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Video Game / Captain Novolin

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"Captain Novolin is a game that teaches you about diabetes. However, this game doesn't tell you how to manage your diabetes. Your Doctor will tell you about your individual care. WARNING: ANY CHANGE OF INSULIN SHOULD BE MADE CAUTIOUSLY AND ONLY UNDER MEDICAL SUPERVISION."
The game's intro blurb

Captain Novolin is an Edutainment Platform Game developed by Sculptured Software and published by Raya Systems for the SNES in 1992. It tells the heartwarming story of an Inspirationally Disadvantaged superhero, whose superpower is the fact that he happens to have Type 1 (Juvenile) Diabetes. As such, for him every day of his life is an epic struggle against his illness; you must fight against evil alien invaders who have kidnapped Mayor Gooden of Pineville and taken the form of malicious junk foods, all the while making sure to eat regularly and keep your blood sugar levels consistent... and check you feet for sores and blisters.

In case you couldn't tell from the above paragraph, the game was intended to help children learn about diabetes. The game was endorsed by Novo Nordisk, manufacturers of the Novolin brand of insulin, from which the game takes its name. Raya Systems also released other educational games with similar themes, such as Packy and Marlon, a game also starring protagonists (in this case, two young elephants) with juvenile diabetes.

Hello TV Tropes! I have diabetes. Is there anything special I should know before describing the tropes present in Captain Novolin?

  • Abnormal Ammo: The final boss, Blubberman, can throw insta-killing pies at you, along with wave-like electrical currents that run along the floor. It also applies to the regular enemies; the Ice Cream Cones can pull dollops of ice cream off their heads and throw them at you, while the Bubble Gum enemies spit giant bubbles at you.
  • Alien Invasion: The conflict of the game involves evil aliens — who are disguised as various sugary junk foods — coming to Earth and attempting to take it over, kidnapping Mayor Gooden of Pineville as part of it. Naturally (for a diabetic superhero), it's up to Captain Novolin to send them packing.
  • Anthropomorphic Food: The enemies are actually aliens disguised as sugary junk foods. No real explanation for why the healthy food walks around, though — possibly to more clearly mark it on-screen so you can get them.
  • Big Bad: Blubberman, leader of the aliens, who resembles a fat old man in a floating chair who launches floor-crawling electricity and deadly pies at you to attack. However, he can be pretty easily defeated by ducking next to a nearby lever and sending said electricity back at him.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: Captain Novolin has a very rigid meal plan for each day while on his adventure, going for the same items on both instances of breakfastnote , lunchnote , dinnernote  and bedtimenote .
  • Bottomless Pits: These appear as crevasses on Mt. Wayupthar, which instantly take a life off if fallen into.
  • Cap: Rather annoyingly, you can only have up to three extra lives with four hit points each — that can't be healed in the levels themselves — in reserve, and no continues.
  • Checkpoint Starvation: Although somewhat downplayed due to it being a fairly short game, you only get checkpoints at the times you have a main meal or snack (IE. when you have to take insulin and/or check your blood), and there are no continues or ways to save your game. Get hit up to twelve times or fall down three pits, and that's it; you're back to square one.
  • Classic Cheat Code: Downplayed. If you use a different valid code instead of 000 on the infamously cryptic "Enter The Code Your Doctor Said Is Best For You" screen at the beginning of the game, you take different amounts of insulin at different times and enable/disable adjustments depending on the amount of food you get.
  • Cool Boat: Novolin rides a speedboat in some levels. Averted however, in that not only it is very slow and clunky to control, it's also a massive target — making dodging enemies and projectiles (along with the odd food item you don't need to get) in these levels much harder than it needs to be.
  • Cool Key: The Key to the City, which Captain Novolin receives as a reward from Mayor Gooden for saving him and defeating the Sugary Junk Food Aliens at the end of the game.
    Mayor Gooden: Congratulations, Captain. You saved the world from those evil aliens. I hereby present to you the Key To The City.
  • Critical Existence Failure: If you eat too much food in quick succession or go too long without eating enough, Novolin will keel over from Hyperglycaemianote  or Hypoglycaemianote  respectively and instantly lose a life, regardless of how much health you have remaining.
  • Death Mountain: Mount Wayupthar is a downplayed example. It's riddled with dangerous insta-killing chasms and has the aliens' mothership at the peak, but there are also friendly Park Rangers around to provide helpful advice.
  • Distressed Dude: The mayor was kidnapped... and coincidentally, he also has diabetes!
  • Do Well, But Not Perfect: This is the ideal approach to take with the various food items you have to collect in each level. If you don't get enough of them, you'll collapse (from Hypoglycaemia), but getting too many at once has the same effect (from Hyperglycaemia). As such, a good approximate amount to aim for is one of each item; and if you do have your Blood Glucose level in the safe area at the end of each stage, you'll get a score bonus.
  • Edible Ammunition: Bubble Gum, Ice Cream and Pies, to name a few of the deadly projectiles you need to avoid.
  • Edutainment Game: The story and gameplay are intended to teach young players how to properly manage their Type 1 Diabetes, as well as about the condition in general. It was even predominantly available by a doctor's prescription, complete with gameplay-altering codes based on the insulin dosage plans the patient had.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: Captain Novolin's base in the intro counts as both this and an Absurdly-Spacious Sewer, given that it's built underneath the streets of Pineville and accessed via an elevator based on a manhole cover. From what else we see of it, it also includes a computer console — complete with television band — and an exercise treadmill built into the floor.
  • Eternal Engine: The last level takes place inside the aliens' spaceship, complete with electricity traps along the floors and a huge, concentrated load of enemies after you.
  • Every 10,000 Points: You get an Extra Chance for every 100,000 points you score.
  • Exact Time to Failure: In-universe, Mayor Gooden only has enough Diabetes supplies with him to last for two days after being kidnapped by the aliens. By the time you find him inside the spaceship, he'll be suffering from either high or low blood glucose — sometimes unconscious, which requires giving a Glucagon shot to revive him — and the last question in the game involves helping him accordingly.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The game takes place in its entirety over just two days.
  • Going Down with the Ship: This happens if you die during the speedboat levels. The boat springs a big leak in the bottom, and Captain Novolin barely has time to react before it immediately sinks, taking him with it.
  • The Good Captain: The protagonist is a superhero named Captain Novolin.
  • Goomba Stomp: Novolin's only means of offense is to jump on enemies. Just be sure to hold down on the D-pad when you do so, or else it won't have any effect.
  • Handicapped Badass: For a very generous definition of the term, Captain Novolin. Despite his Type 1 Diabetes that he continually has to manage, he's still able to get out there, drive speedboats, climb mountains and put both of his red boots to many craniums in order to rescue Mayor Gooden and put a stop to the aliens' antics.
  • High-Voltage Death: Electric grid traps are dotted around the floor in the aliens' spaceship, and can soon result in this with the amount of enemies to dodge and the wonky jumping physics to contend with. Blubberman also tries using floor-crawling electrical currents against you in his boss battle, but by jumping into or ducking next to a nearby lever, you can just as easily turn them against him.
  • Human Aliens: Not the sugary junk food aliens themselves, but their leader, Blubberman. Unlike his mooks, he resembles an obese, balding middle-aged man in a hovering wheelchair.
  • Idle Animation: If he stands still long enough, Novolin turns to the screen and starts flexing his biceps.
  • Imagine Spot: Novolin has these in between (and sometimes in the middle of) levels, from doctors who provide diabetes-related advice. Although mostly there for educational purposes, they can sometimes provide the answer to the quizzes in the middle of and at the end of each level.
  • In a Single Bound: Captain Novolin's "superpower" is the ability to jump really high. Well, that and diabetes.
  • It's a Wonderful Failure: Upon losing your last life, Captain Novolin can be seen on-screen in the process of dyingnote  as a mournful trumpet sting plays, then the game cuts to a black screen of Silent Credits.
  • Life Meter: One that takes the form of Captain Novolin's own face can be seen up in the top right-hand corner, which can hold up to four hit points. Annoyingly, there isn't a way to refill it in the levels themselves.
  • Mini-Game: Two of them appear here — one that involves checking your blood glucose (BG) by matching the color of a blood test strip with the vial, and another that appears twice each day — involving taking the correct amount of insulin depending on how high or low your blood glucose is from how much or how little food you've eaten in the level so far. There is no consequence for failing either.
    • The second game gets more focus when a different valid code is used to the standard 000 (on the mysterious "Enter The Code Your Doctor Said Is Best For You" screen at the beginning), however. In those cases, it changes the amounts of insulin you can take; which, in turn, alters how much time you have to finish the level and how much food you need to eat to keep your blood glucose in the green Safe Zone.
  • No Body Left Behind: In the final battle, Blubberman crumbles to ashes when he gets zapped enough times by his own backfiring electrical currents.
  • Pop Quiz: The game uses short quizzes to break up its levels, asking the player questions about diabetes and how to manage it. However, all the answers are told at the start of the level, so the quizzes usually just depend on the player remembering the answer they read three minutes ago, and some questions are only tangentially related to diabetes at bestnote  or just plain inanenote .
  • Power-Up Food: Besides the sugary junk food aliens that you need to dodge or stomp, smaller, less-anthropomorphic food items also frequently appear, which Captain Novolin needs to eat in order to keep his blood glucose (BG) up and stay healthy. Just don't grab too many at once, or else you'll send yourself too high.
  • Primary-Color Champion: Captain Novolin himself is one of these, with his Superman-esque bright blue outfit, red boots/gloves and blonde hair (and yellow boot/glove trim) providing all three colors at once. No cape, though.
  • Product Placement: Captain Novolin is named after Novo Nordisk's Novolin brand of human insulin.
  • Punny Name: Mt. Wayupthar (way up there).
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: An information box cautions the player to "check you feet" while hiking or exercising.
  • Score Screen: Two appear in the form of Captain Novolin's diabetes Logbook at the midpoint and end of the game. In particular, they detail what foods he ate in each level — in this case, which time of day between breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime — and how high/low his blood glucose was at the end of them.
  • Shout-Out: One of the doctors in Novolin's Imagine Spots between levels looks uncannily like Will Smith.
  • Shows Damage: Sort of. If Novolin's blood glucose starts going too high (from eating too much), his walking animation will be different — showing him hunched over and with his tongue hanging out. It doesn't affect how he controls, nor does it occur if he actually does take damage, but it's there to represent extreme thirst and tiredness — two common effects of hyperglycemia (High blood glucose). Note that he also does this animation on the mountain stages regardless of his blood glucose level, which presumably was intended to help point out what effects strenuous exercise can have on diabetics.
  • Silent Credits: Regardless of if you win or lose the game, you get a single, quiet black screen with the credits on at the end. It's surprisingly bleak when it comes off the heels of the aforementioned Game Over screen.
  • Sunglasses at Night: Captain Novolin never removes his sunglasses, even during the levels at night.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: For how much the mechanic is derided in-game, what happens when you go too far in either direction with collecting the amount of food items in each level makes sense. If you actively avoid all the food items, Novolin's blood glucose goes too low and he collapses from Hypoglycaemia, whichnote  actually does have that effect. Likewise, if you just go for every single food item you find, Novolin's blood glucose goes through the roof note  and also causes him to go unconscious from Hyperglycaemia. In either case, they are legitimately dangerous conditions if left untreated.
  • This Just In!: Novolin finds out about the alien invasion and the Mayor being kidnapped from a news bulletin on TV, whilst he's exercising on a treadmill in his underground base.
  • This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: There's something a bit ironic about a diabetic superhero — who gets hurt if he so much as touches sugar — apparently being the only person on the planet capable of fighting off the Sugary Junk Food aliens.
    Novolin: This looks like a job for yours truly, CAPTAIN NOVOLIN!
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Going by how often — three times out of four — it appears in his meal plans and as a collectible item, Captain Novolin seems to be particularly fond of milk.
  • Useless Item: The shoes that Joe the Dock Attendant gives to Captain Novolin at the beginning of the Day 1 Dinner stage, after providing some exposition about how it's important to wear sturdy shoes and socks on his adventure. Novolin thanks Joe for the shoes, promises to wear them... and then doesn't.
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: Sums both the below and the end-of-level quizzes, mostly. Granted, this game is supposed to be educational on Type 1 Diabetes, but even so, comes off as having a major obsession with its topic.
  • Viewers Are Morons: When you talk to people, Captain Novolin will take the time to inform them that he has diabetes; in one case complete with his own card of proof. In his defense, though, he does have a reason for it in realistic terms — since you can't exactly explain that you're diabetic and you need assistance if you're unconscious or acting erratically, and real examples of such cards do exist — so that at least makes sense.
    "If I am found ill or fainting, please give me some sugar. If this does not revive me, please call a doctor or an ambulance immediately."
  • Voodoo Shark: The enemies are aliens disguised as junk food (with the properties of such), so a diabetic superhero, of all people, has to fight them? Why not just send someone who doesn't have diabetes, and can therefore touch the aliens without taking damage instantly?
  • Weaksauce Weakness:
    • The sugary junk food, even by just touching enemies disguised as it.
    • Any food, if you consume too much or too little of it for the amount of insulin you take. This will cause you to suffer either hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia — overly high or low blood glucose, respectively — and simply keel over on the spot regardless of what your health is at.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Having Type 1 Diabetes isn't really a superpower. Therefore, the only thing keeping Captain Novolin a superhero is his courage to take out the anthropomorphic food despite not really having any superpowers unless his odd Jump Physics are considered such, making him a Badass Normal (albeit with shades of also being a Handicapped Badass) at best.
  • A Winner Is You: The game ends with your final score being shown, along with a short sequence of Novolin shaking hands with the Mayor and receiving the Key to the City as the aliens' spaceship flies away.