Monday, June 8, 2009

Oddities: Captain Novolin

Advergaming usually produces poor results -- from Chase the Chuckwagon on the Atari 2600 to Dash of Destruction on XBLA, these games are primarily designed to deliver a marketing message, and gameplay usually takes a backseat.

Captain Novolin from 1992 is no different, except that it purports to deliver a dose of diabetes education to children, while at the same time promoting Novolin, a human insulin product from Novo Nordisk. It's a straightforward scrolling brawler -- blue-suited, shades-sporting Captain Novolin strolls across the screen, fighting or avoiding an army of sugary temptations and monitoring his blood sugar (really!)

Sculptured Software did the competent SNES coding, but it's a pretty poor game overall. The pedagogical aspect appears sound from a layman's perspective -- the game is customizable with a code from your doctor, presumably to calibrate it to your individual blood sugar sensitivities, which is kind of neat, and before the action gets underway you have to select your proper insulin dosage and read some advice from digitized/painted models posing as doctors about managing your diabetes.

Then the gameplay begins, and the trouble starts. It proves surprisingly difficult, if only because in addition to avoiding the oversized enemy sprites and their screen-filling attack paths, you also have to avoid excess consumption of your standard diabetes management foods like orange juice, toast and bananas, which place themselves a little too conveniently into your path. Picking up every "power up" onscreen proves a tough habit to break, and it's easy to overdo it and send Captain Novolin into diabetic shock, represented onscreen by dizziness followed by a face-first collapse onto the sidewalk.

Unfortunately, the good Captain has no extraordinary abilities beyond jumping nearly the height of the screen, which makes him rather ill-suited for his line of work as a superhero. The game also takes place in a weird world dominated by diabetes awareness -- Captain Novolin's mission is to rescue the mayor from an invasion of alien sugary foods led by an evil leader named Blubberman, and the mayor only has 48 hours' worth of insulin and medication for his diabetes on hand. It's well-meaning, but the positive message the game is meant to put across gets compromised by poor execution. I'd be surprised if any young diabetes patient ever did stick with this one long enough to rescue the mayor.

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