Revisiting Captain N: The Game Master by The Successor

he 80's were an interesting time – bright, colorful, and blest with many great cartoons. He-Man, Thunder-Cats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jem and the Holograms, Transformers, The Real Ghostbusters . . . the list goes on. Another stamp of 80's pop culture is the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The marriage of video games and cartoons has been going on through the years. Products of this union include shows based on Mega Man, Pokemon, Wing Commander, Sonic the Hedgehog, Double Dragon, and Street Fighter.

There's something really special about seeing your favorite games represented as cartoons, especially before the internet was so prevalent - before you could type a word in a search box and receive loads of information about your favorite games and ways of interacting with like minded people. Back then, it was your video game magazines and possibly some kids you knew from school or the neighborhood that actually let you know there were other people in the world that liked what you did. When game characters illuminated the televisions of fans as cartoons, it was a magical moment.

There were some video game cartoons from then that may seem corny and brain dead when looked upon with today's perspective, but where some see fatuous content, others see allure and charisma. An appreciation of the era would help in understanding the toons and where they're coming from.
These cartoons are windows to the "I want my MTV" days, when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helped popularize ninjas and surf slang, jocular game shows like Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and Double Dare were prime, and when Clarissa Explained it All.

There was a campaign in the late 80's and very early 90's to make shows based on video game properties. The Legend of Zelda, Captain N: The Game Master, King Koopa's Kool Kartoons, and a trio of Super Mario Bros. programs came from this period.

If kids weren't watching their televisions, there was a good chance they were playing Nintendo, so mixing the two was an obvious recipe for success. Thus, shows like The Legend of Zelda and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show were birthed, and they entertained legions of children.

There was one particular show that was special for being the Justice League of America of video game heroes. Some of the best the game medium had to offer was represented in Captain N: The Game Master.

Captain N stood out by going beyond merely telling stories of game characters in their native world, like The Legend of Zelda animated series would. It related to its fans by featuring a normal boy as the main character, who was likely very similar to the watchers.

The world of Kevin Keene is like a wet dream for Nintendo Entertainment System fans of the day. He lives in a fantasy environment playing his favorite video games inside the games themselves, with a gorgeous princess that depends on him, and all but throws herself at him.
Honestly, what could be better?

Captain N's design is great in its simplicity. He wears a red and white letterman jacket, with blue jeans. What makes the whole thing come together is his belt, which has a Nintendo Entertainment System controller in the place of the buckle, and his patented weapon, the Nintendo Zapper.

Since game fans couldn't live these fantasies themselves, the next best thing was watching some other guy do it.
While playing Punch Out, Kevin and his dog, Duke, were mysteriously sucked into his television, which displayed the game.

It turns out this is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. Kevin is warped to a strange and wonderful place called Videoland, where the worlds and characters from his favorite games are real. He's supposed to be the land's savior. There are many different worlds in Videoland, and each has its hero and villans. Mother Brain, the mechanical life vein from the 1986 game, Metroid, has been terrorizing Videoland by uniting the villains from multiple worlds in an effort to conquer the peaceful provinces. While on the verge of victory, Kevin appears and consistently throws huge monkey wrenches in her plans.

Kevin, dubbed Captain N, and Duke join a group called the N Team, which consists of Princess Lana, the ruler of Videoland, Mega Man, a small but extremely powerful robot, Kid Icarus, a disproportionate cupid like boy whose name should be Pit, and Simon Belmont, an egomaniacal and sometimes cowardly Vampire Slayer. Kevin and company journey from game world to game world, upholding justice in Videoland and keeping Mother Brain from taking over.

This premise makes for plenty of cameos from other game characters, such as Bayou Billy, Donkey Kong, and Dr. Light. Link and Zelda make an appearance, which is especially enjoyable, since it is a good crossover with The Legend of Zelda cartoon that was airing at the time. Link is somewhat immature and brash, and it's funny to see him persistently trying to impress Princess Zelda in hopes of catching a kiss. Princess Zelda makes the switch from damsel in distress to bold adventuress very well. She is a lot more hands on in the cartoon than she is in the game, most likely to give girl watchers a heroine to relate to. Not all characters are as faithfully or comfortably represented as Link, Zelda, and Ganon.

Many video game shows of the 80's and 90's are western. This was before the anime craze hit the United States in full force, which happened in the late 90's and early 2000's with Pokemon and its many imitators, Dragonball Z, and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim segment.

Americans were notorious for misinterpreting important elements, or intentionally straying from them to suit their demographics, which is somewhat ironic, since now there is what some call "American/Western anime," examples being Avatar: The Last Air Bender, Teen Titans, and the admittedly French Totally Spies, which heavily apply Japanese techniques and sensibilities.

I can't really explain much about the change with Mega Man's design. For the 1994 Mega Man cartoon, the Americans gave Mega Man western super hero flair by making him appear older and packing on a substantial amount of muscle. The Captain N version is different (and worse) for reasons that aren't totally apparent.

To be fair, it isn't just westerners. Surf the net and you may stumble upon a Japanese live action Spider-Man program that has much more in common with a tokusatsu show in the vein of Super Sentai (which became the phenomenon known as Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers when Americans got their hands on it) than Marvel Comics' Spider-Man.

Divergences from source material are plentiful in Captain N. Some are easy to understand and others aren't. For some reason, Mega Man is green in this cartoon. Anyone can turn on an NES Mega Man game and tell the character is obviously composed primarily of blue tones. These anomalies probably result from a mixture of ignorance about the subject, not caring, and bending things to suit a particular vision.

For instance, the Mario brothers were never meant to be American until the Super Mario Bros. Super Show portrayed them as Italian Americans living in Brooklyn. Probably the biggest thing to come out of left field is what will interest Castlevania fans the most – the character of Simon Belmont.

Simon is extremely arrogant. He's not a bad guy at heart, but the rest of the team finds him hard to deal with. He's very vain, and seems to care more about his looks than anything else, and is always ready and willing to shower himself with compliments. Aside from being brave enough to step foot into Dracula's Castle alone, and having the will power, fortitude, and determination to journey across Transylvania while inflicted with a mortal curse, Simon doesn't have any character in the first two Castlevania games on the NES, so the creators of Captain N gave Simon a personality they felt would help the chemistry of the show's cast.

Simon Belmont is a far cry from the character that appears in the Castlevania series in both looks and personality. Even so, he consistently provides some of the best entertainment on the show, and there is still a good amount of Castlevania fan service to be appreciated, like hearing "Message of Darkness", the password theme from Castlevania II: Simon's Quest.

Simon is often competing with Kevin for the affections of Princess Lana, and unfortunately for Simon, the Princess usually seems to prefer Kevin, which doesn't sit well with the Vampire Hunter, though she isn't completely immune to Simon's charms. His main purpose is comedic relief and being a non-threatening rival for Kevin Keene. The mostly ordinary and upstanding Kevin must contend for the Princess with a tanned blonde bodybuilder who is willing to bend ethical rules and take shortcuts to win the love of the Princess, which creates the most entertaining dynamic on the show.

Yes, Simon Belmont is the most entertaining character on Captain N: The Game Master. Though, as much as it fits the personality, I do wonder where the design came from. Simon looks absolutely nothing like any version of him there has ever been. He wears a back pack and pilot outfit. It's been said that the artists of the show used Simon's voice actor as inspiration for the look, but I can't begin to imagine where the clothes come in. Other than having a whip and fighting undead, there isn't much similarity between this Simon Belmont and the Simon fans are familiar with from the Castlevania series, beyond the name.

Simon is definitely not the only character to undergo some strange re-imagining. Mother Brain, the antagonist of the show, seems to be based on a loud, obnoxious, and sassy black woman. If you can watch this with a tongue tucked extremely far into your cheek, you may get a kick out of it. It's all in good fun, after all.

The comic series of Captain N has its ups and downs. It isn't as slap stick and Samus Aran appears, but key characters like Simon Belmont and Mega Man are nowhere to be found.

A Captain N comic book series was published by Valiant Comics and released in 1990. Unfortunately, Simon Belmont does not appear in these, since all third party characters were cut, meaning only Nintendo characters were used. These comics are a bit more serious than the cartoons and the cast acts more maturely. Aside from missing characters, the biggest difference between these comics and the cartoons is the inclusion of Samus Aran, the Bounty Hunter from the Metroid series.

This take on Samus is very interesting, and I daresay, entertaining. To make Kevin's adventures even more like the product of some male video game fan's wishful thinking, Samus Aran falls in love with Kevin, and competes with Princess Lana over the fondness of Captain N. Samus is startlingly selfish and conniving, which can make for amusing reading. These comics serve as good supplements to the cartoon.

From 1989 to 1991, Captain N was a hero to game fans and perhaps didn't have as long a run as he deserved. Fandom has kept him and the thirty four episodes and comics that chronicle his adventures from being forgotten. This show was the bridge that linked many of the best video game series there have been. Before there was a Super Smash Bros, there was Captain N: The Game Master.

It is camp incarnate. Don't take it too seriously and it's lots of fun. Maybe my appreciation of it comes from my love for classic video games, cartoons, and my admiration of the era it came from.
If you're into classic games and have enough sense of humor to welcome something as facetious as this, then I totally recommend taking a ride on the wild side with Kevin Keene and the N Team in Captain N: The Game Master.

Thankfully, Captain N: The Game Master has been preserved on DVD, but you can get a sample of it here, courtesy of AkumajouOtaku. "Mr. and Mrs. Mother Brain" is a good example of some of the hijinks that ensue in Kevin's adventures.


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


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