Thursday, January 14, 2010

SMCS Companion Piece #1: Captain N

Welcome to the first edition of “Beta is Dead”, my vain attempt of expressing my views of the various things that come across my path.
Before we dive into today’s entry I’d like to talk a bit about the mission statement of this blog. For those of you who do not know me I am “DJ Beta” one of the hosts of the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show on 89.1 WIDR Kalamazoo. On this show we “watch” cartoons each week and discuss them. Well that’s all well and fine but the problem is that I’m often either not allowed to convey my complete opinion of the subject matter due to the restraints of being on the radio or due to the lack of time. A two hour show is not enough for me to describe how much I despise “Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends” or how Magilla Gorilla as a slave to the white man. So I got the idea to make a blog ; when DJ Muppet and I do our show each week I’ll write up a little bonus essay where I can give any interested party the full blunt of my hatred or praise (Mostly hatred).

Therefore think of this as a companion piece to the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show Blog; bonus material, if you will. Of course, because I have a big mouth and an unhealthy ego I will probably add some entries that don’t have anything to do with the show from time to time. Comics, TV, anime, movies, even pro wrestling, none of it is safe from me while I’m in a bad mood. We shall see.

Enough about me let’s talk about me….ahem. Let’s talk about Captain N: The Game Master!

Beta on Captain N: The Game Master

Ah, 1989-1993. Truly a dark age for cartoons. If your show didn’t have the word “Disney” before its title there was only a 10% chance that it wouldn’t be made of hatred, poop, and commercials (That is a totally true statistic that I just made up). New technologies undoubtedly made cartoons cheaper to produce while at the same time they were still appealing to the visual senses, unlike just about every cartoon up through 1986. However where was the writing staff? Why they’ve taken a backseat to the marketing team, of course! Greed is good, folks. We need to move merchandise and by God we need a 22-minute commercial to do it!

It was probably inevitable that with the success of the Nintendo Entertainment Systems, or “NES” for you cool retro kids, that we would start getting animated cartoons based on video game franchises. As a result “Captain N: The Game Master” may have been the worst piece of elephant dung that Nintendo produced during this era. There were other cartoons Nintendo shelled out of course; The Legend of Zelda and the Super Mario Bros. Super Show (And it’s sequels) come to mind. While they’re both pretty terrible (Zelda being infinitely more so than Mario, I think) Captain N doesn’t just mess with one franchise but multiple ones and therefore gets special notice.

Oh boy, what do I start with here? I guess we start from the beginning. According to the “Source of All Knowledge” (Wikipedia, of course) the original concept of “Captain N: The Game Master” began in my hated enemy “Nintendo Power”. Apparently some dude named Randy Studdard, who was the editor of the magazine but has apparently done nothing else worthwhile, came up with a (Arguably) cool idea: “Captain Nintendo” is an employee at the real Nintendo corporation who fights the company’s rogue computer AI Skynet Mother Brain by bringing characters and items from video games to life in the “real world”…somehow.

At some point Nintendo found out about this idea and turned it into a cartoon, but neglected to give poor Randy credit or any sort of compensation. Thus the tone of the series is set.

I was trying to figure out how I could explain what I dislike about this show but I think the best way is to look at its characters. This is, more or less, an ensemble cast and therefore by definition should be character driven show. Aside from the male lead and the designated love interest all the important characters are taken from various games on the NES. Let’s take a look at them.

Captain N

The Letterman jacket is for Swim Team. Seriously.

His name shortened from “Nintendo” to the more radical to the max “N” his real identity is Marty McFly Kevin Keene. The series’ protagonist Kevin begins the cartoon shortly after inventing skateboarding and Rock & Roll playing video games when he and his dog are suddenly transported the upsettingly named “Videoland”. He is told he is the chosen one who will defeat Audrey 2 Mother Brain. Kevin was armed with a Nintendo controller that could command the properties of time itself (What? Yours couldn’t? You must have gotten a second edition NES) and a zapper light gun that murdered any poor victim that got in his way. He’s not particular interesting; heck he’s downright boring. However he’s brave, impulsive, friendly and competitive…just like EVERY SINGLE MALE LEAD IN EVERY SINGLE ACTION CARTOON DURING THIS TIME! He is the “Will They or Won’t They” love interest of Princess Lana. He had a dog named Duke who I don’t care to remember anything about.

After the show ended Doc Brown may or may not have approached Kevin to tell him that something had to be done about his kids.

Princess Lana

Princess What's-Her-Name > Lana

Lana is the Princess of “Videoland”. She is a highly developed, well rounded character who never played second fiddle to the boys and who rarely played the “Damsel in Distress” role. HAHAHAHA, just kidding! This is an ’89 action cartoon, silly. Lana, an original character for the show, was there to be a princess and be the main character’s love interest. That is all. In our “Post-Buffy” world I find this somewhat annoying in retrospect. She may have done stuff in the show but really in the long run she is little more than a weekly plot device.

Okay so the main characters are pretty lame but so were most of the heroes in cartoons back then, outside of Scrooge McDuck . What really annoyed me about the cast were the characters butchered barrowed from various classic games. If the intent was to get kids who didn’t own these games to get excited and buy them you think it’d be counterproductive to portray them with little of the traits of their pixilated counterparts. These guys have as much in common with their namesakes as the Tri-Star’s Godzilla had with hers.

Simon Belmont


I’m no Castlevania guy, but I know enough to say that the hero of the game wasn’t a narcissist and braggart who was more likely to run from a fight than not. What exactly happened in the meeting room when this show was being pitched?

DiC: Whose is your most badass character outside of Link?

Nintendo: Samus from Metroid, of course.

DiC: Well she’s a girl and therefore not interesting. Who else?

Nintendo: Simon Belmont from Castlevania?

DiC: Great! Let’s give him every personality flaw we can think of so that Kevin will look even more heroic in comparison! The fans will love it!

Nintendo: $$$

Seriously the Simon Belmont in this cartoon was so unlikable that when I was a kid I was completely disenfranchised with the Castlevania series because anytime anyone mentioned Simon I’d think of this guy! It’s only within the last ten years or so that I realized that that vile characterization was missing in the games, but now I’m too old to try new things. Crap. Anyway as far as I know both versions of Simon were vampire hunters and use whips to brutally kill their enemies and that is where the similarities end.

Also Castlevania (And Mega Man too) is not actually owned by Nintendo despite the theme of “Nintendo Characters in Cartoon Form”. I imagine that at the time the company had such a stranglehold over the industry that the TV audience didn’t know any better. I sure didn’t.

Kid Icarus

How does his body support that huge head?

A small flying archer from the game of the same name Icarus had the annoying speech impediment of adding “-icus” the end of a lot of words. For example “I have a job-icus to do” or “This cartoon is retard-icus”. His school days must have been hard.

Honestly I know next to nothing about his portrayal in the game except for one detail: his name is freaking “Pit”, not “Kid Icarus”! This “minor” detail was overlooked in production somehow. Did his real name not test well? Did they think it’d be simpler to call him “Kid Icarus” so causal fans would know which game he was from? Did the producers not even play any of these games? I’m leaning towards the latter.

Mega Man

Mega Man after defeating "Too Many Donuts Man"

Shorter, fatter, and greener than his video game counterpart I suspect anyone would be hard pressed to indentify this guy as the “Blue Bomber” we all know and love without help. Armed with a horribly gruff voice Not-Mega Man suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome and had a vocal tic of randomly spouting “Mega” into his sentences. I will concede that if he also had the vocal tic of saying “Balls” the show would have been much more entertaining.

Kevin: Hey Mega Man! Are you ready to fight Mother Brain?

Mega Man: I MEGA BALLS sure am Kevin! We’ll give MEGA BALLS that evil brain something to MEGA BALLS worry about!

So much wasted potential!

Not-Mega Man also kind of emo. He seemed to spend of lot of his time being sad about not being human. He never gets to experience all of that cool human stuff like aging and dying of old age. He may have become human at some point but I doubt it affected the status quo much. Like Simon Not-Mega Man is not owned by Nintendo despite the “Nintendo is Awesome” atmosphere of the show although I wouldn’t realize this until “Mega Man X 4” came out for the Playstation. Unlike Simon Mega Man had another show a few years later that was significantly more faithful to his game, but still pretty cheesy.

Game Boy

Not Pictured: Actual Size

Game Boy was a giant floating…Game Boy. Not content in altering key characters for their show’s purposes in Season Two Nintendo decided to just take their new handheld game system and make it a cast member. Basically Game Boy was one half R2D2 and one half blatant commercial for the Game Boy. Buy it kids!

Arguably the best thing about Game Boy was that he was voiced by Frank “Dr. Claw” Welker, but seeing as he also voices roughly 85% of all known matter in the universe it may not be that big of a deal.

Also voiced by Frank Welker


Just as our heroes were horrible parodies of beloved NES icons so was the villains’ strange interpretation of the enemies they fought. Notable was the Four Tops’ lead singer Mother Brain, the obvious the next logical evolution of the alien plant monster from “Little Shop of Horrors”, who as the primary antagonist of the show. “She” was joined by “Eggplant Wizard”, who Wikipedia says is from Kid Icarus (Did I mention I know nothing about that game), and King Hippo who bears a passing resemblance to King Hippo from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. Dr. Willy showed up from time to time as well, and seemed to be doing a bit better than his arch enemy Mega Man in terms of adaptation.

What’s more interesting than “who was on the show” was “who wasn’t on the show”. Mother Brain, a staple of Metroid, was the main villain of the cartoon but where on Earth was Samus Aran? Disturbingly I heard that the show runners never heard of the PLAYER CHARACTER OF METROID and I hope to God that’s just a joke. Perhaps Samus is just too much woman for children of 1989 to handle. I heard she appeared in the comic book spin-off and instantly fell in love with Kevin. Oh good! Also absent is Little Mac, the main character of the “Punch-Out” series, but presumably he was off training to fight Mike Tyson Mister Dream and couldn’t be bothered to show up.

Sir "Not Appearing In This Cartoon"

So basically the main reason I can’t stand this show is the characters. Either we have dull un-original yet original clichés running around or we have a bunch of “In Name Only” counterparts to classical video game characters. The show also suffered form unbearably cheesy and juvenile dialogue and humor and also had the nerve to crossover with the almost just as terrible “Legend of Zelda” cartoon (Something I’ll never forgive) but as far as I’m concerned my major problem was I couldn’t’ stand the cast. If you can’t stand looking at the main protagonists for more than 15 minutes then your show has failed.

For a less biased desrciption of Captain N click here

For The Saturday Morning Cartoon Show's Blog click here

Captain N: The Game Master is scheduled to be on The Saturday Morning Cartoon Show on January 16th 2010, 9:00am Eastern Time on 89.1 WIDR Kalamazoo

Thanks for reading!