Back in the 8-bit era of video games, a lot of imagination was required to fill the gaps between a game's box art, and the low-detail, pixelated mess that was on screen. Even the box art wasn't always reliable. Mega Man's North American box seemed to imply that the title character was a helmeted, middle-aged man in the midst of being liquefied from the inside out. Video games were for kids in the 80's, and kids are stupid, so they won't realize that their IronSword: Wizards and Warriors II doesn't actually star shirtless Fabio.
That left a lot of license for creators of cartoons based on video games. I've already gone over the diversions taken by the Legend of Zelda animated series, but the liberties it took are tame compared to the ones in Captain N: The Game Master.
Originally lifted from a comic by Randy Studdard, an employee of Nintendo Power who Nintendo didn't bother to, y'know, credit for his creation, Captain N is the story of Kevin Keene, who is abducted from his bedroom and dragged into the land of Video Games, Video Land.
Kidnapping was, of course, the method of choice for magical kingdoms to solve all their problems in the 80's (See also, Little Nemo: Dream Master and Monster Party). This is probably the reason that mine is the most abductable generation, since we had been conditioned to unquestioningly follow any stranger who told us the Candy Kingdom was under attack by the evil Grumplox.
Anyways, Kevin is dragged into Video Land along with his dog, Duke, and is asked to save it from a group of villains lead by Mother Brain from Metroid. Kevin is joined by the most hilariously off the mark team of classic gaming icons, Mega Man from Mega Man, Kid Icarus (never referred to as his actual name, Pit) from Kid Icarus, and Simon Belmont from Castlevania, as well as the princess of Video Land, Lana. Adopting the title of Captain N for reasons that I don't recall ever being explained, he (reluctantly, at first) goes to work trying to save the kingdom using his Power Pad (NES Controller) belt buckle, zapper, and good ol' gamer know-how.
All this while his worried mother is no doubt filing a missing person's report and crying over the photo album.
Captain N takes place in a world where all video games connect through warp zones, and every character is capable of interacting with each other. This provides the show with the ability to draw from just about every video game available on the NES at the time, so you see references from classics like Dragon Warrior, to infamous games like Bayou Billy. The entire first season was written by the same guy, Jeffrey Scott, who admits to have not been much of a gamer at the time. You can totally tell, but to give credit to the guy, he actually does a pretty decent job.
Few of the characters are presented with any faithfulness to the source material. Kid Icarus is probably the closest of the protagonists, as he is presented as a diminutive cherub with a New York accent who ends random words with "-icus" to the point where you want to slap him. Then there's Mega Man, who appears as a squat, green (!?) robot with limitless strength who adds "mega" to the start of random words to the point where you want to slap him. Also on the heroes side, Simon Belmont is presented as a Charles Lindbergh-esque adventurer with a tremendous ego, and he's totally awesome.
The villains fared slightly better. Mother Brain is shown as an obnoxious woman-like mass of brain tissue who speaks in a voice that sounds like a man with a death wish impersonating his mother-in-law. She's joined by King Hippo from Punch-Out, who is mostly faithful aside from his blue skin colour(!?) and generally hostile demeanor, Eggplant Wizard from Kid Icarus who, again, is pretty faithful, and Dr. Wily from Mega Man who is oddly pretty exact, right down to the German accent that he's normally portrayed with.
Your typical episode involves Mother Brain coming up with another plan to defeat the N team, then sending out Eggplant Wizard and King Hippo to see it through. These plans sometimes tie into a popular NES game, but are often somehow askew; such as the episode Videolympics, wherein Mother Brain attempts to gather the three sacred treasures from Kid Icarus. Any card carrying super-nerd, like myself, could tell you that the sacred treasure were a special arrow, a mirror shield, and a set of wings. Yet, in Captain N, Mother Brain was after non-descript items that somehow combined into a magical WMD. To make things more confusing, in the next episode, Kid Icarus and Simon go and fetch the arrow, the shield, and the wings to counter Mother Brain's treasures, without actually referring to them as the sacred treasures. I'm not sure how that kind of twisted confusion even happens.
Like the characters, a lot of liberties have been taken with how the world is presented. Ignoring the implications that come from the idea that all video games are connected via warp zones, the show's universe has some strange assumptions about how video games work. Concepts like death and victory vary from episode to episode, and sometimes liberties are taken for obvious plot expediency reasons, like during an adventure in Mega Man's world where they defeat all six robot masters in a single room. Also, Cutsman was apparently, like, nigh-invincible, and any veteran Mega Man fan could tell you that's hogwash.
It may be goofy, but it's reasonably simple and light-hearted. Aside from their slap-inducing speech characteristics, the characters are legitimately enjoyable. They're all simple, personality-on-their-sleeve archetypes, but there's a few gems in there. Kevin is the everyman, but he has the personality of dehydrated gravy. When the characters are transported to a realm that forces them to live out their nightmares, his greatest fear is, no joke, a dirty bedroom. So, what? Like, his defining trait is that he's a teenager? That's how deep the Kevin river runs?
Simon Belmont, on the other hand, is amazing. He's presented as an unabashed narcissist. But whereas a character like Johnny Bravo might, at times, come across as mean-spirited and obnoxious, Simon somehow skirts past it. It's as though loving himself is simply his true calling. He's most often the butt of jokes, but rarely gets overly defensive of his failings. It's almost adorable how he fawns over himself, and he's almost cluelessly good-natured. Well, that is until he gets brainwashed, which happens more than once in the first season. At that point, he unapologetically takes to betrayal like he's been holding in all his aggression for days.
The relationships between the main characters are actually all pretty well done. It's hinted frequently that Kevin and Lana are romantically interested in each other, but in the first season, it's never played up for laughs or drama. This is in stark contrast to The Legend of Zelda cartoon, where Link is represented as a lecherous smooch-fiend.
I have to admit, I've got a real affection for Captain N. It's stupid and weird, but it's also charming and inoffensive. It's both fun to laugh at how off the mark it can be, and entertaining to watch the characters interact. It's warm without being saccharine, and there's a strong innocence to it. Its attempts at humour tends to hit the mark more often than any kids' show from the 80's or 90's has the right to.
As I keep harping on about, there's a lot to like with the characters. Even the villains, while not exactly deep, seem to have well-developed and unique personalities. Regardless of the situation, they always react in their own way, and there are moments of warmth for even the most evil of characters, like when Mother Brain discovered her buried desire to be loved.
That's not to say you should rush out and watch it. It's an inconsequential show with typically weak and formulaic plot structure. The animation has the typical problems of the era, especially when it comes to character proportions. It's nothing exciting, but it can definitely be entertaining.
For me, it's nearly perfect. If Captain N had been a deftly executed series with perfect representations of its characters, I'd probably be indifferent. Instead, love it for all its goofy, awkward, and endearing qualities.