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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Captain N: The Game Master

Saturdays were always a lot of fun growing up.

In many ways, Saturday mornings during my childhood was the best time to be a kid. I didn't have to go to school at all, which given how horrible some of the kids and teachers could be was a reward in itself. More importantly, it allowed me to watch however many cartoons I desired. Because I grew up during the 1980s and early 1990s, there was no shortage of cartoons to choose from.

Now as time passed, and I grew a bit older, my taste for cartoons began to weaken. The mere fact that it happened at a time in which many networks were replacing their cartoon programs with live-action comedies and morning news was merely coincidental.

You see, right around the time I turned nine years old, I had developed a bit of an obsession towards video gaming. I loved playing video games as a kid (and I'll still admit to playing them as an adult, although I'm not nearly as much of a gamer as I used to be). In fact, I'll be the first to admit that as I aged, I would have rather played video games than watched cartoons.

It started off quite slowly at first. Knowing that most cartoon seasons contained thirteen episodes, I knew that around Christmas, we would start seeing reruns. Sometimes I would watch the repeat airing of the cartoon if it was a particularly great episode...but if it wasn't, I'd power up my Nintendo and play some Super Mario Brothers to pass the time. By the time I had gotten my Super Nintendo, I skipped cartoons entirely to play video games.

( know, looking back on it, I suppose its entirely possible that a lot of kids my age thought the same way. And, if it really was the case, where kids would stop watching cartoons to play video games, no wonder networks stopped airing cartoons!)

It's really hard to say what fueled my obsession for Saturday Morning gaming marathons, but if I had to wager a guess, it had to do with a particular Saturday morning cartoon I used to watch as a kid.

In many ways, this cartoon could be considered the ultimate act of product placement. The main characters, the settings, even some of the plot lines were heavily influenced by the dozens of games released by one of the largest video game companies in the world. But when you're a nine year old kid, you don't care about things like that. As long as the show is great, has a lot of action, and characters you can relate to, that's all that mattered. It wasn't my fault that the characters were stars of their own video games.

I imagine some of us have wondered what it might have been like to be a part of a video game. Would we have thrived as the ruler of a world composed of pixels, or would we have had a “GAME OVER” message upon taking just a few steps inside? Well, the premise of this show deals with the adventures of everyday American teenager Kevin Keene, who along with his dog Duke gets zapped into a magical world known as Videoland. How they got there was via the “Ultimate Warp Zone”. You may have heard the term Warp Zone used in Super Mario games where walking on the ceiling or having a magical warp whistle could allow one the power to bypass entire levels. In Kevin's case, he bypassed reality and ended up in a land of complete fiction to become...


And, again, Captain N was basically a walking advertisement for Nintendo. When you consider that his belt buckle was shaped like an NES controller, and that his weapon of choice was something that resembled the Zapper plug-in one would use to play the 1985 game “Duck Hunt”, what else could he be?

In fact, the majority of the main characters, main antagonists, and recurring roles were all based from several video games released within the Nintendo library. The games that were represented were “Castlevania”, “Kid Icarus”, “Mega Man”, “Punch-Out”, “The Legend Of Zelda”, “Donkey Kong”, “Dragon Warrior”, “Wizards and Warriors”, “The Adventures of Bayou Billy”, and even “BurgerTime” if you can believe it!

TRIVIA: If you're wondering why the television series didn't incorporate what seemed to be the star of the Nintendo franchise into the show, there's a very sound reason for it. Beginning with season two of the series, the show was often paired with the animated series “The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3”. If I remember correctly, the two shows were presented as a one-hour program, with two episodes of the Mario cartoon acting as bookends for the full-length Captain N episode. I could be remembering wrong though.

But there's more to the show than being a cash cow for Nintendo of America. It was a brilliantly written cartoon series. It was a classic struggle of good versus evil as Kevin Keene is forced to assume the role of Captain N to save Videoland from the evil clutches of Mother Brain.

TRIVIA: In another interesting case of product placement within a television series, the fortress in which Mother Brain resides is named “Metroid”.

When Kevin arrives in Videoland, he comes at a rather critical time, as Mother Brain has taken over the majority of Videoland, and has almost succeeded in completely capturing the Palace of Power. When he and Duke come face to face with the N-Team, the team wastes no time in recruiting him to their team to fight the battle against evil in order to save Videoland from complete destruction.

And just who makes up the N-Team?

Well, there's Princess Lana, who is the current ruler of Videoland and oversees everything from the Palace of Power. She's kind-hearted and loving, but don't let those qualities trick you into thinking that you can imprison her in a castle...she can kick serious butt if forced to. She's also the only character in the series who doesn't appear to be a walking commercial for Nintendo products.

Her friends, on the other hand? Let's see...there's Simon Belmont from Castlevania, Pit from Kid Icarus, Mega Man from...well...Mega Man, and from the second season onward, the team is joined by a supercomputer known as Game Boy that looks of these.

Ah, Nintendo, how subtle you are...

The cartoon managed to squeak out a three season run on NBC and it was popular enough to spawn a semi-successful comic book series under the “Nintendo Comics Series” banner. However, by the time the third season kicked off, major budget cuts by NBC greatly affected the quality of the animation of the series, and by 1992, the series (as well as the majority of NBC's cartoon lineup) was pulled.

The show did find new life in syndication for one additional year, and between 1992 and 1993, the show was repackaged under the title “Captain N and the Video Game Masters”. In a standard episode, we'd see Captain N episodes airing alongside episodes of “Legend of Zelda”, “The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3”, and “Super Mario World”. And, the entire series is available on DVD. Of course, there are slight differences between the DVD and syndication presentations and the original-run episodes. In the first few episodes of Captain N, you'd hear snippits of actual songs (it was similar to “Kidd Video”), but in the re-releases, the songs were replaced with generic instrumental scores.

And, that's our look back on Captain N: The Game Master. It may have been nothing more than an hour long advertisement for Nintendo...but for kids twelve and under, it was a great show.

Although, I'll also be the first to admit that I am more or less brand loyal to Nintendo video games and that Captain N likely weaned me off of cartoons and helped further fuel my gaming addiction.  

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