Captain Novolin ['Parallax Memories' is a (trying to be more) regular column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column features the not so fabulous Captain Novolin for the SNES.]

Captain Novolin is a game with the lofty goal of teaching people about diabetes. It was developed by Sculptured Software (developers of such stunning games as: Raid Over Moscow and Chavez 2), published by Raya Systems in 1992 on the Super Nintendo, and funded by Novo Nordisk. Diabetes is a disease in which the beta cells of the pancreas are unable to produce insulin to prevent hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).

This disease affects at least 171 million people world wide, and it's estimated that one of three Americans born after 2000 will develop diabetes. Taking on such a prospect in the early age of gaming would probably have been thought of as commendable.

I guess that this game could be categorized as a "serious game," though it would be better defined as edutainment because it only uses the game as an excuse to teach people something. Captain Novolin isn't as effective a game that, oh say, Oregon Trail is (where I first learned what diphtheria was) because it's not really all that interesting to play.

Unfortunately the game really isn't all that serious either. In this insane world Captain Novolin, the only super hero available to stop the evil Blubberman and rescue the Mayor, has diabetes. Great super villains know how best to exploit the weakness of a super hero, and like Lex Luthor using kryptonite on Superman, Blubberman turns all his henchmen into junk food. At least with Captain Novolin there's something to be said for learning about the human condition of living with diabetes through the metaphor of gameplay.

Captain NovolinSerious, totally. Captain Novolin taught me that having diabetes is hard. You can look and act like a normal person but in reality there are all kinds of evil foods out there which want to kill you. Getting by from day to day and only eating small amounts of prescribed foods will allow you to survive from meal to meal. Between meals and throughout the day you must meticulously check the status of your insulin and sugar levels. Life itself is divided up into meals and nothing else.

Having diabetes means that even making a normal trip through town will get you accosted by food that will kill you. Not only will this food attempt to attack you, but it will also jump and move in strange manners on the street or in the water. Luckily a doctor will state what is edible for your main meals and you can find these items sparingly among the terrible temptations of junk food.

Captain NovolinOK, now I'm serious, honestly.

The game is divided up into meals levels where the Captain has to stay alive (a difficult task), and also keep his blood sugar levels in check by eating doctor prescribed foods. Preceding each level the doctors will tell the player about the disease and they will also have to monitor the Captain's levels. This even includes taking a shot of insulin if needed.

When the Captain goes out to fight evil (more on that later) he can pick up proper snacks and icons which will give the player more information about diabetes. This information will later be used in an evil quiz in which the player will be harmed for answering incorrectly.

Being that Captain Novolin is a super hero begs the question, what are his super powers? Can he leap over tall buildings? Shoot flames from his finger tips? Lift cars over his head and throw them like insects? Nope, none of these. His trade off for having diabetes must be that he lost any hope of having a real super power. Perhaps this happens in a radioactive waste accident which also created Blubberman, who knows. The Captain is possibly the worst super hero ever: he can only attack when holding down while in mid-air.

This leaves the player open to attacks from all kinds of junk food and eventually death from high blood sugar. It's all the harder on the player because the enemies move in erratic patterns that range from hard to dodge, to impossible. Top it all off with a character sprite that fills up close to 1/3 the damned screen and you'll spend most of the game angry, not educated.

Captain Novolin has taught me, most importantly, that you cannot beat diabetes. Even if you're a super hero and you can save the Mayor, in the end you still have to check your blood sugar levels. Hopefully you can learn from me and never ever, ever, play Captain Novolin. Seriously.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, Entdepot, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]