By now, you’ve probably heard about the recently-announced Thundercats reboot, Thundercats Roar. If you first heard about it from me, I’m sorry. And if you grew up on the first Thundercats cartoon, I’m sorry again for what happened to it.
I did not edit this.
Seeing this travesty spurred me into making a list of the five worst revisions in the history of media, because this kind of thing really isn’t anything new. It’s a little early for Thundercats Roar to make the list, but I suspect that it would easily make an updated list of the six worst revisions in the history of media.
#5 The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
The year 2000 was among the most optimistic in the history of video games. At that point, we already had Sega’s Dreamcast, and it was in that year that Sony would release its PS2. Even Microsoft wanted to get into console gaming, which it eventually would with its Xbox system. Naturally, everyone was waiting to see what Nintendo would bring, and when they revealed their Gamecube at Spaceworld 2000, they didn’t disappoint. Not only did they show their system, they also showed a short montage of game clips to demonstrate what their system was capable of.
If you’re wondering what Spaceworld was, that was Nintendo’s own tradeshow where they marketed their own upcoming products.
You can watch the demo for yourself here, but just be warned that you might want to have your volume down:
It might not look like much by today’s standards, but at the time, it was proof that the future of gaming was going to be bright. What caught everyone’s attention in particular was this gem:
At that time, I was only just starting to get into Zelda. But if that’s what The Legend of Zelda was going to look like on Gamecube, then as far as I was concerned, Nintendo had more than earned my money. I knew that I had to get a Gamecube on launch day so I’d be ready to play that game hardcore. And that’s exactly what I did.
Then, the following Spaceworld, Nintendo showed gameplay footage for Zelda on Gamecube. And it looked substantially different compared to what we had been shown the previous year. Substantially different.
Photo from IGN, as though the watermark didn’t already say it.
When I first saw how The Wind Waker was going to look, I thought someone was playing a joke on me. But then, when I found out that this was how the next Zelda was really going to look, I felt betrayed.
After a little while, I decided that I was going to give it a chance. As it turned out, The Wind Waker was a pretty good game. In fact, it was among the best in the series. Too bad most gamers wouldn’t know, considering that humans are pretty superficial creatures. But can you really blame them for thinking something was going to be low quality because it looked low quality?
Nintendo really shot themselves in the foot with The Wind Waker’s artistic direction, considering that The Legend of Zelda was one game that people were looking forward to playing on Gamecube, and people had a certain image that they associated with The Legend of Zelda. Tampering with an established work can have the effect of alienating an established base, and companies can’t really count on being able to replace the existing fanbase with a new one. But, for that matter, why would they want to?
People buy Nintendo systems to play the games Nintendo makes. And if Nintendo stops taking their own products seriously, then gamers move on to something else. The radical artistic direction of The Wind Waker came at a terrible time for Nintendo, as it came early enough in the Gamecube’s life cycle that many gamers were still on the fence as to whether to buy one. Many gamers jumped ship in response to seeing how Nintendo was treating The Legend of Zelda, effectively turning that time in gaming into one where just about everyone and their dog owned a PS2.
Eventually, Gamecube would see a Zelda game in the style that gamers were familiar with in Twilight Princess, but by that time, the damage had been done. Sometimes, all that’s needed to make a successful game console isn’t to have the most capable hardware, but for your greatest competitor to make the biggest misstep with their own product.
#4 SD Gundam Force
If you know about anime and somehow don’t know about Gundam, please tell me how you did it. Gundam is one of the most popular and well-known anime in history, and certainly the most famous of giant mecha anime. Numerous spinoffs came about due to Gundam’s influence, even if it was far from the first mecha anime.
In fact, mecha anime were huge in Japan during WW2, when the appeal of overcoming a powerful adversary while piloting a giant machine was easy to understand. When the Gundam franchise rose to prominence, it would come to bear some massive cultural significance. Even American audiences were captivated by Gundam.
It certainly helped that Gundam was appealing on so many levels. It had the fantastic elements of space battles with giant robots, but it also had well-developed human characters and excellently-written story arcs with commentary on the costs of war.
So, what’s the most appropriate way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of an anime known for mature themes and taking its audience seriously? How about some cheap chibi CG slapstick?
If you thought that that’s a terrible idea, you’re not alone. I did too. But it’s not like anyone behind SD Gundam Force so much cared what anyone who liked anime thought of their show as much as they acted on the understanding that they had millions of die-hard fans that would buy anything they pumped out with the Gundam name, even if the product was rectal waft.
Twenty-five years of a space opera with giant robots and mature themes? Make way for some boy in a suburb and his robot friend. I know that the Japanese are in love with cute stuff, but there are some things that you just don’t mess with.
I’d have more to say about this show, but I was never really seriously into Gundam. That this show aired when I was considering it likely had something to do with that.
#3 Toonami: TOM 4.0
The Toonami programming block may not have been a show or a video game per se, but it was still pretty cool because it had its own host with a backstory. Originally, Toonami was hosted by Moltar, a former villain from Space Ghost. Eventually, Moltar would hand Toonami off to TOM, who would host the programming block from then on.
I thought TOM was pretty cool. He, along with SARA, ran the Absolution, a space vessel from which the Toonami block was broadcast. TOM immediately appealed to me, considering that it was one of my childhood dreams to broadcast my own pirate radio station (though the legality of going about it may have been a prohibiting factor). Not only that, I appreciated his somewhat sardonic tone and emphasis on heroism, which made him a dynamic and interesting character.
While the Toonami block mainly focused on anime, TOM sometimes reviewed video games. While it might not have been the main focus of Toonami, TOM’s interest in video games did flesh out his character in a way that worked surprisingly well. By indicating his preferences and how they extended beyond his career, the character of TOM became more relatable.
And it gets better, still. Not content to just sit down and throw his commentary out there, he sometimes had interactive adventures that viewers can influence the outcome of by participating in online games, as was the case for a “total immersion event” called “The Intruder”, which actually saw the destruction of part of the Absolution, and of the old TOM, necessitating his transfer to a new body.
That’s right, fan participation had a lasting effect on the history of TOM and Toonami, and it was entirely possible for participants to goof it up and have TOM pay the price. We had an effect on TOM’s character, and it made the stakes of these total immersion events even higher.
So, imagine how excited I was to learn in 2007 that TOM was going to undergo another redesign, independent of any total immersion event. Each revision of TOM became cooler than the last, and the same could be said of SARA and the Absolution. But it wasn’t until it aired that I found out what would become of TOM:
I wasn’t happy.
I could tell you what’s wrong with this picture, but you see it. TOM’s mysterious appeal was taken away by removing his helmet. For some reason, his neck was a couple wire harness tubes that came out of his two shoulders, and somehow supported the weight of his head. Also, everything else about the new TOM looked ridiculous.
Worse yet, we didn’t get any back story about why TOM looked like this. That’s just how he showed up one day, with SARA gone, the Absolution gone, with a bunch of weird robots broadcasting from the surface of some planet. Being left to fill in the blanks, I would have guessed that TOM had an epic battle against an evil vacuum cleaner that sucked out coolness, and TOM lost pretty hard.
Fans referred to this new TOM as TOM 4.0, but it was my guess that this was how TOM looked in the distant past, meaning this new TOM wouldn’t supercede TOM 3.0 in the in-universe narrative. It was my own head-canon for his appearance, which was what I could manage without any official explanation. He was also referred to as Thomas the Tank Engine.
Even sadder still, this TOM 4.0 was the one that gave us the send-off when the Toonami block finally came to an end. TOM’s farewell speech was moving…
…To the point that I was willing to remember him for being the hero he was before, not the caricature he ended up becoming.
Eventually, Cartoon Network did make things right by bringing TOM back as TOM 3.5 on Adult Swim, and we’re currently up to TOM 5.0 on a resurrected Toonami. And it’s great to have him back.
Let the good times roll.
#2 Metroid Prime Federation Force
The Metroid franchise has historically had an excellent image. For years, the main character Samus wouldn’t so much as make a cameo appearance in a game that wasn’t excellent. In fact, the Metroid franchise is a great case study in building on the original source material. The first game was called “Metroid”, which was short for “Metro Android”, so a player could have assumed that the game was about a robot navigating an abandoned subway system. So imagine the surprise of players around the world when it was discovered that Samus was actually a woman in a power suit.
Sex discrimination in video games means choosing to play as a strong woman.
When you think of strong, independent women in video games, who do you think of first? Many gamers say Lara Croft, but Lara is about as fanservicey as it gets. On the other hand, you see Samus kicking butt, and because she wears a full-body power suit, her appearance won’t be a distraction and her deeds speak for her.
When we found out that Metroid would be a first-person shooter made by an American company (Retro Studios), we were skeptical. But not only did Metroid Prime turn out great, it went beyond expectations.
Things started to go downhill when Nintendo teamed up with Team Ninja to deliver Metroid: Other M. Other M did a lot to flesh out the character of Samus, and what we discovered was that our imaginations were far kinder to Samus than those who wrote for her. Not only that, Other M was plagued by a number of flaws. While it was okay for a video game, it was far below what many of us considered a Metroid game. Nintendo blamed Team Ninja for how the game turned out, and Team Ninja blamed Nintendo. In any case, it seemed like Nintendo thought that players weren’t interested in a new Metroid game, because we wouldn’t see another for a while.
And when we did, we thought that Nintendo lost their minds.
When Metroid Prime Federation Force was announced, I was not happy, and I was quite vocal about it.
And, without question, I was right to be upset. After all, when the Metroid franchise has been built a certain way and with a certain image, that’s what an experienced Metroid player comes to expect from it. Metroid games starred Samus as the main character, who independently explored alien landscapes and space stations, and found that the titular metroids were somehow involved.
So then, interested in a Metroid game where Samus is put aside? No? Well, how about if it starred some faceless, personality-free Federation troopers? Still no? Well how about if we make it a mission-based affair with emphasis on multiplayer, because we all know how well that worked out for Metroid Prime 2? Still not interested? Well how about we make it a low-polygon atrocity done in the chibi art style? Why does it seem like you’re having a stroke?
I honestly have no idea how Metroid Prime Federation Force made it all the way to production without having the vast majority of the people involved calling it a stupid idea that totally should never have been considered, or how it happened to a franchise that is otherwise known for exceptional quality. What I do know is that the game was intended to stoke interest in the upcoming Metroid Prime 4.
If anyone from Nintendo is reading this, I hope you’ve discovered by now that this is not how you do it.
Finding this game’s connection to Metroid Prime 4 can’t be done unless players make it all the way to a secret ending, where Sylux sneaks onto a Federation facility and hatches a Metroid egg. We didn’t need an entire game to build up to that, and that game didn’t have to be terrible.
Now you don’t have to play the game.
Eventually, I decided to give this game a try, several months after it was released, after finding it on clearance at Gamestop. Even going in with lowered expectations, I was still disappointed. It’s almost as though the developers knew that everyone decided that they were going to hate their game before it was even released, and they gave up trying.
That would have been a pretty solid choice if it came with the decision not to release the game at all. But they did, and it stands as a stain on one of the finest franchises in gaming.
We got this far on the list. But before getting to number one, let’s get some dishonorable mentions out of the way.
Dishonorable mention: Tom & Jerry Kids Show
The original Tom and Jerry was intended for kids already, so one can wonder what the idea was behind making the Tom & Jerry Kids Show. Until you realize that this show was born in a marketing meeting in an attempt to make an old franchise appeal to a younger audience, replacing an audience that was seen as losing interest in it.
Here’s an idea for cartoon execs: If you think kids aren’t interested in Tom and Jerry anymore, just make a different cartoon.
Dishonorable Mention: A Pup Named Scooby-Doo
Another attempt at revising an old franchise to make it more palatable for a younger audience. The biggest problem in this case was that Scooby-Doo was never interesting.
Okay, we’re on to number one. You probably already know what it is.
#1 Teen Titans Go!
I admit that when Teen Titans aired on Cartoon Network in the mid-2000s, I was a bit skeptical. I saw its artistic direction as being a little odd. But when I gave it a chance, it grew on me. Not only did these superheroes kick some butt, as you would expect, but seeing how these character’s personalities interacted with each other when they weren’t fighting conveyed strong characterization which made the action scenes seem like there was even more at stake.
What a great cartoon looks like.
The balance of conflict, drama, and levity was just right. The result was one of the best superhero shows that I’ve ever seen, right up there with Batman: the Animated Series. If you haven’t seen the Teen Titans cartoon from the mid-2000s, you’re missing out!
When fans found out that the Teen Titans were making a comeback, they were excited. Then they found out what they were doing with them.
Someone out there got rich by ruining your favorite brand.
Heh, that’s a good one. Now, show us the real one.
Wait… That’s the real Teen Titans Go? That’s what they’re really going with? How… How did this happen?
The team behind Teen Titans Go is fully aware that legions of Teen Titans fans hate the product that they produce. While you’d imagine that this would be followed by profuse apologies, it’s instead the explanation for numerous episodes that take passive-aggressive jabs towards fans of the previous Teen Titans show. When you criticize them, you’re only adding fuel to the dumpster fire.
Contrary to our own better judgement, Teen Titans Go actually became Cartoon Network’s highest-rated cartoon. This would seem an anomaly until you realize that CN pretty much dumped Teen Titans Go onto every available time slot in the US, and ran frequent marathons of it. This might seem counterproductive, but the low production values of TTG indicates low production cost, which makes it low risk programming that benefits from the strength of brand recognition. Which also does a lot to explain the new Thundercats cartoon.
You can complain to CN, but it’s not going to do any good. Cartoon Network isn’t going to care what you think unless you buy their toys. What’s that? You don’t want to reward mediocrity? Then you’re not the target audience.
And who is the target audience? Kids. And that’s a problem. Cartoon Network is feeding into the notion that it’s acceptable to present children with inferior products. While this is used as an excuse to coast along with a minimum of effort, it backfires in the long run by the principle that you reap what you sow.
Children weaned on inferior products think it’s acceptable to produce inferior products. For examples, look up children’s artwork.
Bad children’s artwork (from Pixshark.com)
Have you ever seen children’s artwork that actually looked good? Me neither. And there’s a reason why this happens: because children have a terrible cultural frame of reference. They see adults producing terrible artwork, so they think it’s okay for their own artwork to be terrible, as well.
Bad grown-up artwork, presented unedited
Cartoonists, step it up. If children are drawing better than you, it’s time to consider doing something else for a living.