The Captain Novolin Night Thread (2/4)

In 1992, the SNES game Captain Novolin was released, about a true superhero whose superpower is… having juvenile diabetes. Yes, besides having juvenile diabetes, Captain Novolin has no powers whatsoever. The villainous Blubberman leads an alien race of anthropomorphic sugary foods to capture the mayor, who also has diabetes. Despite Captain Novolin being less resistant to sugar than the average person, he is the only person called upon to fight the aliens. The deck seems stacked against Captain Novolin.

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As Captain Novolin, the player will run and jump through a series of levels, fighting off giant cans of soda and doughnuts on a quest to save the mayor! But that’s not all- he’ll also have to keep up with his diabetes regularly, including minigames in which you have to maintain your blood sugar and ketone levels! And he drives a cool speedboat! (The controls for the speedboat are reportedly slower than walking.)

Throughout the game, the player must answer trivia questions given to them by their two doctors, who also give sage advice, and by “sage,” I mean “so oversimplified as to be actively harmful to children with diabetes.”

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Captain Novolin is not a fun game to play, at least as an emulator for a modern-day computer. Captain Novolin himself takes up so much of the screen that it is impossible to move around the enemies, and I couldn’t even beat the first level. Additionally, there is no separating the food that Captain Novolin must eat to keep going and the food he must avoid, and the game waits until you get to the end of the level to tell you if your blood sugar is good. If it’s not, you have to restart the entire level. In an attempt at realism, Captain Novolin can be hurt from an excess of healthy food as well, making this the only game ever where the hero loses a life from eating too much cereal.

The failures of Captain Novolin, besides the horrendous gameplay, are the series of contradictions at the heart of the game that make me question who it’s for. Children with juvenile diabetes, are already aware of the rudimentary advice the game gives, but there are a million disclaimers telling you to check with your doctor before you follow any of the advice. There’s no way that children without diabetes would ever play this, given its altogether terrible programming and the fact that it cost $59.95 in 1992. It’s certainly not for people who ever want to hear again, given how the music appears to be ska arrangements played at 25% speed exclusively on an off-key synthesizer (except the trivia theme, which is literally the theme from Jeopardy! but done in the style of a choir warm-up exercise to somehow avoid copyright infringement). Yet I kind of appreciate how a superhero with my disease appeared in a major video game, especially one so terrible. Thank you, Captain Novolin, for being the hero we neither need nor deserve.

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