Cel-shadelicious: Great Cartoony Games

Nintendo consoles have been the home to some of the best cartoon-styled games.

By James Stank. Posted 07/23/2010 15:00 12 Comments     ShareThis

Kirby Super Star Screenshot

Nintendo consoles have been home to their fair share of cartoon-looking titles, from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. These games may be branded as “kiddy” by some, but in reality they are some of the best games you can find. Why does the cartoon look work for Mario and Link? Read on to find out.

Paper Mario

In my opinion, the greatest Nintendo series that features cartoon characters is Paper Mario. Paper Mario games are usually turn-based RPGs, but the latest outing in the series, Super Paper Mario, was an action RPG. The cartoonish look works so well for Mario in the Paper Mario series because he looks exactly as you would expect him to. Wait, let me explain.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door Screenshot

In the original Paper Mario, the idea was to take a picture of Mario drawn on paper and use that as a character. As this character moved and turned back and forth, the paper would flip, reinforcing the idea of Mario as a piece of paper. These ideas got even more fleshed out in the sequel, as Mario can fold into a paper airplane to fly, or roll into a little tube to go underneath doors. Since Mario was going to be a drawing on a sheet of paper, making him look like a cartoon was the way to go. The Paper Mario worlds even have great music, and they’re visually so full of color that you wonder why there hasn’t been a Paper Mario cartoon yet.


Kirby's Dreamland 2 ScreenshotThis series isn’t an offshoot, like the Paper Mario series, but rather a main series in Nintendo’s vast catalog. The Kirby series always has been cartoonish, and Kirby has even had his own cartoon in the past. Of course, this will all get turned on its ear when Kirby comes to life in the world of arts and crafts in Kirby’s Epic Yarn, but let’s look at where he’s been up to now: the fact he had to eat his enemies to take their powers truly seems like something right out of a cartoon.

As with the Paper Mario series, Kirby’s worlds are full of color and excellent music. Kirby is always smiling, whether he is eating or thwarting King Dedede’s plans, which is something you’d expect from a Saturday morning cartoon character. Masahiro Sakurai, Kirby’s creator, wanted him to be pink, but Shigeru Miyamoto wanted him to be yellow. Due to this confusion, when Kirby’s Adventure was released in America, Kirby wasn’t pink or yellow, but white. White really isn’t a good color for a cartoon ball, so Nintendo corrected this mistake in the next Kirby game, where he would be pink for good. The Kirby: Right Back At Ya! tv series was brought to America by 4kids TV, and while it wasn’t great, it was still entertaining to listen to Kirby talk, as he really couldn’t.


Scribblenauts ScreenshotScribblenauts is another example of a great cartoon-styled game. The game was released on DS last year, and has players writing (or typing) the names of items that will then appear to help complete a puzzle or platform action level. For example, if the player needs to get up high, he can write “ladder,” and a cartoon ladder will promptly fall from the sky which can then be used to get you where you need to go. The cartoonish look works so well in this game because it isn’t trying to be realistic. Random items don’t just fall from the sky, so you wouldn’t see that in a real world-styled game. But this is a cartoon world, where anything is possible, and in Scribblenauts, that’s more truer than in most games. It’s almost as if you’re in charge of making your own cartoon, as there are many different ways to beat each level, so many people can come up with different ways of completing a puzzle depending on how they think.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time Screenshot

This Super Nintendo title was a perfect example of what a cartoon game was supposed to be like back in the ‘90s. The game was based on the immensely popular TMNT cartoon, and included almost every character from the series. You could choose between all four turtles, and fight your way through the foot clan all the way up to Shredder himself. Being based on a cartoon, all the humor and over the top action was in place– if a turtle stepped on something sharp, he’d grab his foot and yell, “My toe!” Eating pizza made the turtles invincible, and the game featured remixed tunes from the cartoon series. Who doesn’t remember the TMNT theme?

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

Last, we have The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. This Zelda game broke away from the graphic style that had been in place since Ocarina of Time, instead going for a cel-shaded, cartoonish look. Many Zelda fans were immediately turned off by this artistic decision. After all, they had just seen a video of Link fighting Ganondorf with dark, realistic  graphics at SpaceWorld 2000. Now they were being shown a Link that looked like he came right out of a cartoon.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Screenshot

While there were and still are many Zelda fans who refuse to play Wind Waker, those of us who have played it know that anyone who wouldn’t play because of the game’s graphics were missing out on one of Link’s greatest adventures. Cartoon-styled graphics enabled the Zelda team to do things that it normally wouldn’t have been able to do, like shooting Link out of a cannon. You wouldn’t have seen that in a realistic Zelda, but you’d expect something like that in a cartoon. The look on Link’s face as he was about to be shot out was priceless, as was Tetra’s smile. In all honesty, the cartoony look enabled the characters to have much more personality and be much more likable. It’s debatable, but Wind Waker’s characters probably have more personality than those in Twilight Princess.

Those are only a few of the great games on Nintendo systems that feature cartoon-styled visuals. Don’t ever decide to not play a game based on the designers’ artistic decisions. If you do, you may miss out on plenty of wonderful games, like Paper Mario, Okami, and The Wind Waker. Those are games that you don’t want to miss.

12 Responses to “Cel-shadelicious: Great Cartoony Games”

  • 183 points
    Williaint says...

    SOME people forget that “Zelda” is a “LEGEND”… A fictional tale where you decide what happens.
    The wind Wind Waker is just a tale, from a kids point of view. It made sense to have such cartoony style if you were a kid (children thinking based on what they see in the media, primarily cartoons)
    A similar prospect might have helped in OT, where it migh thave switched from toon-shaded as child to dark/regular as adult (not that I’m suggesting that should have happened, or could with N64’s hardware, though it may have prepared people for WW).
    Zelda 2, and Majora’s Mask had a completely different game styles, but most people loved them anyway. Just like how the DS games look a lot like Wind Waker, but noone seemed to care. Is this the Hype-effect?
    Twighlight princess gave me the greatest sense of the darkness I got from a Link to the past. It has a style more like that for a Teenager Link.
    Skyward Sword’s style seems based a lot on the original game(s).

    Conclusion: I Think My least favorite aspect of WW was it felt too ‘on rails’, even though you were in the middle of the ocean. I was hoping you could take over Pirate ships, drive them… (even just temporarily)… Make people walk the plank; I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one with those kind of dreams.

  • 697 points
    Adam Sorice says...

    Wind Waker is not only one of the most visually unique and creative games in all of Nintendo’s history but it definitely has to be one of my favourites. The cel shaded graphics breathed such freshness into the gameplay and the world just felt so exciting and immersive and endearing.

    It’s one of those things that touches you so much that you lose a degree of verbal dexterity. I’m just gushing but the cel shaded graphics made Wind Waker. I want to go for a sail now, daaaamn.

  • 678 points
    amishpyrate says...

    i’ve loved kirby since kirby’s adventure for nes (didn’t have a gameboy in time for kirby’s dreamland). Point is, why do they keep messing with his formula…. I could understand if they made 20 kirby games a year like mario.

  • 441 points
    Terr says...

    Cel Shading makes me smile. I love it so!

  • 678 points
    amishpyrate says...

    Sega created cel shading for jet set radio. You know back when they made good games. lol, they claimed it could only be done on the dreamcast.

  • 135 points
    juno2023 says...

    Great games, but I’m still missing the Viewtiful Joe!

  • 0 points
    MBone says...

    Ummmmmmn didn’t Link get shot out of a cannon in Twilight Princess o_O?

  • 393 points
    James Stank says...

    Yep! Sorry I forgot about that one, I haven’t played that game since I beat it in the first week of its release. Thanks for reminding me.

    • 0 points
      MBone says...

      It’s true that TP was not cell-shaded but the art concept for it was highly stylized. It still fit in a “cartoony” world (Falbi anyone?) were those types of shenanigans were possible. I think that is one reason the series has lasted so long as it doesn’t take itself too serious and the cartoon aspect allows for a much more unique and varied game experience that no “realistic” video game would ever offer. Sorry, didn’t mean to call you out on that. Your point is still valid ^_^

  • 0 points

    Down with Photorealism! Cel-shaders unite!!!!!

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