Captain Novolin Header
Image via MobyGames

Captain Novolin on SNES has one really unfortunate superpower

Also, unfortunate hair.

Look, my chums, it’s Raya Systems! They’re the ones who brought us Packy & Marlon and Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon; everyone’s favorite health-related edutainment games.

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This time, I’m finally sticking a finger into Captain Novolin to check the temperature. Back in the youthful days of the internet, when making fun of bad video games was still considered a thing done by cool people, Captain Novolin was often a target of ridicule. I’ll admit that the concept is definitely a weird one, but I’d argue that Rex Ronan was much more fertile ground for jokes. Unless you like making fun of diabetics.

If you don’t know, Novolin is a brand of insulin. Captain Novolin is an edutainment game meant to teach diabetic children how to balance their diet, teach them about diabetes, and it also suggests exercise. This is back when people could actually afford insulin, obviously.

Captain Novolin a sundae paddling toward the protagonist's boat.

Doctor codes

I personally don’t know a whole lot about diabetes, so definitely don’t take any medical or dietary advice from me. Most of what I know comes from Packy & Marlon and my first-aid training. As I’m sure is common, I know people with diabetes, but not in my immediate family. I have my own health-related issues, but nothing chronic that I know of. Unless you count my depression, anxiety, and debt.

But that’s what Captain Novolin is for: education. Except, it’s probably for people who have actually been diagnosed with diabetes. The first screen prompted me to “Enter the code your doctor said is best for you.” I don’t even know what that means. I didn’t realize that diabetic people use secret codes. Thankfully, it provides the helpful tip that “If you don’t know your code, use 000.” I was tempted to use the code 007, but I always listen to my doctor.

I think the number you put in might relate to the amount of insulin that the eponymous superhero administers to himself.

You play as the super-hero Captain Novolin, who has the superpower of… diabetes. I’m not saying someone with diabetes can’t be a super-hero, that’s ridiculous, but that’s literally all Captain Novolin has going for him aside from a speedboat and comfortable socks. He can’t even throw a punch, though that would be admittedly off-message here. I’m just finding out that he can stomp on enemies, which would have been good to know before I spent two hours just avoiding them.

Captain Novolin a pleasant looking doctor in a thought bubble telling you to have a glass of milk and turkey sandwich before dinner.
Screenshot by Destructoid

World domination

The narrative has Mayor Gooden being captured by aliens and taken to the peak of Mt. Wayupthar. The aliens are disguised as junk food. I don’t have confidence in my own plans for municipal domination, but I’m not sure that dressing up as a sundae would improve my chances. They’re not even trying to tempt Captain Novolin to eat them and throw off his blood glucose level. They mostly just try to bump into him. Maybe they’re trying to taunt him, but I don’t think the pharmaceutical company-sponsored superhero is self-conscious of his condition.

The Mayor is also diabetic and only has enough insulin to last for 48 hours. With this knowledge in mind, your job is to walk briskly (because, remember, Captain Novolin has no superpowers) to the mayor’s rescue. I suppose it doesn’t matter if the mayor is undergoing some kind of alien brainwashing or intense probing during those 48 hours. The Captain is just going to take his time and make sure he eats a balanced diet along the way.

That’s literally the goal of the game. You start out in the morning and are given breakfast advice from a doctor. You have to balance your blood glucose levels by grabbing food in the correct amounts. If you overeat, your blood glucose will rise, and if you don’t eat, it will drop. 

While the doctor gives you very specific things to eat, that’s really all that appears within the level. That’s a good thing because he only tells you at the beginning of the level, and I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast, let alone what I need to collect and avoid based on a short message. I found that, as long as you only collect one of each item, you can generally keep your glucose levels in the ideal range. However, I think the best strategy is more about pacing your eating, but I’m really not interested in experimenting. On my successful run through the game, my glucose level only went too high or low a few times, so I was obviously doing something correctly.

Captain Novolin standing in front of a beef-legged cereal box.
Screenshot by Destructoid

Hyperglycemia

Surprisingly, the fluctuating glucose levels supposedly affect how the Captain performs. He’ll slow down if it gets too high or low, which isn’t something I really experience because I’m amazing at playing bad games. That’s actually kind of neat.

However, the real risk here is death. The aliens are playing for keeps, and Captain Novolin can only stand to be touched by anthropomorphic cereal boxes so often. You can take four hits before the super-hero will take a dirt nap. You start with three lives (more can be gained through points), and if you lose them all, it’s back to the start for you.

It’s pretty brutal, actually. A lot of the aliens have movement patterns that are designed to throw you off. There’s a cookie, for example, that has a low bounce that it uses to move, but the moment you jump, it takes a high bounce to deliberately block you. In order to get past them without being hurt, you need to leap at the last moment so you’ve already cleared them by the time they take their big bound.

Of course, I can do that just fine with my seasoned, meaty thumbs. I’d expect that a child would have more trouble.

It still took my beef thumbs a few attempts before I reached the final boss, Blubberman (heh). The cookies, for example, would sometimes travel in pairs, and I never found a good strategy to avoid both. It doesn’t help that the hit detection enthusiastically sucks. There was one part in the mountain stages where a hole in the ground extended far past its boundaries, so I kept jumping too late and falling to my death.

Captain Novolin dialogue that opens with "Hello Ranger. I have diabetes."
Screenshot by Destructoid

Hello, Ranger

To be fair to Captain Novolin, it at least seems like a decent way of framing diabetes for children. There’s advice from giant doctor heads, it makes all the care required for the disease seem normal and cheerful, and, as is law in edutainment games, there are quizzes to help you learn more.

It is a pretty funny way of presenting a super-hero, however. I had to laugh when he walked up to a park ranger, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “Hello, ranger. I have diabetes.” I mean, sure, it’s a good idea to let people who might soon be rescuing your ass know that you have certain needs, but I’m not sure it will do much good when they’re pulling your alien-mangled corpse out of a ravine.

It may seem like containing all this information in a bad game would seem ineffective, but let me tell you something about the ‘90s: we’d play whatever we had. You couldn’t buy 50 games for $5 on a digital marketplace at the time, so if your well-meaning mom bought you something educational from the store, you’d play it because it was that or running through Super Mario World for the 80th time. It gave games like Captain Novolin a chance to be a fond memory instead of just a bad game. That’s something that might not happen in today’s content-glutted world.

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Author
Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.