This year marks the 30th anniversary of the NBC network pushing the start button on Nintendo’s iconic animated series, Captain N: The Game Master as part of their Saturday Morning lineup. Having launched the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986, after just 3 years on the market the 8-bit video game console and its ever-expanding library of games was white-hot. As far as Children of the ’80s were concerned, the more Nintendo the better and in 1989 the company delivered in a big way.
Nintendo had already gotten into merchandising with trading cards, clothing, Nintendo Power magazine (where the concept of Captain Nintendo originated) and even a breakfast cereal, but in September of 1989 kids got not 1, but 3 cartoons featuring popular Nintendo game characters. It was a dream come true.
The Super Mario Bros Super Show featured live-action segments with former WWF wrestler, Captain Lou Albano as everyone’s favorite mustachioed plumber, but also animated adventures featuring Mario, Luigi, Toad and Princess Toadstool fighting the evil King Koopa. The theme song rap for the syndicated weekday show was truly unforgettable. The bonus was that every Friday, the program switched out the Super Mario Bros cartoon for an episode of The Legend of Zelda, featuring the wisecracking hero, Link. It was a 2 for 1 deal!
That same month on Saturday mornings came Captain N: The Game Master. The opening credits showed a live-action kid named Kevin getting sucked into Videoland by “The Ultimate Warp Zone ” while playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out and teaming up with a group of famous video game icons from popular Nintendo games. It was every kid’s dream to join in the fun on the other side of the game screen and thus a new cartoon hero was added to the pantheon of animated 80’s icons.
Being dubbed, Captain N based on his prowess on the Nintendo Entertainment System (and possibly the convenient letter N on his letterman jacket) Kevin soon found that he had extra powers in Videoland, starting with his light gun Zapper that shot actual lasers. But his most awesome tool was the amazingly cool control pad belt buckle which allowed him to make super jumps or power slide from side to side.
Leading the group of video game rebels against the evils forces of Mother Brain was Princess Lana, an original character created for the show, not originating from any existing video game. At her side was the diminutive Mega Man who for some reason had his traditional blue costume swapped for a green color scheme and added “Mega” to the beginning of words. Flying close by was the equally tiny Kid Icarus who spoke with a lisp and added “-icus” to the end of most words. Kevin’s trusty canine pal, Duke was also in the mix, having come through the Warp Zone with his master.
But by far the strangest adaptation of a character from 8-bit pixels to animated form was Simon Belmont from the Castlevania series of games. Portrayed in the classic box art as a long haired, leather-clad medieval warrior with a whip, for some reason the animators changed him to a big chinned, blonde bouffant wearing pretty boy in arctic explorer gear. The only commonality between the 2 outside of the name was the inclusion of a whip as character’s signature weapon. As a kid, this was very upsetting.
On the other side of the battlefield and always stirring up trouble was the previously mentioned Mother Brain, who was best remembered for the unforgettable vocal performance of Levi Stubbs, Jr. who had also been the voice of the man-eating plant, Audrey II in the Rick Moranis film Little Shop of Horrors. Her henchmen were the unlikely dim-witted duo of King Hippo from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out and the Eggplant Wizard from Kid Icarus. They bumbled their way through every scheme in order to give Mother Brain a reason to screech out her lines.
Nintendo made great use of Captain N as a means of introducing new characters who just happened to have their own video games hitting shelves in a not so coincidental bit of synergy. For example in an early Season 1 episode Kevin and The N Team, as they came to be known, ended up running into the world’s most blatant Crocodile Dundee rip-off, Bayou Billy. Other times they were transported to the worlds of famed Nintendo RPG titles like Faxanadu and Final Fantasy.
Surely the most exciting episode guest star was the time that Captain N: The Game Master crossed over with The Legend of Zelda cartoon, which found Kevin forming a friendly rivalry with Link to save the day. Surprisingly the Super Mario Bros never found their way into Captain N’s Videoland adventures, despite sound effects from the game being used liberally in the show.
One strange addition to the show in Season 2 was the recruiting of a living Game Boy console onto The N Team. Not a humanoid robot named Game Boy or even a convenient cousin of Kevin’s being warped into Videoland and taking on the name to spice things up. No, this was an actual giant Game Boy who was basically like Slimer on The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, just floating around the action and throwing in to help from time to time. Such a weird and obvious way for Nintendo to sell kids on their portable gaming system.
By the time Season 3 rolled around, Captain N was being paired with the Super Mario World cartoon, which, in a bizarre twist placed Mario and Luigi in a world full of Cavemen. Meanwhile Captain N’s crew got an animation redesign with the main difference being Kevin having broader shoulders and wearing his control pad belt on the outside of his jacket. Another change was that Mother Brain wasn’t as prominently featured as the main antagonist, instead having one-off villains cause trouble in each episode.
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The show tried to overcome low ratings with guest stars like NBA legend Larry Bird and multi-sport titan, Bo Jackson joining in to help Captain N in Videoland, which was unexpected, to say the least. It should be noted that neither of these athletes provided their own voices on these episodes, just allowed their likeness and name to be used. This would also be the case that same year when Bo Jackson would star in his own cartoon adventure series ProStars along with Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky.
By 1990, Captain N was no more, joining the Nintendo Entertainment System as old news in gaming. With the launch of the Super Nintendo in 1991, the 8-bit era seemed like ancient history and kids were being introduced to the more EXTREME attitude of the SEGA Genesis which claimed arrogantly to do “what Nintendon’t”. Though many classic titles were given the 16-bit treatment on the new console, most were overlooked for new, flashier games.
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In the end, Captain N only had a little over 30 episodes and a short-lived comic books series as his legacy, but the character has lived on in the hearts of old school video game fans and lovers of 80’s cartoons. The series has received various DVD releases, but is also available from multiple sources on YouTube for those who wish to relive the video game fueled fun of the series.
I count myself among the fans who fondly remember the series from its original run. I am even planning to dress as Captain N for Halloween this year and will be paying tribute to the character in an upcoming episode of RD’s Retro Detention on the RetroDaze YouTube channel. You better believe I’m “Playing With Power”!