February 04, 2017

CAPTAIN N: THE GAME MASTER

CAPTAIN N: THE GAME MASTER
(NBC, September 9, 1989-October 26, 1991)

DiC Entertainment, Nintendo of America, Inc., Saban Productions (season 1)


MAIN CAST:
Matt HillKevin Keene/Captain N, Narrator (season 3 opening)
Dorian Barag – Kevin Keene (live)
Venus TerzoPrincess Lana, Medusa, Kevin’s mom, Narrator (season 2 opening)
Doug ParkerMega Man, Rush, various
Frank WelkerGameboy (season 2-3)



            In the late 1980s, Mario had firmly cemented himself as Nintendo’s trademark mascot. However, while his iconic status was assured, he lacked a certain technological flash Nintendo wanted their mascot to encompass; something along the lines of a superhero. Randy Studdard, editor and contributor to Nintendo’s new Nintendo Power magazine, took the challenge and worked on a concept for an entire marketing proposal; including an animated series.

Nintendo Power #3, the first appearance of Captain Nintendo.

            After taking an informal survey of customer information, Studdard realized the thing people wanted to know most was about the inner workings of Nintendo. So, he created Captain Nintendo: a Nintendo technician named Brett Randalls who gained the ability to bring characters and items from games to life after being bombarded by exploding experimental microchips. He was pit into battle against Mother Brain, the villain from Metroid that was brought to life through the same explosion. The character made his debut in a prose story split between issues three and four of Nintendo Power magazine during the winter of 1988/1989. The story ended with an opening for a potential sequel. However, despite the extremely positive reaction readers gave the story, Studdard’s direct supervisor nixed any future entries deciding readers rather have game information than be entertained.

The game worlds of Videoland.

            Studdard took his idea to marketing to try and move forward with getting Captain Nintendo in the door as Nintendo’s new mascot. Nintendo of America, Inc. decided to follow through with Studdard’s ideas, but ultimately cut him out of the process (however, he was Nintendo Power’s point-person to answer all correspondence about and to the good Captain, earning him the nickname “Captain Nintendo”). They hired DiC Entertainment to produce a series based on any of their games, and executive producer Richard Raynis chose Paper Boy, which was ultimately named Buddy Boy when Nintendo didn’t want the name used. Buddy Boy would have followed the title character as he delivered his papers around the wacky world of Nintendo game characters. Nintendo ultimately decided to trash the original concept and recycle much of it for their proposed Captain Nintendo series.

Kevin with his Zapper and Power Pad.

The only aspect of the original Captain Nintendo idea to carry over into DiC’s production was the name (shortened to “Captain N” by the network in order to stave off commercialism criticisms) and use of Mother Brain as the main antagonist. Captain N became teenaged gamer Kevin Keene (Matt Hill) who was sucked into an alternate dimension called Videoland through his television with his dog, Duke (Tomm Wright). Kevin found himself landed in the middle of an ongoing battle by Mother Brain (Levi Stubbs) and The Forces of Chaos to attempt to conquer Videoland. Kevin joined in the conflict in fulfillment of a prophecy that declared him to be Captain N: The Game Master, armed with a real-working NES Zapper and wearing an NES controller (called the Power Pad) as a belt buckle that allowed him to pause things around him, shift locations and jump higher. A Nintendo Power Glove was also instrumental in opening the warp that brought Kevin into Videoland.

The N-Team: Princess Lana, Kid Icarus, Mega Man and Simon Belmont.

Kevin wasn’t alone, however. Already involved with the battle was Videoland’s defenders: the N-Team. The N-Team was led by Videoland’s acting regent, Princess Lana (Venus Terzo), who assumed command when her father, King Charles (Long John Baldry), was abducted by Mother Brain. The rest of the team was comprised of three video game characters from popular Nintendo series: Simon Belmont (Andrew Kavadas) from the Castlevania series, Kid Icarus (Alessandro Juliani) from Kid Icarus, and Mega Man (Doug Parker) from the Mega Man series (Icarus and Mega Man were holdovers from the original Buddy Boy pitch). Although, their animated incarnation differed a bit from their videogame presentations; partly due to the fact that Nintendo supplied DiC with very little information about the characters during the series’ development, leaving the producers to fill in the gaps as best as they could.

"Mirror, mirror in my hand..."

While Belmont was still a vampire hunter that primarily used a whip, he was depicted as arrogant and vain and was in constant competition with Kevin for Lana’s affections. Belmont was garbed in winter exploration gear and goggles instead of medieval-style clothing. His backpack had a seemingly unlimited storage capacity and often pulled a variety of useful—and not as—items from it, including fishing line, a magnifying glass, a cowboy hat, an ape dictionary, and a phone.

Kid Icarus holding a glowing heart-icus.

Kid Icarus, named “Pit” in his games, was a diminutive angel and very protective of Lana. He largely retained his videogame appearance, but his hairstyle was changed to always constantly be covering one eye. Icarus used a bow with a quiver full of specialized gadget arrows, however despite his accomplishments as a marksman he often failed physically in combat situations. Icarus also tended to add “-icus” to the end of various words when he spoke.

Mega Man looking mega-small.

            Mega Man was about the same size as Icarus, but as a robot was a lot stronger, more durable and extremely agile. As in the games, he was created by scientist Dr. Wright (named Dr. Light in the games and with a different appearance, voiced by Ian James Corlett) and possessed energy cannons on his forearms (although they didn’t take the place of his hands when in use). However, instead of his well-known blue coloring, Mega Man’s suit was colored green and had a helmet visor, shoulder and knee pads. The green color was the result of character designer Fil Barlow having only played the game once and incorrectly remembering his color, and nobody on the production end catching and correcting the mistake. Mega Man was shown to have a longing to be truly human, and had a tendency to being his words with the prefix “mega.”

Mother Brain under glass.

            Over on the floating base Metroid, Mother Brain spent most of her time in her base’s control room. There, she used a mirror to spy on the N Team in order to find a weakness to exploit, and used her retractable tentacles to electrically shock her minions when they screwed up. As in the games, she was represented as a giant brain, but was put inside a liquid-filled jar and given a stretched fleshy face.

Dr. Wily, Eggplant Wizard, King Hippo.

            Speaking of her minions, she had partnered with several videogame bosses to aid her in her conquest. From Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! and later versions of the game was King Hippo (Garry Chalk), a large, rotund, dimwitted boxer who wore a crown and had a face like a hippopotamus (hence the name). Unlike the game, Hippo had blue skin and lacked a bandage over his bellybutton. From Kid Icarus was Eggplant Wizard (Michael Donovan), a human-sized one-eyed eggplant that could conjure up vegetable-themed gadgets and showed some ambitions to subverting and overthrowing Mother Brain. From Mega Man was mad scientist Dr. Wily (Corlett using a German accent), the most competent of Mother Brain’s henchmen and developer of wild gadgets and complicated schemes dedicated to the defeat of the N-Team. The latter two were the least altered from their game appearances, while Hippo and Eggplant were also holdovers from Buddy Boy.

The live Kevin Keene and Duke.

            Captain N: The Game Master debuted on NBC on September 9, 1989. The first season was co-produced by Saban Productions as founders Haim Saban and Shuki Levy handled the series’ music. The first season also featured a number of licensed songs that tied in somehow with the theme of the episode. A live-action sequence of Kevin (played by Dorian Barag) being sucked into Videoland to kick the storyline off became featured in every version of the series’ intro. It was produced by I Square Communications, while the animation was handled by Dongyang Animation. Each commercial break would be accompanied by a piece of unique art and the theme song of the game primarily being featured in that episode. The entire first season was written by Jeffrey Scott, who almost didn’t get the job. Phyllis Tucker-Vinson, vice president of children’s and family programs at NBC who made their Saturday morning line-up the highest rated for seven years, was under the belief that all of the scripts he contributed to Muppet Babies had to be heavily rewritten. Muppets creator Jim Henson took the time to speak on Scott’s behalf, and he was hired.

The Robot Masters from Megaland.

As the show was an elaborate commercial for Nintendo and its products, each episode would take the characters to various worlds within Videoland based on different Nintendo games released by that time. Typically, they would face threats or encounter other characters related to those worlds, including gigantic gorilla Donkey Kong (Chalk) from Donkey Kong; gigantic dragon Dragon Lord (Don Brown) from Dragon Warrior; Bayou Billy (Chalk) from The Adventures of Bayou Billy (the only game Kevin could never beat); and evil wizard Malkil (Chalk) from Wizards & Warriors. Characters from the home worlds of the series’ stars would also appear, including The Count (Chalk with a Transylvanian accent) and his son Allucard (Corlett) from Castlevania; Dr. Wright and Mega Girl (the show’s version of Roll) from Mega Man; and the gorgon Medusa (Terzo) from Kid Icarus.

Captain N and Gameboy with Zelda and Link.

            Notably absent from any kind of inclusion was Nintendo’s mascot, Mario, and any characters from The Super Mario Bros. series of games. That was likely due to the fact that DiC was also producing The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, which aired around the same time. However, Link (Jonathan Potts), Princess Zelda (Cynthia Preston) and Ganon (Len Carlson) from The Legend of Zelda cartoon that aired as part of The Super Show every Friday made appearances on Captain N with their voice actors reprising their respective roles. Captain N did make reference to the Mario games through the use of the Ultimate Warp Zone that transported him to Videoland in the first place, and the series shared many sound effects and background music with The Super Show.

Gameboy.

            In 1989, Nintendo had debuted its portable gaming system, Game Boy. To promote the system, a new character was introduced in the second season of Captain N called Gameboy (Frank Welker). He was a human-sized version of the device that was sent through a portal by King Charles to aid the N-Team. He was able to stretch his limbs to great lengths, track and analyze substances with his onboard computer, and generate objects and monsters primarily for the team’s target practice. DiC producer Ken Ito, had tasked Barlow (who had been laid off from the company before the first season was produced) with designing the character. Fil thought it was “overkill” to turn products into characters and quickly rushed out several design ideas.



Behind the scenes, Michael Tavera took over scoring duties from Saban and Levy with licensed songs no longer being used, and animation duties fell to Spectrum Animation Studio. The series used a shorter version of the intro with narration provided by Terzo for the season. NBC also paired up the season with The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 in an hour-long programming block called Captain N and The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3. A single Captain N episode was sandwiched between two Mario Bros. episodes for the duration of the block. Scott’s brother, Michael Maurer, was the primary writer for the season.

In season 3, Mother Brain was looking a little--under-detailed.

            By 1991, the impressive ratings for Saved by the Bell had prompted NBC to consider moving away from cartoons and focusing more on teen-oriented live-action programming. As a result, they drastically reduced the budgets for all of their Saturday morning offerings; including Captain N’s third season. Saerom Animation provided the animation and used a more simplified design style for the characters—such as removing some of the detail from Mother Brain, Icarus’ sandals and Belmont’s goggles, Icarus’ hair no longer covering his eye, and Mega Man being more rounded and portly—and the overall animation quality was greatly lacking in comparison to previous seasons. Mega Man and Belmont had reduced roles in order to avoid paying the royalties to their respective owners, Capcom and Konami. Each episode was shortened to 11 minutes and was combined with Super Mario World to form the half-hour Captain N and the New Super Mario World. A new intro was made with narration by Hill as Kevin, and episodes went beyond videogames to include parodies of fairy tales.


            The third season only had seven new episodes produced, with the episodes “Nightmare on Mother Brain Street”, “Quest for the Potion of Power”, “Invasion of the Paper Pedalers”, “Three Men and a Dragon” and “Mr. and Mrs. Mother Brain” being recut to 10 minutes to fill out the remainder of the season’s run. It, along with all of NBC’s other animated programs, were cancelled at the conclusion of their seasons to make way for their Teen NBC initiative. Captain N didn’t stay off the air, however, as it returned the following season in a syndicated rerun package called Captain N & The Video Game Masters, which included Zelda, Mario 3 and Mario World. The licensed music from the first season was removed and replaced by an instrumental version of the season 2 song “Mega Move” from the episode “The Feud of Faxanadu.” The Captain N episodes were time compressed and split into two acts instead of three and used the season 2 intro and credits, while season 3’s episodes had their title cards removed. The Family Channel aired time-compressed versions of the songs for the 1991-92 season, reducing each episode by 2 minutes but maintaining the original licensed music. From 1993-99, USA Network aired the series as part of their USA Cartoon Express animation block on Sundays. The network edited scenes out of various episodes in order to format it to fit their specified running time.

Captain N with Bayou Billy.

            When “How’s Bayou” originally aired, the animation for the episode was raw and unfinished and had several scenes missing. The episode only aired once and was later replaced by an updated version with improved animation, additional scenes, and music and dialogue swaps. “When Mother Brain Rules” was a clip show highlighting events from the series thus far narrated by Belmont. Upon its original airing, everything was left intact. However, additional airings had Saban and Levy’s music excised from season 1 clips and replaced with music by Tavera.

The competition for Kevin begins between Lana and Samus.

            After the first season, Valiant Comics entered into a publishing deal with Nintendo and DiC to produce a series of comics based on the show. However, the book had some notable differences from the actual program. For starters, Valiant chose not to pay the licensing fees for Belmont and Mega Man and replaced them with Metroid protagonist Samus Aran, who never appeared on the show despite all the other Metroid elements present. The love triangle was reworked to have Lana and Samus compete for Kevin’s affections. Dr. Wily was replaced by Uranos, God of the Sky, from Kid Icarus as Mother Brain’s second-in-command. Lana also gained a new weapon: a scepter she had in concept art but was only seen briefly once in an episode. The series also took a decidedly more serious tone than the cartoon. The comic ran for 5 issues before being abruptly cancelled; with the final issue’s letter page promising the appearance of Mega Man in an upcoming issue.


            In the early 1990s, the first and second season were released across a series of VHS tapes distributed by Buena Vista Home Video. The third season was recut into a 73-minute movie titled Captain N and the Video Game Masters. In 2007, the complete series was released to DVD by Shout! Factory and BMG Music Entertainment. The set contained only the first two seasons as the third was considered part of a separate show for legal reasons. They released Captain N and the New Super Mario World later that year. The original version of “How’s Bayou” was included, and the second season was comprised of the Family Channel edits as the masters were not provided for it. “When Mother Brain Rules” remains the only episode never released on home video due to it being a clip show. Plans to include a booklet with the set and a scan of the first issue of the Captain N comic were scrapped due to time constraints and rights confusion, however the original Nintendo Power story was included as a bonus feature.


            Three years after the end of the series, Corlett would go on to play Wily’s nemesis Mega Man in a Mega Man animated series. Chalk would also reprise his role as Robot Master Guts Man (amongst several other roles), and Terzo would also supply voices for an episode. In 2015, for the final issue of Archie ComicsMega Man comic, the goofy back-up strip “Short Circuits” featured a gathering of every incarnation of Mega Man and his cast; including the version seen in Captain N. 


EPISODE GUIDE:
Season 1:
“Kevin in Videoland” (9/9/89) – Kevin Keene is sucked into Videoland through his TV and ends up joining Princess Lana and her team against the forces of Mother Brain.

“How’s Bayou” (9/16/89) – When Mother Brain discovers Kevin isn’t good at Bayou Billy, she plots to lure him to Bayouland.

“The Most Dangerous Game Master” (9/23/89) – Dr. Wily builds a robot version of the kid who used to bully Kevin and lures the heroes into a trap in Castlevania.
Song: Thriller” – Michael Jackson

“Videolympics” (9/30/89) – Mother Brain challenges the N Team to a Video Olympics on Mount Icarus as a distraction while her forces find the Three Sacred Treasures.

“Mega Trouble for Megaland” (10/7/89) – The N Team tries to find weapons that can counter the Three Sacred Trasures.
Song: Danger Zone” – Kenny Loggins
Games: Kid Icarus, Mega Man

“Wishful Thinking” (10/14/89) – Pit tries to use a magic lamp to make himself bigger while Mother Brain plots to get the lamp for herself.
Song: “Shakedown” – Bob Seger

“Three Men and a Dragon” (10/21/89) – The N Team heads to Dragon’s Den to battle Mother Brain and save it from her new ally, Dragonlord.

“Mr. and Mrs. Mother Brain” (10/28/89) – One of Pit’s arrows causes Simon to fall in love with Mother Brain.
Song: White Wedding” – Billy Idol
Games: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Kid Icarus

“Nightmare on Mother Brain’s Street” (11/4/89) – Mother Brain and Dr. Wily plan to trap the N Team in the Nightmare Zone.

“Simon the Ape-Man” (11/11/89) – A blow to the head leaves Simon believing he’s Donkey Kong, Jr.
Game: Donkey Kong

“In Search of the King” (11/18/89) – The N Team heads into Mirror World to rescue Lana’s father, but instead find themselves in a trap.
Song: Dancing with Myself” – Billy Idol
Game: Wizards & Warriors, Castlevania

“Metroid Sweet Metroid” (11/25/89) – Mother Brain feints defeat in order to conquer Videoland.
Game: Metroid

“Happy Birthday, Megaman” (12/2/89) – Mega Man sets out on a quest to become human.
Songs: “Danger Zone” – Kenny Loggins, “Shake It Up” – The Cars

Season 2:
“Gameboy” (9/8/90) – King Charles sends Game Boy through a warp to aid the N Team, but he ends up being more trouble than helpful.
Games: Burger Time, Metroid

“Queen of the Apes” (9/22/90) – A brain-switching plot leaves Mother Brain in Donkey Kong’s body, Donkey Kong in Game Boy’s, and Game Boy in Mother Brain’s.
Game: Donkey Kong

“Quest for the Potion of Power” (9/29/90) – Kevin helps Link and Zelda keep Ganondorf from regaining his full power.

“The Trouble with Tetris” (10/13/90) – Kevin helps Lana’s bother Lyle keep the Sacred Square from Tetris world out of Mother Brain’s hands.
Game: Tetris

“The Big Game” (10/20/90) – Some of Kevin’s friends are brought into Videoland to compete against Dr. Wily’s robot masters in a football game.

“The Lost City of Kongoland” (11/10/90) – Trying to keep an artifact from Mother Brain leads Lana to becoming an even more dangerous foe.

“Once Upon a Time Machine” (11/17/90) – Link and Pero help Kevin retrieve his Power Pad and Zapper from Count Gruemon.
Games: Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, Puss ‘n Boots: Pero’s Great Adventure

“The Feud of Faxanadu” (11/24/90) – A power overload sneds the N Team to Faxanadu where they end up in a conflict between elves and dwarves.
Game: Faxanadu

“Having a Ball” (12/1/90) – When Mother Brain fires Eggplant Wizard and King Hippo for failing to get the Triforce, they go out and steal it for themselves.
Game: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

“The Trojan Dragon” (12/8/90) – Zelda and Link join the N Team in stopping Dragonlord’s latest plot to conquer Dragon’s Den by using a mechanical dragon to sneak in.
Game: Dragon Warrior, Zelda II: The Adventures of Link

“I Wish I Was a Wombatman” (12/15/90) – Pit teams-up with his favorite TV hero against Mother Brain.

“The Invasion of the Paper Pedalers” (12/22/90) – Mother Brain uses a special newspaper ink to hypnotize the residents of an Earth-like world.
Game: Paperboy

“Germ Wars” (12/29/90) – The N Team shrinks down to battle a virus Kevin has contracted.
Games: Faxanadu

“When Mother Brain Rules” (1/5/91) – A recap of the first two seasons.

Season 3:
“Misadventures in Robin Hood Woods” (9/14/91) – Kevin and Pit team-up with Robin Hood to take on the Sheriff of Nottingham’s troops.

“Pursuit of the Magic Hoop” (9/21/91) – The N Team travels to Hoopland to attempt to sink a ball through the Magic Hoop and wish for King Charles’ return.

“Return to Castlevania” (9/28/91) – Simon travels home for a great honor, only to learn he has dishonored his great-grandfather, Trevor.

“Totally Tetrisized” (10/5/91) – The N Team returns to the world of Tetris to liberate it from the Puzzle Wizard.
Game: Tetris

“Battle of the Baseball Know-it-Alls” (10/12/91) – Mother Brain plots anew while the N Team is busy with demons in the world of Baseball.

“A Tale of Two Dogs” (10/19/91) – Dr. Wily partners with Dr. Wright and the N Team to build a Peace Robot, but he double-crosses them and uses the robot against them.
Game: Mega Man 3

“The Fractured Fantasy of Captain N” (10/26/91) – Astos hypnotizes Kevin into helping him conquer the world of Final Fantasy.

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