“Check You Feet for Dry Skin.”
As a member of a generation who grew up with video games as a constant part of our lives, many of us have memories of the “edutainment” titles from our childhoods: Those games developed with the goals of both educating and entertaining. And as games intended to be played during some of our most formative years, the memories of them can tend to stick with you. For me, the title that most continues to linger in my memory is The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary; and boy howdy, do I remember it vividly. Even though I had already encountered the likes of Doom by the time I got to Dr. Quandary, I still recall being deeply unsettled by what his secret island had on offer more so than any imp or cacodemon that might’ve caught me off-guard in a dark hallway. One of the very first visuals that a child is subjected to in the game is watching themselves get sucked into the mouth of a terrifying doll, as tense music plays and an old man maniacally laughs at them. Can you think of any better way to ease a young mind into learning and puzzle-solving?
The early 90s were sort of an odd time for edutainment software in general, come to think of it. There was this sense that kids had such easy access to what I’ll call “non-educational” video games, it was something of a challenge to get them interested in games that were more obviously meant to serve as teaching tools. And so, you saw developers having to try slightly more subtle approaches: Straight up terrifying kids in the case of Dr. Quandary, ecasting recognizable characters as virtual teachers à la Sonic’s Schoolhouse, and sneaking anti-drug messages into otherwise straightforward genre games like Wally Bear and the NO! Gang. If you were a developer looking to hook kids into your edutainment game, you had to come up with some creative way to grab their attention, and convince them that they weren’t just in for an interactive lecture.
And so, I picture in my head the creative team at Raya Systems sitting together in a boardroom, pondering as to how they might be able to interest kids in a game that would serve to educate them about the rather unamusing subject of diabetes. Just as they’re all about to call the whole thing off, one of them jumps out of their chair as they’re struck with a bolt of inspiration, and excitedly proclaims “Kids love superheroes!” The game practically writes itself from there, and the infamous end result is 1992’s Captain Novolin for the Super Nintendo. Today, we’ll be taking a crash course on the often-mocked release, and grading it on its abilities to both educate and entertain.