When gamers say that Nintendo dominated the late 1980's and early 90's they aren't kidding. The Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda got their own TV shows and The Wizard was released as a glorified commercial for Super Mario Brothers 3. It's pretty hard to deny Nintendo's ownership of the gaming industry (during that time period anyway) and as further proof of that today we're looking at Captain N: The Game Master.
Running for a mere 34 episodes, Captain N wasn't the smash hit that the producers were hoping for I'm sure. It began airing in September of 1989 and ended in 1991 with a total of three seasons under its Power Belt. Like many cartoons from this era this one was a 22 minute advertisement from start to finish. It was as if somebody took all of Nintendo's hottest titles and paraphernalia, tossed them into a blender and pressed start. The end result is a drink that might have tasted slightly sweet when it was fresh but has grown sour over the past 16 years or so.
The basic idea of the show originated in the Nintendo Power magazine though many differences between the two are evident to anyone who read the old issues. In Captain N the story focuses on a rad teenage boy named Kevin Keene who is playing his Nintendo when he should be taking out the garbage and cleaning his room. Out of the blue lightning shoots from his TV and drags him into the set with his dog, Duke, following in step. When he comes to he realizes that he's not in Kansas anymore since he's surrounded by some of Nintendo's most well known personalities.
Kevin's new environment is known as Videoland and is basically a hub for the Nintendo Universe. He's regarded as a hero and dubbed Captain N: The Game Master. Now a gamer is nothing without his controller so it's no surprise that Kevin is given a belt with a Nintendo controller and light gun attached. While he is regarded as the hero of the land he's joined by Simon Belmont, Mega Man, Kid Icarus, Game Boy (one of the worst characters ever), and Princess Lana.
Going back to watch the show left me with mixed feelings. Simon Belmont was portrayed as arrogant and egotistical, Mega Man was a stubby dwarf who talked like he smoked too much, and Kid Icarus was childish with a penchant for adding "icus" to the end of everything he said. Over the years these characters have never been portrayed in such a way again and let's just say that it's a good thing.
Each episode featured Captain N and his friends fighting against the evil hordes of Mother Brain for dominance over Videoland. When they weren't tackling her braininess, they were fighting King Hippo from Punch Out, Eggplant Wizard from Kid Icarus, and the mad scientist Dr. Wily. Along the way several other Nintendo properties came into play with Donkey Kong, Princess Zelda, Link, Ganon, and Dr. Light all making appearances. Heck, they even found a way to work Tetris into the show!
As far as the episodes featured in this set are concerned let's get something out of the way right now. Captain N: The Game Master The Complete Series is really not as "complete" as you'd think. The set is comprised of the first two seasons minus the final episode of the second season entitled "When Mother Brain Rules". The third season is nowhere to be found and leaves this release feeling more like "The Incomplete Series". It probably had something to do with licensing and such but diehard fans will still be left unsatisfied.
Despite all of this and the fact that the show was little more than an animated commercial with a script there are some fun episodes here. From the first season "Wishful Thinking", "Mr. & Mrs. Mother Brain", and "In Search of the King" stood out the most.
In "Wishful Thinking" Kid Icarus gets his hands on a magic lamp and wishes himself to be larger. His wish comes true and the effects are more than he ever dreamed about. Naturally it wouldn't be much of an episode if the bad guys didn't get their hands on the lamp's power as well. Seeing Mother Brain as a servant was hilarious but in the end Captain N and his buddies have to get the lamp back and restore the balance of power.
"Mr. & Mrs. Mother Brain" was another good one even though it featured an age-old plot. Simon gets his hands on a love arrow and accidentally shoots himself instead of Lana. The end result is that he falls in love with Mother Brain and winds up standing at the altar with her. Fortunately Icarus and Mega Man have his back and the team works to remove the spell that Simon is under.
The second season included a couple of good episodes as well but the quality of the show began to slip noticeably. Stories didn't feel as inspired and in most cases episodes felt tiresome. Still, some stuff included here like "Quest for the Potion of Power" and "Having a Ball" was more than fun. Both introduced and brought Link, Zelda, and Hyrule into the show and featured plots enjoyable enough to make them entertaining.
Overall Captain N: The Game Master was a show filled with considerable ups and downs. The concept is self-indulgent enough to endear itself to gamers and there are many moments here that are unlike any other in the gaming industry. We don't see shows like this anymore but maybe that's a good thing. It's hard to deny that the series was a glorified commercial and because of that the quality suffered exponentially. There are some laughs to be had for sure but for the most part they are at the expense of Captain N and not a byproduct of intelligent writing. Add all of this to the fact that this isn't really a "Complete Series" and you have a release that is entertaining enough to be seen on a whim but nowhere near as competent for fans looking to fill their collection.
Captain N: The Game Master is presented with its original full frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1. It's not surprising in the least since this is the expected output for a series from the 80's. As far as the quality of the video is concerned it holds up fairly well considering the age but there are some problems that could most likely be attributed to the source. There is quite a bit of grain in every scene, dirt permeates the transfer, and the image is faded with a washed out appearance. It looks like no attempt was made to clean up the picture and that's really a shame after seeing the efforts put out by other publishers such as BCI. Still, this presentation is undoubtedly better for fans than trying to watch beat up VHS tapes.
The audio for Captain N: The Game Master comes in the form of a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo English track. The presence on the soundstage is decent for a show of this age but as you'd expect there is limited range and not a lot of diversity. The quality of the audio has remained intact but it's roughly on par with the video presentation. There are a fair amount of muted moments and some noise here and there. It's not "bad" by the standards of shows from this time period but it doesn't sound as crisp as it should. No subtitles are included.
Given the fact that the episode selection was cut short I wasn't expecting to see many bonus features on this set. For the most part all we have here is a selection of character profiles (both good and bad) and a conceptual background image gallery. The only supplement of interest is a reprinting of the original short story from Nintendo Power that first promoted the idea of Captain Nintendo.
This release of Captain N: The Game Master really isn't as "complete" as the DVD's cover states. That doesn't mean that it's not worth checking out if you're a gamer, it just means that hardcore fans will be met with disappointment. Throughout this set of 26 episodes there are a few good episodes but the majority of this show only holds value as something to shake your head and laugh at.
Captain N was an entertaining show for its day but it is by no means a classic or "must see". If you're a gamer who played your fair share of 8-bit NES games then this might be something you'll want to pick up or at least rent.
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