Super Smash Bros.? Pffft, garbage. The Marvel Cinematic Universe? Complete trash. Project X Zone? Hmmm, we appreciate your thinking but even so, nope. The greatest crossover of all time turned 30 years old this month and none of you selfish sods even noticed. We’re talking, of course, about Captain N: The Game Master.
This Saturday morning cartoon series by DiC (snigger) – the same production company behind the Super Mario Bros. Super Show and Legend of Zelda cartoons – told the story of Kevin Keene, a teenage lad whose TV turns into a warp zone while he’s playing the NES. He’s sucked into his telly and ends up trapped in Videoland, a new universe where all the characters and environments are from Nintendo games.
The prophecy (because there’s always a prophecy) determines that Kevin is the heroic Captain N, who will save Videoland from the evil Mother Brain (the one from the end of Metroid), and her minions including King Hippo from Punch-Out!! and the Eggplant Wizard from Kid Icarus and Dr Wily from Mega Man. Helping Kevin out are the rest of the ‘N Team’, consisting of Simon Belmont from Castlevania, Mega Man from... um, Mega Man, and Pit from Kid Icarus (though he’s actually called 'Kid Icarus' here). Oh, and there’s also Princess Lana, who isn’t from any game and just seems to be there as a love interest for Kevin.
Over the course of 34 gloriously bizarre episodes between September 1989 and October 1991, Captain N captured the imaginations of many Nintendo fans – including this writer, who still thinks it’s the greatest cartoon ever – who always dreamed of what it would be like to live in their favourite Nintendo games. And, as it turned out, games they’d barely heard of, too. Allow us then, dear reader, to take you on a tour of Videoland’s odder moments. In a show filled with bizarre situations and ridiculous premises, these are the ones that made us think “eh?” more than any other.
While you read about these gloriously strange highlights from this glorious cult show, please also join us in doing what everyone seems to have forgotten to do and raise your glasses to Captain N. Happy 30th anniversary, pal, you made this writer’s childhood a significantly happier one for being part of it.
1. The Videolympics
This two-part episode has the evil Mother Brain challenging the N Team to a series of athletic contests on Mount Icarus. The bet: if her team wins, Mother Brain will be the new Princess of Videoland. If they lose, she and her minions will never set foot outside of the Metroid universe again.
Cue a bunch of strange events including Mega Man and Dr Wily competing in a 400-yard dash through an electrified construction site, Lana and King Hippo in a diving contest over a shark-infested waterfall and – best of all – a tag-team wrestling match where an enormous Donkey Kong simply sits on the entire ring to win.
2. Simon Belmont falls in love with Mother Brain
One of the fascinating things about Captain N, you see, is the way it manages to get so much wrong and yet still be entertaining. Mega Man is a fat green guy with a raspy voice, Pit is called Kid Icarus and Simon Belmont – the heroic vampire slayer from Castlevania – is an egotistical coward who’s pretty much here to be the butt of most jokes.
One example of Simon’s tomfoolery is the Mr & Mrs Mother Brain episode, where Simon steals one of Kid Icarus’s love arrows to try to make Lana fall in love with him. He misses, hits himself and ends up falling in love with the enormous Mother Brain instead. It’s up to Kid Icarus and Mega Man to climb Mount Icarus to find an antidote while a chained-up Simon continues to profess his undying love for a 30-foot brain in a jar voiced by the guy who was the plant in Little Shop of Horrors. Read that sentence again and wonder why this show didn’t win all the awards.
3. Every episode with Game Boy in it
The second season of Captain N opens with an episode called Game Boy, where Lana’s dad King Charles (who’s trapped in a Mirror World, because reasons) manages to send the N Team a supercomputer to help them defeat Mother Brain once and for all.
It turns out the ‘supercomputer’ in question is a sentient Game Boy, who speaks with an annoying robot voice, can fly, and can morph his screen and body into different things. It was an easy plot device for the writers to get the team out of any sticky situation, basically.
Game Boy is basically the Scrappy Doo of Captain N: a strange and annoying addition to an already established team. It’s probably fitting, too, because he was voiced by Frank Welker, better known as the voice of not only Megatron and Soundwave from Transformers, but also Scooby and Fred from Scooby-Doo.
4. The world of Tetris
Given the period it was on TV, it was only a matter of time before Tetris would eventually show up on Captain N. Sure enough, there were two episodes set in Tetris, a separate world where absolutely everything is square: all the buildings, the wheels on the cars, even the people who live there.
There’s even a band called the Blockheads, who play at a cafe called Cubies. Basically, any rubbish joke they could make out of things being made of blocks is jammed into these two episodes while – in true Captain N fashion – the actual point of Tetris itself is more or less forgotten. Still, it looks a bit like that Money For Nothing video by Dire Straits, so that’s good.
5. The broken Bayou Billy episode
The second episode of Captain N, called How’s Bayou, was based on The Adventures of Bayou Billy, a Konami game notable for its Crocodile Dundee-like hero and the fact it had some lightgun shooter stages that supported the NES Zapper. This episode became more notorious for something else, though: it was a mess.
The first time it aired on TV, it was clear that How’s Bayou was an unfinished episode. Some lines were missing, some of the action felt off and the music sounded oddly generic. Even worse, some shots – like the one where Kevin is approached by a crocodile – didn’t even have a background: just an animation cel on top of paper. The next time the episode aired (and every other time after that), the missing backgrounds were included and the music had been replaced.
All’s well that ends well? Not really: bizarrely, when Captain N was released on DVD in America in 2007, the How’s Bayou episode used was the one from that original airing, meaning those missing backgrounds are back for good. Hooray!
6. Simon thinks he's Donkey Kong Jr
In case falling in love with Mother Brain wasn’t enough, Simon Belmont suffers a similarly undignified adventure in a separate episode. We’re just going to give you the plot here, because we reckon it speaks for itself. Jealous of Kevin’s impressive skateboard skills, Simon sticks some wheels to an ironing board and ends up crashing, losing his memory.
Eventually, after numerous attempts by both the N Team and Mother Brain to get his memory back / brainwash him (delete as applicable), Simon eventually ends up on Kongoland and ends up believing Donkey Kong is his mother. Meanwhile, it’s a race against time to get Simon to snap out of it, because over in the world of Castlevania, Dracula has summoned a bunch of zombies.
Look, we don’t know.
7. The tragic irony of Paperboy
In the Invasion of the Paper Pedalers episode, Mother Brain came up with her most dastardly idea yet: she infiltrated the printing presses in News World – a world based on Paperboy – and replaced the normal ink with hypnotic ink. When the citizens of News World read the paper, they immediately fell under Mother Brain’s control and became her hypnotized zombie army ready to do her bidding.
The N Team eventually teams up with a young paperboy called Julio and save the day… but how come Julio was able to help them? Surely as the young lad delivering these gimmicked newspapers he’d be the first to get hypnotised? Not so: it turns out Julio’s father had lost his job, so in order to help feed his family, Julio started skipping school to deliver newspapers instead. As a result, Julio CAN’T READ. That’s right kids, illiteracy saved the day!
8. The clip show that ‘didn’t exist’
Here’s some odd Captain N lore for you (which, incidentally, works great as a pick-up line). At the end of the second season, an episode called When Mother Brain Rules aired. It was basically a clip show showing various moments from the first two seasons. There were two versions: a strange one that aired on NBC which had an odd generic narrator and showed the clips to music with no voices, and one that was spotted on Chicago station WGN with the voices restored and Simon Belmont doing the narration.
It doesn’t really matter which episode is supposed to be the right one, because apparently the episodes ‘don’t exist’. According to an exec at Shout Factory (who released the Captain N DVDs in America), DiC claimed it had no master tape of the episode, and didn’t have any mention of it in its company records. It’s possible that NBC made its own clip show episode, but then how do you explain the other version on WGN? We’re asking you, specifically: how do you explain it? What’s that, you can’t? Hmmm. How convenient. We’re keeping an eye on you.
9. When actual sports stars appeared
The NES wasn’t without its fair share of celebrity-endorsed sports games, and while it may have seemed like licensing issues would have prevented these games from appearing in a show like Captain N, it seems that by the third and final season anything went. Case in point: the episode called Pursuit of the Magic Hoop (look, stop laughing), where the N Team travel to Hoop Mountain and bump into basketball icon Larry Bird.
And then there’s baseball and American football legend Bo Jackson, who appears in another sporting episode entitled Battle of the Baseball Know-it-Alls. Neither Bird nor Bo have their real voices, but they’re both referred to by their names so it’s definitely supposed to be them, which throws up more questions than it answers. How can they be in Videoland but still be in the real world? Have they been sucked into Videoland too? If so, why aren’t they trying to get out? And haven’t their respective sports teams noticed their star players are gone? HELP US, reader.
10. The complete lack of Nintendo
Believe it or not, across all 34 episodes (well, 33 if you don’t count the clip show), the word Nintendo is never uttered a single time in Captain N. It wasn’t entirely unprecedented: the 1989 movie The Wizard – which is basically a glorious 100-minute celebration of all things Nintendo – never mentions the company by name, either. Indeed, the show was originally going to be called Captain Nintendo before DiC made the call to change it.
There was a pretty good reason for this: the Children’s Television Act of 1990. After a decade of ‘80s cartoons designed to promote toy lines – hang your heads, Transformers, GI Joe and He-Man – the US Congress decided to step in and pass a law banning “program-length commercials”: in other words, shows that were just adverts for products. DiC’s logic was that since Captain N didn’t actually mention Nintendo by name, it couldn’t realistically be considered a program-length commercial for Nintendo. Then someone said “what about the Game Boy, then?” and they suddenly disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Well, these were our strangest moments in captain N... but what about yours? Celebrate Kevin's 30th birthday with a comment below!