Captain Novolin: Checking More Than Your Feet
Is there anything I should know before writing this article?
When it comes to gaming, few genres face more scorn than educational games. “Edutainment,” as it was often called in the 90’s, typically stuck to the style of a third grade textbook with a few bells and whistles (or a licensed character) attached — and as a result, most of them were either awkwardly hilarious or mind-numbingly boring. Part of the problem was the belief that young kids will be entertained by just about anything, which led to a lack of attention to quality.
And then, of course, there’s Captain Novolin.
Released in 1992 by Raya Systems, Captain Novolin is a side-scrolling platformer with the relentless intention of teaching diabetic children to cope with their condition. It is, in my opinion, one of the purest incarnations of an educational game one could ask for. It’s wall-to-wall diabetes information at every turn, but also shows at least some interest in making the gameplay enjoyable by (poorly) mimicking other popular games of the time. In their quest to reach out to children facing a long future of needles and rigid diets, they managed to make one of the most spectacularly ill-conceived video games I’ve ever seen.
If you’ve never heard of this game before now, then it’s your lucky day. I recently decided to re-watch Diabetus’ infamous Let’s Play for the first time in years — and this time around, I tripped over something I’d never noticed before. If you can believe it, the diabetic man in spandex fighting giant alien snacks and divulging personal information to perfect strangers isn’t the weirdest element of this medical adventure.
Let me start by saying that I adore Captain Novolin. It is by no means a good game, and yet it is a great game. It’s the sort of game that failed so hard that it spun all the way around the dial and ended up winning. I normally like awful games for the open display of sheer laziness, as most are mindlessly churned out in the interest of making a buck off of unsuspecting grandparents. Captain Novolin, on the other hand, actually put forth a modicum of effort in attempting to stand out from the typical gruel of edutainment. Sales figures showed that platformers and super heroes were what kids liked, and damn if Raya Systems didn’t fill every single available inch of that game with diabetes info. You may as well have plugged an SNES controller into an insulin pamphlet. (Then again, the game was sponsored by Novo Nordisk, aka the makers of Novolin insulin, sooo that may have played a part in the design as well.)
All marketing and educational efforts aside, Captain Novolin saw a sharp popularity spike in May of 2007 when Something Awful user Diabetus made a Let’s Play highlighting the game’s foibles. With his friends Slowbeef and Scarboy, the trio poked fun and cracked jokes ranging from the shoddiness of the art, the absurdity of the plot, and the beloved “Check You Feet” typo.
Like the other billion times I’ve watched this LP, I viewed the above video (my favorite of the group) twice to really soak in the entirety of its misguided glory. But in the midst of my revelry, a detail I’d never really taken note of before seemed to scream for my attention this time around.
Something that didn’t have at all to do with diabetes.
Something that looked an awful lot like a flaccid penis flopped over a ballsack.
I KNOW, I KNOW. It’s just a rock formation, sometimes we see recognizable shapes in chaos, the developers probably have no idea it’s there… Trust me, I get it, I keep telling myself the same thing. But now that I’ve discovered it, I’m apparently cursed to always see it. Every. Single. Time. I watch.
And if I have to suffer, you’re going down with me.
What’s more, it doesn’t end there. Not only am I suddenly seeing limp dicks all over the 6th and 7th levels, I’ve started finding buttcheeks (or are they breasts?), female torsos, and… very tiny faces in profile, oddly enough.
While I’m certain this was pure happenstance due to non-specific rock spriting, I also know game designers can be mischievous folk. There’s a decent amount of detail in the backgrounds of other locations, so I guess this shenanery could’ve been chucked in for a laugh. Hoping to shed more light on the situation, I googled Kelly Kofoed, the artist listed in the game’s credits, and reached out to the only one I found on Twitter. As of this writing, there’s been no response.
But before any soccer moms flock to the petitions, I can’t imagine anyone was actually damaged by this. If anything, the dead-eyed blonde doctor has to be far more psychologically scarring than any alleged twigs or giggleberries that might be in the background. No matter how these bittles came about, I’m sure anyone that actually saw them chuckled more than they got off.
And if someone out there is getting off to Captain Novolin, they probably have more problems than Custer’s Revenge.