortunately, here he has a better command of our language. To round out the show, they added a bunch of other characters. Only some of them appeared in the game...
The guys and gal pictured above weren't in any of Q*Bert's video games, but they prove that he wasn't the sole survivor of an alien species. "Slick" and "Sam," those small green raindrop fellows who helped him conquer the cube mountains, also appeared on the show. They were basically twins, but Slick wore sunglasses to differentiate himself from the other, more boring green raindrops. For some reason, writing about the Q*Bert cartoon makes you feel like you're trying to impersonate what a mental patient would scribble if handed a paper and pen. I can't even tell if this last paragraph makes any sense at all, but there's really no other way to describe the action. Green raindrops, diploma noses, cubes and more cubes. It sounds way more complicated than it actually plays out.
The enemies were the best part of the show, by far. Coilee was the main villain, a really long purple snake wearing German military fatigues. Not sure if there's a deeper meaning there, but he's seconded by his two main minions, Ugh and Wrong Way. Ugh was a pig, and as far as I can tell, Wrong Way's supposed to be a giant purple testicle. Like Q*Bert, Coilee also had a girlfriend - 'Viper,' the only snake in the world with hair.
The last entry on Saturday Supercade was a little surprising, since I don't think this guy was really all that popular compared to the others. But, since Pac-Man already had a cartoon, I guess they needed to fill things out as best they could. The ugly giant ape paw of nepotism came into play, and we ended up with a cartoon about Donkey Kong's son.
Donkey Kong Jr. was about a monkey's never-ending search for his father. Since Donkey Kong's on the run from Mario and the circus, his son can't seem to find him. He hasn't given up hope, and just keeps on truckin', hopeful that one day his adventures will lead him right into the arms of Proud Papa Ape.
Oddly, DK's son is a lot smarter than he is. He speaks perfect English, actually better than any human character on the Supercade, and doesn't have anyone trying to throw him in cages. This is partly because he's a better dresser than his dad and can't be locked up on an indecent exposure charge, but mostly because he's got a friend named 'Bones' to protect him. Together, they pass the time by taking odd jobs while trying to locate Donkey Kong, Sr. Basic, but fun.
Saturday Supercade didn't feature any great stories or intense drama, but since the target age demographic was 4-7, it didn't need to. This was the era of simple, good-natured cartoons that didn't promote violence or anything else that'd get bored housewives and people in need of a political campaign up in arms. Few would have the Supercade in their number one spot for 'favorite childhood show,' but you'll be hardpressed to find a program that epitomizes your youth anymore than this. Well, unless you're older or younger than me, in which case my points are completely false and I'm a total idiot. I'm taking a risk with this one.
Not sure where you can find the show nowadays. I don't think it was ever released on a large scale on VHS, and certainly hasn't been put out on DVD. I remember seeing an online petition to get the reruns on television, but that doesn't mean much since I've also seen online petitions that suggest blowing up the moon. If the chance to get this one ever does come your way though, don't miss it. You don't need to have seen it before to get a real big donkey/monkey/frog/orangeball kick out of it.