Retro Review: “Captain Novolin” (1992, Raya Systems, SNES)
By Michael Mygind
Every now & then, there comes a game that causes you to question if it was actually a game. In this case, it is Captain Novolin, released for the Super Nintendo in 1992 by Raya Systems. This is a game about a superhero with type 1 diabetes. Yes, a diabetic superhero. Unlike other educational games like Math Blaster and the Carmen San Diego series, this game is interesting in that it was given to children with diabetes by their doctor as an educational aid, albeit disguised as a Super Nintendo cartridge to teach them about their condition with a game.
The premise of the game is as follows: Aliens commanded by the evil Blubberman have disguised themselves as junk food, and have invaded the city of Pineville. They’ve kidnapped the city’s mayor, Mayor Gooden, who also happens to be in charge of the city’s cache of diabetes supplies. Being a D-list superhero with type 1 diabetes, who better to save the day than Captain Novolin? Not once are any special powers mentioned. From playing the game, all that can be learned is that he is a normal guy in a spandex suit with diabetes. If I owned the manual, it might’ve given me some insight into his compelling origin story, how he qualifies as a superhero and how/why he has a secret headquarters. Maybe he’s a PSA mascot like Smokey Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog or Woodsy Owl, and is randomly called out for action in the rare instance that the city’s diabetic population is in trouble. His one redeeming quality is that he can flip in the air…so, he’s got that going for him.
Before each level, you’re given facts about diabetes, insulin shots and checking your blood sugar. You’re also given a suggested meal plan for each level which revolves around a meal such as breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner or a bedtime snack. Rather than collecting all of the food items, you must stick to your suggested meal plan of one of each item so that when you inject your insulin shot following that level/meal and check your blood sugar, you’ll be within the healthy zone marked in green. If you go overboard and collect all of the food items, you’ll either wind up in the red zone, which will cause our hero to look dazed and sluggish or you’ll pass out due to hyperglycemia, or a very high level of blood sugar. I learned that from this game! Facts will often pop up during the game, which you’ll be quizzed on.
The core of the gameplay is collecting the suggested food items while dodging and flipping over the enemies, which are mobile junk food items. While the story and concept is laughable, at least it can teach someone something. The gameplay however is what truly drags this game down. Getting through each level is quite a task due to the erratic movements of the games’ enemies and Novolin’s giant hit boxes. On screen, it may have appear that you jumped over that walking cookie with inches to spare, but you’ll still take damage. Levels vary from the city of Pineville, to the ocean, to the woods, to a mountain and the lair of the final antagonist, Blubberman, who just looks like an overweight man. In most places, you’ll encounter a dock worker or forest ranger, who will all be informed by the hero that he has diabetes. They’ll give you tips on taking on that environment with your condition and the dock worker will even equip you with a pair of diabetic shoes and socks.
Captain Novolin is an educational game that tackles a delicate issue. Is it a good game? No. The gameplay is literally based around you living each day and getting from point A to point B without over/under eating or getting hurt by the cheap enemies. The visuals are passable and the music gets old really quick. But, this was ultimately given out as an educational tool. So, when you look past the ridiculous story and shallow gameplay, it could certainly be informative for the population that it applies to. (Believe it or not, there was actually another Super Nintendo game that was released by Raya Systems that tackled the issue of diabetes: Packy and Marlon, a game about two diabetic elephants who have to recover the diabetic supplies that rats stole while they were at summer camp. This game also features plenty of insulin shooting and blood sugar checking fun!) Because of how obscure it is, Captain Novolin could be considered semi-rare and at the time of this review, currently goes for about $40 on eBay. Please don’t pay that much for this game. However, if you happen to stumble across it for dirt cheap at a swap meet, yard sale or game shop, it might be good for either a cheap laugh or a healthy lesson.