It’s the late 1980s. The video game industry crash is now a faded memory, almost entirely thanks to one company, the Japanese juggernaut that was the Nintendo Company Ltd. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was a game changer for the world of video games, providing high quality gaming experiences while also preventing unregulated third parties from making ‘low quality’ games.
It was also thanks to Jumpman, who would later become known as ‘Mario’. Nintendo’s mascot had starred in a number of games before 1983’s Mario Bros. The franchise would receive international acclaim, however, with 1986’s Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros 2. The success would see Mario catapulted to an international star, with Mario becoming almost as recognisable as Mickey Mouse.
With Mario and Nintendo’s ongoing success, the company aimed to move into new markets, genres and media. Nintendo teamed up with 80s animation giant DIC Entertainment to make a number of shows based upon Nintendo properties. The Super Mario Bros Super Show! and Captain N: The Game Master were both huge successes, but there was one Nintendo property that failed the transition from game to cartoon.
The Legend of Zelda debuted in September 1989, the same month as both Super Mario Bros Super Show! and Captain N, but didn’t manage the same success. With the Super Show! managing 65 episodes and Captain N running for a total of three seasons, The Legend of Zelda managed only 13 episodes during its run. While the Super Show! and Captain N are fondly remembered by 80s kids, The Legend of Zelda cartoon has been all but forgotten, which is a shame.
A quick Google search will reveal that one reason that this cartoon isn’t as well remembered as other Nintendo based saturday morning fare, is that it simply isn’t very good, and well, that may be a point. Its animation is a little janky, voices are off-kilter and it’s far removed from the games overall, at least in terms of theme. But the series didn’t look or sound any worse than either Captain N or the Super Show!, and it was also on par, if not better than some popular 80s cartoons.
One thing that may have put off fans (and non-fans) is the relationship between Link and Zelda. Understandably, DIC attempted to make The Legend of Zelda appeal to kids, so both Link and Zelda appear to be young, possibly mid to late teens. This isn’t necessarily out of place for the characters, but the portrayal certainly is.
While the pair work together, they also appear to be a little antagonistic to one another, which again, isn’t necessarily out of character for the pair, especially after their chemistry in Breath of the Wild (even if Link remains pretty much mute). But the writers of The Legend of Zelda appeared to be attempting to recreate the ’bickering couple’ dynamic seen in much media at the time. The idea that the pair would bicker, argue and appear to dislike one another, while secretly caring for one another.
Sadly, the dynamic never really worked, and came across a little annoying if nothing else. Who can forget that infamous Link sarcastic catchphrase? “Ex-CUSE me, Princess!” is almost as iconic as any line across the franchise.
There is one other potential reason why The Legend of Zelda wasn’t as well remembered as other 80s cartoons, and that is solely down to its genre. By the late 80s, high fantasy cartoons had fallen out of favour. All three of the big hitters had been cancelled by the time of The Legend of Zelda’s cartoon adaptation with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Dungeons and Dragons both ending in 1985, while Thundercats also ended in 1989. Even He-Man abandoned its fantasy setting for a sci-fi themed show when it returned in 1990.
But The Legend of Zelda isn’t a bad cartoon, and you could easily find much worse when chomping down those Fruit Loops in front of the television on a Saturday morning. Kids of the 80s may well have been ‘fantasied out’ by the time Zelda rolled around, and therefore, missed out on a good, if not great, video game adaptation.
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