The "Captain N" series was one of Nintendo's inroads into the kiddie TV market.
Kevin Keene, a 15-year-old kid from Northridge, CA and a video game buff, gets summoned to Videoland to serve alongside Princess Lana and video game heroes Simon Belmont, Kid Icarus and Mega Man (now christened the "N Team"). They must protect Videoland from Mother Brain and her minions. At the outset, it is clear that there is a lot of potential in this series, given the characters and all the different video-game worlds there are to work with. Of course, this show was just conceived as a way to sell Nintendo products to kids for a couple of years, so it turned into a cheesy 80s cartoon replete with lame puns and gags instead.
Kevin Keene is a 15-year-old kid who plays video games, until he gets sucked into Videoland by the Ultimate Warp Zone and is forced to play the role of the Hero From Another World (TM). He is simultaneously a master at navigating the realms of Videoland and a stranger in a whole new world a la "Alice in Wonderland". After overcoming his initial doubts, he'll do anything for the lovely Princess Lana and the rest of the N Team, but sometimes is too caught up in the "game" he's living to realize what else is going on in the world around him.
Princess Lana is the young (maybe in her early 20s?), beautiful, sweet ruler of Videoland, having been put in a very difficult situation by having to take the throne in the year since her father disappeared. She obviously misses her father dearly and often is insecure about her leadership abilities. She will go on to make some really foolish decisions in the series, as well as some shrewd, strong and confident ones. She's much more competent than other female cartoon protagonists of the era, who tended to be ditzy and/or perpetually getting captured or getting into trouble on their own. Lana regularly goes on adventures with the N Team and is seen to be quite a skilled athlete, but the fact that she doesn't carry a weapon greatly limits her effectiveness.
Simon Belmont, world-class vampire hunter from Castlevania, is portrayed as a conceited character and comic-relief punching bag, as just about any scene with him showing off will go horribly wrong. He will constantly contend with Kevin for leadersihp of the N Team and for Lana's affections, and he'll rarely miss an opportunity to take a pot-shot at Kevin, Kid Icarus, Mega Man or even Lana. Sometimes he's hilarious; other times he's just plain mean. Later on in the series he'll eventually start to appreciate Kevin, but more often he's unlikeable caricature and a disappointment.
Mega Man and Kid Icarus are somewhat lesser heroes on the team, in that they're not quite as involved in the key plots and their personalities are not as well developed. They also have really annoying speech defects.
Duke is man's best friend; not much else to say about him.
Mother Brain is basically a cortex in a glass vase, with a face and some tentacles attached. Pretty typical head villian. It's not clear exactly how mobile she is, though. In some scenes she has to be carried around by her minions, while in others she'll be driving a tank or some other vehicle.
King Hippo and Eggplant Wizard are typical bad-guy flunkies, also serving as comic relief. King Hippo is just an oversized gastropod with boxing gloves, while Eggplant Wizard is probably much more powerful than he realizes, given that he seems to have the ability to turn any being into some sort of plant product.
Donkey Kong appears in several episodes and is probably the most interesting non-protagonist in the series, as there are instances where the N Team must work against him and others where they must work with him. Given his immense size and inability to speak English, it's not too surprising that the throne of Videoland was never able to bring him under its jurisdiction.
Game Boy, introduced in Season 2, is an all-purpose supercomputer who comes from the Mirror World where King Charles is imprisoned. King Charles has a once-in-10,000 years to escape the Mirror World and return to Videoland, but opts to send Game Boy in his place. Game Boy starts out as a rather out-of-control character but eventually settles down and becomes an important part of the team. And yes, deep down he really is an egregious marketing plug, especially since he can do a lot of things the real-world Game Boy couldn't, like fly and shoot things out of his LCD screen.
Okay, here's where the show really gets annoying.
Clairvoyance: Mother Brain has a mirror that can show her pretty much any location in Videoland. It starts with this episode, when MB notices that the Ultimate Warp Zone has lowered the Palace's defenses. The magical "eye in the sky" is a common cartoon device that provides a cheap way for the bad guys to come up with a plan to cause trouble. Much more interesting plots can be written when not everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Thankfully, the writers didn't think to give the characters portable videophones like some others did (TMNT, I'm looking in your direction).
Teleportation: Yeah, the characters in the show need some way to get from point A to point B. But in this show, warp zones pretty much can be conjured up on demand. It provides a quick way for characters to make a getaway at the end of the show (a common plot device), but where it gets really inappropriate is when bad guys can break in and out of the Palace of Power (or good guys into Metroid, for that matter) pretty much whenever they want. If they could do this, why wouldn't the bad guys just break into the Palace at night and throttle the N Team in their sleep?
Simon's Backpack and Kid Icarus's Quiver: Simon's backpack seems to be infinite in capacity and full of useful and useless items, while Kid Icarus's quiver is full of arrows that do pretty much whatever the task warrants. The concept of an infinite backpack is probably a dig at primitive adventure games which don't restrict a player's carrying capacity. Having tools on demand is sometimes entertaining, but more often it's another cheap plot device.
Unlimited Power: Kevin's Zapper has pretty much unlimited power, except when it conveniently goes out in a big spot. His pause button could probably get him out of any sticky situation, if he'd just remember to use it. EW can turn anybody into any sort of plant product. MB is always searching for artifacts that provide "unlimited power". Serious writers carefully define the limits of the characters' abilities. For example, they could have paid more attention to the power meter on Kevin's Power Pad (which is supposed to go down every time he uses it), but that'd have been too much work.
Other Cliched Plot Devices: There's an episode involving a love potion, one involving a poisoned apple, one involving a genie's lamp, one in which the team breaks up and reunites, one involving a mind-transference device, one involving a helmet that possesses its wearer with an evil spirit, one involving a Trojan horse, one involving hypnotic ink, one in which someone suffers amnesia...you get the idea.
Lame 80's Style Gags and Puns:
Yup, we got 'em in spades.
In Season 1, they have various scenes with cover artists playing various R&B and new wave toons. Not too shabby. In Season 2, they must have decided that the licensing fees for cover versions were too much, as they had artists playing knockoffs of early rock-and-roll tunes instead. Especially embarrassing is a mutilation of "Shake Rattle and Roll", christened "Havin' a Ball" and featuring in at least two episodes. Bill Haley must be spinning in his grave.
It would have been hilarious to hear some of the Four Tops' hits being played (or butchered) on the show, given that their lead singer lent his voice to Mother Brain.
They missed a few tunes that should have been automatic -- "Me Myself and I" for some Simon Belmont scene; either "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care" or "It's Hip To Be Square" for the Tetris episode; some of the excellent Mega Man II music"...I could rant on and on about this. Let's just move on.
The show could have been so much more than what it was, but that would have required the staff and producers to put a lot more work in (and probably play more Nintendo games). Since the show was just conceived as a way to get little kids to buy Nintendo products, one can't bee too surprised by the way it turned out.