By the end of the 1980s, Nintendo had single-handedly saved the video game industry from a market crash, and was continuing to grow in popularity with each and every passing day. The company had already conquered the video game market, the name Nintendo becoming synonymous with games by this point in time. What was their next objective?
Conquer the television airwaves.
In September of 1989, Nintendo launched its first television series, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, which was a hybrid animation/live-action series that premiered and aired in syndication; it would be followed up by two other Mario cartoons in the coming year that were fully animated. Less than a week later, on NBC’s Saturday Morning lineup, another Nintendo cartoon premiered. That cartoon was the less remembered (and perhaps rightfully so) Captain N: The Game Master.
Even if you have never watched Captain N before, chances are you have stumbled across something on the web about it in the past; in this day and age where countless folks on YouTube do retrospective reviews for classic (and not so classic) TV series and the like, very little is immune, and such content has ripped Captain N to shreds over the years.
Is the show as bad as everyone says it is?
For the unfamiliar, Captain N: The Game Master is the story of Kevin Keene, a big-time video gamer. While playing a game one night, he is sucked through his television set into Videoland, a strange world where all of the video game characters, good and bad alike, and their respective worlds, are real. Upon his arrival at the Palace of Power in the center of Videoland, he is greeted by the beautiful Princess Lana, who rules the land in the absence of her father, King Charles, as well as fellow heroes Simon Belmont (from Castlevania), Kid Icarus, and Mega Man. At first Kevin is skeptical and doubts what is happening, but when Lana is captured by the villains, it is up to Kevin to unite the team and come to her rescue. In the second season, the team is joined by a new hero, Gameboy, who is, basically, a giant talking Gameboy (I’m not making this up!)
The “bad guys” on the show are comprised of lead villainess Mother Brain (from Metroid, voiced by Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops), King Hippo (from Punch-Out!), Eggplant Wizard (from Kid Icarus), and Dr. Wily (from Mega Man). Occasional one-off and recurring villains appear as well.
There is no secret – this is a show that was made to sell video games. The word “Nintendo” is never actually used on the show, but this is the typical “let’s sell a product” cartoon that so many companies were churning out at the time. Nintendo scores points for shoe horning in as many games as possible; we have well known franchises to the more obscure. They even found a way to make an episode based around Tetris! In fact, a number of episodes are not even based on a particular game. The one “big” franchise not represented here is Super Mario Bros., likely because Nintendo already had a Mario show on the air at the time, and that would have made the sheer advertising even more blatant.
Season one of the show premiered in September of 1989. This was the only season in which Captain N was a standalone show; it did not air as part of a block with a Mario cartoon. It is comprised of the following 13 episodes:
Kevin In Videoland
In the first episode, Kevin first comes to Videoland and must unite with the heroes to rescue Princess Lana from Mother Brain, gaining his signature Power Pad and Zapper weapons. That will be easier said than done considering the heroes (soon to be known as the N Team) barely get along with each other!
Using old video footage of Kevin from Earth, Mother Brain discovers that Kevin is not good at the Bayou Billy video game. She concocts a trap to lure him to Bayouland, where he will encounter a new monster Dr. Wily has built.
The Most Dangerous Game Master
Mother Brain and Dr. Wily create a robot duplicate of a bully that used to torment Kevin on Earth, who then challenges Kevin to a race through the deadly corridors of Castlevania.
Mother Brain challenges the N Team to an Olympics-style competition, with the winner taking the throne of Videoland. Of course, the whole thing is a trick by Mother Brain to serve as a diversion while she attains treasures that will give her unlimited power.
Mega Trouble For Megaland
The continuation of the story started in the previous episode. The N Team members split up and go to multiple worlds to slow the bad guys down, while Simon and Kid Icarus attempt to find the only weapons that can stop Mother Brain’s new power source.
The N Team finds a magic lamp capable of granting any wish. But when the bad guys set their sights on the lamp for themselves, (often hilarious) consequence ensue for both sides.
Three Men and a Dragon
The evil Dragon Lord is taking over the minds of dragons on the world of Dragon’s Den, so it is up to the N Team to head to that world and find a way to break the spell.
Mr. and Mrs. Mother Brain
Simon plans to steal a love arrow from Kid Icarus to make Princess Lana fall in love with him. Unexpected consequences ensure when he accidentally shoots himself with it… and falls for Mother Brain!
Nightmare On Mother Brain's Street
Using tainted apples, Mother Brain and the villains trap the N Team in the Nightmare Zone, a world where their worst nightmares come to life.
Simon the Ape-Man
When Simon crashes during a skateboarding duel with Kevin, he gains amnesia and completely forgets his identity. The villains plot to brainwash Simon, but he ends up thinking he is someone else entirely – Donkey Kong, Jr.!
In Search of the King
Lana discovers the location of her father King Charles (voiced by Long John Baldry); Mother Brain banished him to the Mirror World. She and the N Team head over there to rescue the King, but find themselves trapped in the Mirror World while evil versions of themselves emerge into the “real” world.
Metroid Sweet Metroid
Mother Brain tricks the N Team into thinking she has been beaten, using the false peace as a way of conquering Videoland. It is up to Kevin to escape from the corridors of Metroid to save his friends and restore peace to the land.
Happy Birthday, Megaman
It is Megaman’s birthday, and he is sad that he is not human like the other members of the N Team. He sets out on a journey to find the Warp of Life, which he believes can turn him into a human being.
Season two premiered in September of 1990. This time the show was paired up in an hour long block in which it was bookended by two Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 episodes. The block was called Captain N and the Adventures of Super Mario Bros 3, although DVD releases have always kept the shows separate. It is comprised of the following 14 episodes:
King Charles has another opportunity to escape from the Mirror World, but gives up his chance in order to send Gameboy back in his place. Gameboy ends up being nothing but trouble for the N Team at first, and things get even worse when Mother Brain decides to capture and reprogram him.
Queen of the Apes
Wanting to command respect as a potential ruler of Videoland, Mother Brain plots to put her brain in Princess Lana’s body. But things do not go as expected, and she ends up in Donkey Kong’s body instead!
Quest For the Potion of Power
Kevin meets Link and Zelda, and teams up with them in an effort to travel across Hyrule, preventing Mother Brain’s minions from reviving the evil wizard Ganon.
The Trouble With Tetris
The N Team is pulled down to the world of Tetris from space by a strange gravitational force, where Lana is reunited with her brother Lyle. Meanwhile, Mother Brain plots to steal the Sacred Square, the source of all power on Tetris.
The Big Game
Mother Brain challenges the N Team to a sports competition; Kevin’s old high school classmates are transported to Videoland for the occasion. Of course, it is a Mother Brain trick, but the N Team takes the necessary precautions to uncover her scheme.
The Lost City of Kongoland
Mother Brain heads over to Kongoland to hunt down an artifact that supposedly offers its bearer unlimited power. But when the artifact ends up in Princess Lana’s possession, she becomes a more dangerous foe than Mother Brain!
Once Upon a Time Machine
Kevin must chase after mysterious foes that steal his Power Pad and Zapper to fuel their time machine. On their travels, Kevin and Link join forces with a mysterious cat who has his own reasons for going after the time machine.
The Feud of Faxanadu
Following an overload in the Palace of Power, the N Team evacuates to the mysterious world of Faxanadu, where two feuding tribes have been at it for years. But the tribes must try to set aside their differences when an evil being sets his sight on a powerful artifact.
Having a Ball
When Link and Zelda visit the Palace of Power for a royal ball, the recently fired Eggplant Wizard and King Hippo use the opportunity to go to Hyrule and steal the Triforces for themselves.
The Trojan Dragon
The N Team heads back to Dragon’s Den to prevent the evil Dragon Lord from hatching a deadly Golden Dragon.
I Wish I Was a Wombatman
Kid Icarus meets Wombatman, his television hero, and the N Team must help him to rescue his girlfriend from Mother Brain, who has taken over his television studio world.
The Invasion of the Paper Pedalers
The N Team visits News World, where newspapers are printed, when a paperboy claims citizens are being turned into dangerous zombies. It is up to the N team to find a solution to the problem.
When Kevin contracts a dangerous video virus and has no immunity towards it, other members of the N Team shrink themselves down to fight it from inside his body. But they have limited time before the shrinking spell wears off.
When Mother Brain Rules
This clip show features highlights from the first two seasons, and is partially narrated by Simon Belmont (NOTE: This episode never appeared in any of the DVD sets, and may have been put together by the network rather than the production company).
Season three premiered in September 1991. This time around, the show aired with the Super Mario World cartoon, in a block that only totaled half an hour. This meant that the Captain N episodes were substantially shorter. The animation quality also took a sharp downgrade, and episodes primarily only focused on a few members of the N Team at a time. Only seven new episodes were produced for the third season; other new Super Mario World cartoons were accompanied by edited versions of older Captain N episodes. The original episodes from season three are:
Misadventures in Robin Hood Woods
Captain N and Kid Icarus must join forces with Robin Hood to halt an evil scheme put into motion by the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John.
Pursuit of the Magic Hoop
The N Team visits a basketball themed world, where they must sink a basket through a magic hoop so they can wish for King Charles to come home. In true Captain N style, though, nothing goes as planned.
Return to Castlevania
Simon is being honored on Castlevania at a special ceremony, but he and Kevin soon find themselves doing battle with The Count again, and encountering his mysterious son, Alucard.
When Lana loses contact with her brother Lyle, she heads back to Tetris with the N Team. Soon the team finds themselves face to face with a mysterious new foe.
Battle of the Baseball Know-It-Alls
The N Team is trapped beneath the surface of Baseball World following a game, and must find a way to escape and deal with Mother Brain (NOTE: This was the only episode of the third season to feature the whole N Team).
A Tale of Two Dogs
Dr. Wily has seemingly changed his ways and befriended Dr Right, with the two of them building a peace keeping robot. But has Dr. Wily truly changed, or is this an evil plot?
The Fractured Fantasy of Captain N
The N Team visits the world of Final Fantasy, where Lana is friends with a prince. But an evil wizard sets his sights on brainwashing Kevin, as well as conquering the world himself! (NOTE: This was the last original episode of Captain N ever produced, and it ends the same as all the others, with no sense of closure to the series).
In addition to the television series, there was also a short-lived Captain N comic series, from Valiant’s Nintendo Comics System; Captain N stories also appeared in anthology volumes put out by Valiant of the Nintendo characters/stories etc. The comic series has mostly the same characters and plot, but is generally more serious and less humorous. Likely due to licensing costs, some characters from the TV show (Simon Belmont, Mega Man) do not appear, but other first party characters do (Samus Aran from Metroid, Uranos from Kid Icarus). Despite its short life, the comic is widely regarded as superior to the television series.
Wow. Looking back at Captain N these years is a fun nostalgia trip, but part of the experience is nauseating as well. Captain N was a fun show for its time, and there are certainly no shortage of episodes that serve as highlights. But so much of the show is horribly inaccurate to the video games and oriented around childish, slapstick humor. Undoubtedly, Nintendo sold mountains of video games thanks to Captain N: The Game Master. If you were a fan when the show was first on, it is worth rewatching at least once for nostalgia purposes. But it is unlikely you are going to become a fan if you were not already one.
The inaccuracies to the video games are the biggest problem here, because they make the show cringe worthy. In the video games, Mega Man is a young boy robot who was a lab assistant, who is converted to a warrior to fight evil. Here he is a midget with super strength that talks like a chain smoker and adds the word “mega” to everything he says. The Simon Belmont in the Castlevania games was a fairly nondescript, “by the book” hero who did what was right to fight and save Transylvania. Here we get a dark skinned, vain and egotistical jerk who dresses like a World War I pilot and has a whip that is ALIVE. I admit, this take on the character still gets some laughs out of me from time to time, but is a cringe inducing portrayal I bet Castlevania fans wish they could forget. Princess Lana is not even from a video game, and while her character is not bad by any means, it makes you wonder why Nintendo did not just use one of the many "already existing" princess characters from their bullpen. I will not go into every instance/character/game that this applies to; that alone could be content for an entirely separate article!
There is also an abundance of stupid, slapstick humor and plot devices that are driven by sheer greed and idiocy. In the first season alone, two whole episode plots stem from Simon’s selfishness and stupidity! (Not to mention parts and sequences of others.) When the N Team gets a magic lamp with which they could free Videoland, they all act like selfish jerks. When Mother Brain holds a suspicious Video Olympics event, no one suspects that it is a trap. Again, this is something that knows no bounds in Captain N, for better or for worse.
After years of people have to bootleg and tape trade to get the episodes, Shout! Factory released a box set of the first two seasons in early 2007. This was billed as the “Complete Series” but lacked the third season and the “When Mother Brain Rules” clip show episode from the second season. A set of Captain N and the New Super Mario World with the remaining seven episodes from season three was eventually released separately. The DVDs do not have the best picture or sound quality, and special features are fairly sparse, but they are still vastly superior to your old bootleg VHS tapes, making them the best way to enjoy the series (not that some episodes have alternative versions, but these sets only contain one version of each episode).
Captain N: The Game Master is not one of Nintendo’s widely remembered forays into the television market, and perhaps that is for the best. Opinions are going to widely vary when it comes to this one, for those who watched it as children, nostalgia is bound to be a factor as well. Check it out if you are curious, but keep your expectations in check; this is not a “lost masterpiece.”