So you might have heard that a Cuphead animated show is currently in the works. I don’t have the highest hopes for the quality of that show, but it did get me thinking about video games that could actually work pretty well as animated TV shows, or even just as short web series.
And since I’ve been playing a lot of stuff on the Switch recently, I decided to whip up a list of games that I think would translate well to animation.
None of these games are exclusive to the Switch, that’s just the platform where I experienced them. I also wanted to note that I tried to keep a few things in mind when narrowing down the list.
Probably the single biggest factor was the strength of the art direction in each game. But I also considered potential audiences and animation styles, and as such, I’ll be making a lot of comparisons to pre-existing animated shows.
Another interesting question has to do with pixel graphics. A good number of these games use pixel graphics, and I’m honestly not sure whether it’s feasible or desirable to continue using pixel graphics in a television adaptation, but for the record, I think each one would work just fine as a show, regardless of that specific choice.
Have there been any animated TV shows that used pixel art? All I can think of is old Dorkly videos or brief sequences in traditional hand drawn shows.
But all that thinkin is for later. Lets get right to this borderline click bait content.
#8 Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy definitely isn’t the most creative choice. For one, the game already looks like a cartoon from the mid-2000s.
It also has fun, short animated sequences throughout that all have a basic hero-villain dynamic.
To me, a Super Meat Boy show feels like it would appeal to people who like Invader Zim, Popeye, and Ed, Edd, and Eddie.
That’s mostly because Edmund McMillan, the guy behind Super Meat Boy and Binding of Isaac, seems to really like simple visual humor and an aesthetic that combines cute and slightly disgusting imagery.
The show doesn’t even need to have dialogue. Let the visual gags do the work.
For people who liked:
-Ed Edd and Eddie
Here’s something I realized while putting together this list: certain game genres seem to fit the TV format better than others, and roguelikes fit TV show structure extremely well.
Like TV shows, roguelikes and roguelites are essentially episodic. There’s variation in each run, i.e. each episode, but everything inevitably returns to a status quo, just like a lot of animated shows.
There are gonna be a good few roguelikes on this list, and the first is Atomicrops.
It’s a twin-stick roguelike where you defend your crops from fanciful monsters.
With enough resources, you can buy elaborate upgrades and even get married.
The game doesn’t have much of a story, so the show would be starting from scratch in that department, but one of the most appealing aspects is the visuals, specifically the character designs.
These character designs do a great job of implying character and depth without actually giving us any of that.
But this would need to be a show with, A, dialogue, and B, an ensemble cast. Rather than just telling the story of a single farmer trying to fend off baddies, you could make the show about the entire town. That way, we can get some fun character dynamics and a variety of settings and situations, rather than just a repeated conflict on a single farm.
When I was trying to think of equivalent shows, I went with Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Obviously, the subject matter is different, but Foster’s did a great job of having all these creative character designs that made up an ensemble cast, and they still got to go on big adventures, even though everything eventually tied back to the home.
Next up is another roguelike: Hades. Even though this game uses Greek mythology as a foundation, Hades itself has gotten so doggone popular that I could absolutely see a streaming service greenlighting a Hades series.
In fact, I think a Hades show could serve the audience that was super excited to watch Blood of Zeus. In fact, in my review of Blood of Zeus, I talked about how Hades did a much better job of making genuine and likable characters out of dusty old myths.
As for the premise, I think our characters could travel outside of the underworld. There could be adventures just on Earth or up on Mt. Olympus. Zagreus is clever and funny, and I could easily see the showrunners adding some buddies who can come along for the ride, Teen Titans-style. Maybe Sisyphus could be like the sidekick, and Megara comes along against her will but warms up to the group over time.
Overall, this is an easy pick. There’s already so much to like about this property.
The idea behind this game is that you run an item shop in a town where almost everyone is an adventurer. They come to you for monster-killing supplies, but at night, you go on your own adventures, fighting guys and gathering items to sell to people the next day.
The setting isn’t the most original. It’s a vague adventure game backdrop with dungeons and monsters and supernatural mysteries.
But it has enough of a conceptual twist that you can start imagining interesting scenarios and character development.
For some reason, I’ve been envisioning this one as an anime. I don’t know if that idea will make sense to everyone, but it makes a lot of sense to me.
There are just so many anime shows that focus on a whole bunch of people who do the same thing. There’s a show about schoolkids who are really good at cooking. There’s a show about schoolkids who are really good at ping pong. There’s a show about schoolkids who really like bread, and another one about kids who really like to gamble, and one about kids who play music as CG chibi animals.
This one could really immerse us in the intricacies of dungeon crawling. There’s tons of room for lore and needlessly complicated details about what makes a good dungeon crawler. I’d be into it.
#4 Any Steamworld Game
It took me a very long time to play any of the Steamworld games, and it took even longer to realize that the studio has been cranking these out, all within the same universe, and across many different genres.
In other words, they’ve already done a ton of worldbuilding, which would make it real easy to set up a few good characters and a solid premise.
My comparison here is to something like Atlantis, the Disney movie. You’ve got the steampunk tech, obviously, but also different specializations for different characters. Oh yeah, and the underground exploration aspect is a pretty strong tie, too.
#3 A Hat in Time
A Hat in Time feels like a good pick to me because, in my eyes, a lot of this game reminded me of some of my favorite animated shows or even just live-action kids’ shows from back in the day.
In tone, it reminds me of Rugrats or Codename: Kids Next Door. But it also just has tons of crazy kid energy. It really captures the fun of being a kid.
So while I picture a Hat in Time show appealing more to younger kids, I think older audiences would still recognize the purity of showing a kid going on wish-fulfillment adventures.
#2 Going Under
Ok, so this one … I do really think it would make a great show, but I also just wanted to talk about it again.
I love Going Under very much, and I don’t see it brought up very often. You play as a young woman who just got hired as an intern at a startup. Part of your job includes fighting the monsterfied former employees of the failed startups that have sunk underground.
It’s a fun roguelike, but it’s also colorful and fun and funny, and, most importantly, it tries pretty hard to critique startup culture and toxic workplaces. I think that angle would be incredibly interesting in the context of an animated show.
Television is no stranger to workplace comedies and satires, but I can’t think of an animated one of these, outside of Dilbert.
But Going Under has a much darker sense of humor, as well as a fun, pop art style. If everyone’s so in love with Midnight Gospel for its art, imagine a should that looks just as good or better, but with actual storylines and characters.
Sign me up. I will fund this project with my personal penny collection. Can we make a game for 32 cents?
My number one pick for Switch games that should probably just be animated TV shows already is Flinthook, from Tribute Games.
It’s a good game. That’s the first part of my argument. It’s a very good game about a ghost-space-bounty hunter-pirate with a super cool grappling hook who raids space-pirate ships to grab loot and track down bounties.
This is another game where the studio has already done a lot of work on worldbuilding and lore, and Flinthook’s lore is such a fun mix of sci-fi, pirate stories (does that genre have a name?), and a weird kind of retrofuturism?
And just look at some of these character designs? I would gladly purchase a stuffed animal version of every one of these. Or like a pin. Or a sticker. Or a cutting board. I haven’t been able to find much Flinthook merchandise. I got a poster but I’m ready for more.
The show. The show would be a mix of Phineas and Ferb and Treasure Planet. The stakes would be somewhere in between. Just lots and lots of fun space outlaw adventures. I think even Firefly could serve as some kind of tonal guideline.
Actually, one of the reasons I checked out Midnight Gospel when it came out was because I thought we were going to get fun space adventures, and we didn’t, and ever since I’ve been hankering for some fun, relatively low-stakes sci-fi. If anyone would like to help me animate a fun sci-fi cartoon, feel free to reach out.
But in the meantime, I will continue to dream about the Flinthook show that will never, ever happen.
So that’s the end of the list, but while I was recording, I thought of a mildly interesting point.
Along with a lot of other critics and internet people, I’ve complained about how Hollywood and mainstream TV doesn’t really seem that interested in creating new, original properties, instead choosing to drag out literally any IP with even a vague amount of name recognition. And I stand by that. I’m not into it. I think collective creative stagnation could signal some much larger problems.
But. Adapting video games into shows, especially animated shows, just seems like a super easy fix. Production studios don’t want to come up with brand new ideas from scratch? No problem. The indie game scene has been doing that for years now, and just as an aside, let’s see how many of the games on this list came from AAA studios. ( )
This other industry is consistently introducing new, compelling fictional worlds and characters. Just use those. Streaming services have the money to fund these animated projects, game studios would flip at the chance to have this level of mainstream promotion, and audiences will get stories that feel fresh, which they can still enjoy even if they never touch the game.
I don’t have a lot of faith in giant video game movies, and that’s another topic, but I’m seeing so many indie games that put creativity first, and I think all that creativity meshes incredibly well with animation.
To me, that’s what animation is all about: creating visuals and atmospheres that aren’t possible in live-action.
Annnnnd. That’s it. I’m gonna do the YouTuber thing where I ask you what you thought, but just because I’m actually interested in hearing. Leave a comment with a whole list or a specific game or tell me that I can totally pull off a baseball cap.