Welcome back to teneightep.com for a second go-round. I'm excited to be back for another year of retro-gaming goodness. I plan on blowing Season 1 out of the water with all-new content of various kinds and maybe...just maybe...we'll break that five-star mark.
But most importanty for today, welcome to Part 1 of my very first “Christmas” celebration here on the site. Today's post will be the first of two Christmas themed posts. This week, as the title implies, I will be taking a look at Mario and Sonic's renditions of “Christmas specials” by taking a look at the Sonic cartoon “Sonic Christmas Blast” as well as a look at the Super Mario Bros. Super Show episode “Koopa Klaus”.
Now, while this was the only Sonic related Christmas cartoon I could find (and it's not like Sega didn't appreciate Christmas...we'll get to that next time), I had multiple Mario episodes to pick from. However, with the Super Show being arguably the most well-known animated rendition of the Super Mario Bros. as well as both episodes being similar in a set of ways (Robotnik hijacking Christmas for his own gain, King Koopa trying to hijack Christmas for the Grinch-y reason of “he doesn't like it”), I think that makes for the more fair comparison, even with the time gap between episodes.
“Sonic Christmas Blast” was released in 1996 and is widely considered to be the final episode of the “Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog” cartoon, even though that series had already wrapped up beforehand. It was originally titled “An X-Tremely Sonic Christmas”, to coincide with the release of the Sega Saturn title, “Sonic X-treme”. However, a large delay (and eventual cancellation) of the game forced a title change to coincide with the Genesis/Saturn title, "Sonic 3D Blast". Although most of the characters are borrowed from the “Adventures...” cartoon, cameos from Princess Sally (though with no speaking role) and SWATBots from ABC's Saturday morning rendition of “Sonic the Hedgehog” are included.
The episode begins with a town gathered around a television for a major announcement. What appears to be Santa announces his retirement, much to the dismay of the people. Santa also announces that his new replacement will be Robotnik Claus, or Dr. Robotnik in a much-too-small Santa costume. This causes a change in the reason for the season, as Robotnik Claus is now demanding that people bring him gifts and presents, even leading to a scene where Robotnik channels his inner mall Santa and asks kids what they're gonna give him. One particular child decides that it's a smart idea to punch Robotnik Claus in the gut upon hearing this news, and is carried off and taken prisoner by Robotnik cohorts Scratch and Grounder.
Any given frame of Robotnik in these old cartoons always shift between either totally goofy or downright creepy...sometimes both.
Meanwhile, Sonic is meeting up with his best friend Tails after a very brief conversation with Princess Sally. One issue I need to address is whether Sally was supposed to have a line of dialogue in this show or not, as even though she makes a couple of appearances, she never speaks a line of dialogue whatsoever. Regardless, it is somewhat jarring to see a character cross over from another Sonic series, appear to be about to speak, and then the scene just goes on to something else. And it's not done in some clever way to “tease” it, it simply seems like they forgot to clip that part of the cartoon out and just left it there to function as a tease.
Regardless, Tails points out the ring Sonic received last Christmas from Sally which has a special inscription within it, which unless you're some 6 year old kid (which is probably the intended audience for this......tis the problem with a full-grown adult reviewing a cartoon for kids), you know this ring will pretty much be the ex machina that will save Christmas in its darkest hour.
Sonic and Tails arrive at the Robotropolis Mall (not sure I'd go Christmas shopping at the mall of my arch nemesis, but maybe that's just me...some people go to crazy lengths for Christmas shopping). But to Sonic and Tails' dismay, every store he arrives at is literally cleaned out. Sonic is then confronted by the child who was supposed to be imprisoned, but he somehow escaped without any explaination (no time for relaxation...don't worry if you don't get it, I wish I didn't), and explains how Robotnik has taken over Christmas and how they need to convince Santa to change his mind. On cue, Scratch and Grounder arrive to provide unnecessary amounts of exposition (what was the point of showing off the fake robotic Santa?!?) and try to take down Sonic and company but are taken out in short order, as per the “Adventures...” usual.
Gotta admit though, Scratch and Grounder do make for a good duo of bumbling underlings.
Sonic and Tails begin their search for where Santa Claus is being held captive and eventually are able to free him, but with Robotnik still in possession of “every Christmas present in the entire world” (my Blitz 99 machine I asked for every year as a pre-teen must be in there somewhere). However, Santa recognizes the inscription on Sonic's ring and takes him to an ancient cave located conveniently close to where he was held captive and reveals the ring is the key to unlocking “ultimate velocity”. However, Sonic is required to pass three tests of skill, which include the ancient arts of snowboarding down a montain and bicycling through a dangerous forest.
I wonder how Sonic would do in SSX 3
Note to self-Gotta review the SSX games at some point...
Sonic passes these tests despite interference from Scratch and Grounder, but again the fear is that it's all too little too late, as it's almost Christmas and they still need to obtain all of Robotnik's presents and distribute them throughout the world. But Sonic still gives it a try anyway, and using his new “ultimate velocity”, is able to obtain the stolen presents as well as Robotnik Claus' suit without any explaination (no time for relaxat...sorry) and deliver them all across Mobius. The episode ends with Santa being so impressed that he legitimately announces his retirement and hands the mantle of “Santa Claus” over to Sonic the Hedgehog.
In the end, this episode is quite the throwaway, and I hate to think that this was the big sendoff of the “Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog” series. While some discount it as goofy and not very serious, it always seemed more authentic to Sonic than the ABC Saturday morning series that I always thought tried way too hard to make something fun seem “dark” and serious. While giving Jaleel White a decent sendoff (for the time being) as Sonic as well as the legendary Long John Baldry (who will always be the definitive voice of Dr. Robotnik to me), they tried to jam too much into this and sometimes the exposition goes beyond just exposition and turns into a convenience to the plot. If the kid doesn't free himself (which makes me question the point of the mall santa scene) and Scratch and Grounder didn't wanna brag about the fake Santa, the next steps don't happen. I know I'm looking critically at a cartoon made for kids, but I feel there's no excuse for a lack of logic or reason, even by dumb characters. Overall, it's not HORRIBLE, but I'm fine with the episode being limited to a small handful of TV appearances and a small VHS/DVD release.
The “Koopa Klaus” episode of "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show" was ran halfway through the first and only season of the Super Show, which ran for 65 episodes. On Fridays, a Legend of Zelda cartoon would play in place of a Mario one, making for 52 Mario episodes to 13 Zelda ones. While many people still give guff at the Mario cartoon (and the following SMB3 and World cartoon series), the Zelda cartoon has gained a decent cult following for being an alright adaptation of the Legend of Zelda game, including an alright rendition of Ganon and a brave and powerful Princess Zelda the likes of which would pretty much not be seen in the videogames until arguably "The Legend of Zelda; Wind Waker" on the GameCube. However, this all comes at the cost of a Link character that likes to deliver one-liners and mack on Zelda whenever he gets a chance, a far cry from the symbol of bravery and strength the games cast him in.
Another questionable aspect of this show pertains to the live-action segment for this particular episode. The Super Mario Bros. Super Show had segments shot in a studio with professional wrestler Captain Lou Albano playing Mario and Danny Wells playing Luigi. Personally, I find these segments to at least be fun to watch, though my former love for pro wrestling (of which Captain Lou is rightfully considered a legend in large part to his talking/promo ability) might have a hand in it. I find them decently entertaining, assuming you don't take portrayals of Mario and his universe very seriously.
But the live-action segment in this episode has nothing to do with Christmas, instead focusing on a child who has ran away from home that ends on a rather immoral message with the kid realizing his parents "will have more fun without him", and he can't have that (though Mario and Luigi clearly show a willingness to just take the win, as he is heading home all the same). I'll leave my discussion of this segment to a minimum for that reason. But I will say that I find most of these live segments to be pretty interesting to watch, if even just to sate curiosity. It's fun to see how Nintendo imagined Mario before they would establish a real “Mario” with a voice and distinct attitude from Super Mario 64 onwards. Though the idea of Captain Lou at this point in his life being acrobatic and powerful enough to topple Bowser and his minions is comical.
What's truly odd about using a non-Christmas segment with the Christmas cartoon is that in an episode near the end of the season, there is a live-action segment where Santa (under a disguise) visits Mario Bros. Plumbing and the Mario Bros. are constantly questioning whether it's Santa Claus or not. This episode would be tied into a Mario cartoon that had zero to do with Christmas whatsoever, and actually ran at the end of November, when Christmas specials first begin popping up. Why they would run a Christmas-themed cartoon (which takes up the majority of the run-time) outside of the Holiday season and then run a Christmas-themed live-action segment during the Holiday season baffles me. The stories between the two segments don't cross over each other, one doesn't affect the outcome of the other, so the decision is totally baffling.
On one hand, Robotnik Claus had pants, but Koopa Klaus' outfit actually fits him. So, I'm conflicted.
But let's get back to the actual episode itself here. Similar to “Sonic's Christmas Blast”, the story begins with King Koopa (not Bowser, which might be a source of irritation for Mario fans) having captured Santa Claus. However, Bowser's plan turns into simply busting up all of the toys in Santa's workshop. He rants about his hatred of Christmas with such thought-provoking dialogue as “I hate gifts”, “I hate Christmas”, and “Bah Humkoop”. Tryclyde, a SMB2 boss, appears in...what I guess is supposed to be a reindeer costume...my first thought was it was a tricycle considering the name. The decorations look like tricycle handles. The scene ends with Koopa taking off in a sleigh.
Where's this Mario outfit in Odyssey?
Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Peach arrive in the North Pole, believing they were on the path to “Hawaii Land”. The fact they popped up out of the ground at random (no pipe or anything) makes this scene channel an old Bugs Bunny “left turn at Albuquerque”, just not as well executed. Toad remarks that while they're there, they should go visit Santa, leaving Mario and company to wonder if that was Toad's plan from the start of the vacation as he was the one with the map. However, with it being so close to Christmas, Princess Toadstool (as with Bowser, deviating from the “Peach” name from the games). On the way to Santa's Workshop, all Toad can think about is receiving presents and wondering what Santa will have for him. The Princess decides to give him an early gift, a snowboard, and Toad begins playing with it.
Suddenly, Koopa Klaus arrives and begins attacking the gang with a flurry of Bob-ombs. Everyone is able to dodge the attack, except for Toad, whose wrecks on his snowboard and demeans Koopa Klaus for possibly damaging his new gift, completely ignoring the safety of Mario, Lougi and the Princess, much to their dismay. They figure Koopa is heading towards Santa's Workshop (which makes the start of the episode somewhat confusing, since he already possessed a large amount of Santa's toys within a workshop of some kind). Upon arriving, they find the Workshop is frozen solid from an Ice Bomb barrage (guess we're in “Bomberman Hero” now...hmmm...I might get around to reviewing that one) and Koopa already riding off with a captive Santa in tow. The crew vows to save Santa, though again, Toad is more concerned about him never receiving presents again than for Santa's own safety or for other people who wouldn't receive presents either. This makes about 3 or 4 examples of Toad's selfishness that I've kept tabs on, and if you haven't figured it out yet, this will add up to a pivotal moment later.
Selfish freakin' Toad
Before Koopa is able to escape, Mario and Luigi are able to use some of the tools within the workshop to knock Koopa and Santa from the sleigh. Koopa is able to float down using an empty bag as a parachute, while holding on to Santa. Koopa is able to bring Santa to a nearby cave, and the Mario Bros. follow suit. Upon remarking on how dark the cave is (with Peach delivering one of the sappiest lines in cartoon history about how “dark the world will be without Christmas”), they make it to the end of the cave and end up stumbling into a snowbank out the other end of the cave. Koopa emerges from the cave and threatens to drop Santa into a lake of water below.
The Princess tries to make amends with Koopa and his desire to ruin Christmas. Koopa loudly proclaims Christmas as a “Bah Humkoop” which causes an avalanche. Mario tells the crew to run for the cave and that he'll try to save Santa using his plumber's snake. I'm not sure if this was a common, show-exclusive element to the show or if it was limited to this episode. I just find it interesting how much these cartoons used to play up Mario as a “plumber”, whereas the games just use subtle nods and winks to the profession. Mario uses the plumber's snake as a lasso and is able to get Santa away from the avalanche. Koopa is left to plunge into the water to avoid the avalanche. He climbs up onto an iceberg in the lake, inhabited by an angry polar bear.
Safely back at Santa's Workshop, the crew is left to lament the fact that the workshop is still frozen and it seems as if Christmas is ruined. Toad doesn't seem phased as he already had received his snowboard gift from before. Peach then reminds Toad that nobody else will receive their present this year (even though Santa didn't actually give Toad the snowboard). Toad then gives Santa the snowboard, so he'll have at least one present to give. In the one moment that bothered me most in this episode, Santa proclaims he's never seen anyone exemplify the Christmas spirit better than Toad, even though all the way up until LITERALLY a moment ago, Toad had been the raw spirit of selfishness given life, not even caring about the well-being of other people in light of his snowboard.
Toad realizes he might not get any more gifts in the future and decides he better make nice with Santa over Christmas being ruined......makes as much sense as what really happens in this episode.
So of course, this causes “the spirit of Christmas” to “touch everything” and melt the ice in Santa's workshop, thus saving Christmas. The episode ends with them loading the sleigh up, with Mario and crew going along with Santa to help deliver gifts, and Santa wishing everyone a “Mario Christmas”.
Ignoring all the animation glitches throughout the cartoon (of which this series is infamous for), the writing of this episode totally kills me. Credit is due (I guess) for trying to milk the emotions of Christmas and the fear of “not having one” a little more than the Sonic cartoon did. But Toad saving the season by his spirit of last-second unselfishness just seems like a copout. I can't stand “on/off switch” changes of heart with no leadup or progressive change. Toad is selfish all the way up to the end, then just “isn't”.
So anyway, that's my look at these two Christmas specials. And at least in this battle, I have to give the nod to Sonic. Though neither one of these cartoons are worth a view beyond mere curiousity, the Sonic cartoon is the better animated and better written show in my opinion. I also liked Robotnik's plan to essentially hijack Christmas for himself as opposed to simply “ruining Christmas”. Even then, I'd still put them both on a tier of viewing one time, then calling it done. I'm in no hurry to make either of these toons a family tradition.
So, in this war of Christmas cartoon attrition, Sonic gets the W.
This is only part 1 of my Christmas celebration. Come back on Monday, December 18th as I take a look at the Sega Saturn anomaly “Christmas Nights”. See ya next time!