Captain Planet and the Planeteers: the Animated Series is a television show that taught a generation about the importance of conservation.
Captain Planet and the Planeteers: the NES Game is a video game that taught a generation that conservation is impossible in the face of practicality.
While this may be a personal failing, I do believe that most video games turn their players into ludicrous conservationists as a matter of course. I’d claim it all started with Pac-Man, when carefully limiting your power pellet consumption was the difference between eat or be eaten, but it’s been an integral part of action games from Space Invaders (those poor barriers!) to Halo (I might need this ammo later!). JRPGs are even worse. Consider Final Fantasy 4: a third of your early game party is a seven year old child who just lost her parents. Were this reality, I’d have Tellah tossing every barrier spell in the universe on the poor kid, force the Dark Knight to dash ahead of every hit, and, on the rare occasion I let an attack sneak through and injure the fragile girl, she’d be guzzling (applying?) potions en masse until the boo-boo was all better. In actual gameplay, though? Suck it up, ya baby, I’ll heal you when you’re good and critical, we’ve gotta save our MP for that octopus. Don’t you dare drink that ether, missy. Ethers are for the final dungeon only. One of these days, Rydia, bang, zoom, to the moon!
If you’re anything like me, you’re saving the megalixers and dark matters straight through the final boss (“There aren’t any more monsters left, it’ll be fine!” “No! Precious!”), and consider it a personal failing to ever see an elixir, ether, or other consumable item count reach zero. Sure, I haven’t used a basic potion in battle past the first hour of this game, but I’ll be damned if I don’t have 99 of ‘em at all times. Just in case! My greatest failing is in the midst of my greatest triumph, though. I have practically memorized the NES Mega Man games, but it requires almost superhuman will on my part to so much as open the Mega Menu and pull out a robot master weapon and its “limited” ammo. Granted, like a lot of things, I blame my problem here on the Boobeam Trap, that nefarious Wily boss that requires a full stock of Crash Bombs, and taught me forever to be leery of wasting dear energy, lest I be forced to grind Joe Mechs for ages. Whatever the reason, much as I love the Magnet Missile, It’s rotting away for any occasion that isn’t Hard Man, because what will the neighbors think if I (gasp) run out of energy? The horror.
Considering video games seem to teach conservation to the point it encourages hording, you’d think Captain Planet and the Planeteers would be a natural fit for the medium, even back in the day when we were only accumulating mushrooms. For those of you who missed out on the best children’s programming not involving radical cats Ted Turner had to offer, Captain Planet and the Planeteers featured five teenagers without attitude from all over the globe that each received magical rings from the spirit of the Earth, Whoopi Goldberg. The Planeteers fight a variety of Eco-Terrorists that are blitheringly insane, like Hoggish Greedly, The Rat King, and Tim Curry, who all have plans that go something like “dump oil in the oceans, piss off some polar bears, and then I guess I’ll conquer the world with greased up penguins.” The Planeteers are a bunch of failures, though, so summoning the blatant Superman analogue Captain Planet is an inevitability, and, after Cap predictability has a moment of crisis when he whiffs aerosol or something, he rallies and saves the day by turning into a hurricane, rock monster, or beaver. Whichever is most destructive.
While, yes, the show sounds practically indistinguishable from the likes of Power Rangers (complete with an advisor character that should, by all rights, be effectively omnipotent… but never seems to leave the house), the constant ecological message of Captain Planet set it apart from its contemporaries (and got real annoying, real fast). No, viewer, you can’t summon a superhero to battle your villains, but you can use slightly fewer paper towels every day, so that way Dr. Blight won’t have any reason to mow down a rainforest. And while you might not be able to control o-zone holes, maybe try to turn off the lights when you’re not in the room. Could you at least turn off the faucet while you’re brushing your teeth? All this and more was drilled into the audience harder than Looten Plunder drilling for oil, so by the time a kid had watched a week’s worth of Captain Planet, you better believe reduce, reuse, recycle was happening.
For all its messages, Captain Planet was a pretty good show for superhero hijinks with or without the Captain. While being a soaring, cyan superhero would be pretty nice, most of us would still settle for being able to control Wheeler and the flamethrower that was attached to his index finger. By all accounts, it would be pretty hard to make a Captain Planet and the Planeteers video game “wrong”. I mean, the whole five (let’s say “heart” is “holy”) elements thing was already an established trope in gaming, throw in some run and ring-sling action, and maybe a dash of Superman gameplay for bosses, and you’re all set. Game practically makes itself!
Alas, it was not to be. The basics are there, I suppose. There are five levels, and each is split into two sections. The first is always a vehicle of some kind, which plays, more or less, like a Gradius-style shoot ‘em up, complete with one-hit kills and endless waves of opponents. Sometimes there’s a distinct goal, like chasing down a truck that’s attempting to poison our bears (or something), but generally it’s pretty straight, fly-left-to-right gameplay. The second half of every level involves summoning, and then playing as, Captain Planet, who, thankfully, seems to retain all of his superpowers from the show, including the ability to fly, punch, and transform into a fireball. Cap, mercifully, has a lifebar, and the general challenge of these areas is flying around NES-style confusing mazes to find (and punch) the villain du jour. The whole setup might not be my first choice for a Captain Planet video game, but it’s not as ridiculously off the mark as Fester’s Quest.
But there is one place where the game falls ludicrously short. See, practically every action in Captain Planet requires “ammo”. While you’re in the Geo-Cruiser (or whatever vehicle the games tosses in there) you’ve got full mastery of the five elements… but any of the practical elements are severely limited. Wind, for instance, grants you a pretty damn useful shield, but it runs out of steam in about the same time it takes you to exhale. Heart, meanwhile, barely uses up any energy, and it allows you to… occasionally inconvenience penguins. Oh…kay? Fire is practically unlimited, though, which is good, because it’s your primary attack… except in that underwater stage, where, for some strange reason, it’s completely ineffective. Hope you enjoy hurling rocks with all the effectiveness you’d expect from Geordi La Forge!
The worst, though, are the Captain Planet stages. Captain Planet has a lifebar, but that same lifebar is what fuels his powers, so good luck surviving when your every action saps your strength. I’ll admit, given how fragile Captain Planet appears to be during the television series, this whole setup is pretty canon, but it’s still an absolute bear to actually manage. It wouldn’t even be all that bad if Cap’s powers weren’t 100% required in many, many areas. While Fire and Earth elements are pretty much just offensive, Water element shines through these areas, as there are many obstacles, like generic sludge and radioactive orbs, that require Water form to pass. Don’t have enough energy to transform because you’re down to 1 HP, though? Well, too bad, best just to kill yourself or pray that an energy powerup is somewhere within flying distance. Sorry, Planeteer, you didn’t conserve your resources properly, and now Captain Planet has to die.
That, unfortunately, is the moral to the children playing Captain Planet and the Planeteers. It’s not that conservation is important; it’s that conservation is impossible. I’ve never met anyone that completed Captain Planet for the NES… or at least completed the game without abusing a Game Genie for infinite energy or infinite lives. Conservation goes out the window when you’re cheating, and taking that lesson forward to adulthood is approximately the complete opposite of Captain Planet’s goal. Being good to the planet is hard, kids, so why not say screw it, cheat, and live a life that’s a lot more comfortable. It’s the only way you’ll achieve that all important ending, so do what you have to do.
This is Goggle Bob reminding you to save the world. Unless it’s difficult/inconvenient, in which case, you should either quit or cheat until it’s easier. The power is yours!
FGC #99 Captain Planet and the Planeteers
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System. There are other versions, but I’m pretty sure they’re completely different games, so they’re not getting counted.
- Number of Players: One. Sorry, five player, all Planeteer action is just a pipedream.
- Favorite Planeteer: If you’re roughly my age, male, heterosexual, and didn’t have a crush on Linka, Mistress of Wind, I don’t want to talk to you. She was such a jerk to Wheeler! And that accent! What more could you want from a woman?
- Do you still sing the Captain Planet theme song apropos of absolutely nothing? Yes, but only the part sung by the Planeteers. Good news: you can be one, too.
- Have a Heart: Alright, I know everybody mocks the Heart power, but Level 4 sees the Planeteers using Heart to deliver elephants to stomp missile platforms into oblivion. Which would be more useful in a Final Fantasy game: Firaga or Summon Elephant? That’s what I thought.
- Did you know? Speaking of Heart, Ma-Ti, the young, Brazilliant orphan with a monkey, was voiced by Scott Menville, who went on to be Robin, leader of the animated Teen Titans… and then Robin, buttmonkey of Teen Titans Go. Some guys just can’t catch a break.
- Would I play again: Never. It’s a cute curiosity, but the game really dislikes the player, so I’m not touching this one again for a good, long time.
What’s Next? Well, according to the records here… yes… it appears the next FGC entry will be #100. With that in mind, I’m lifting all restrictions on ROB. Yes, Random ROB isn’t truly random, as, like I mentioned during the Reader’s Choice Challenge, there are some games that I consider off-limits for one reason or another. But, as it’s the occasion of the hundredth entry, ROB can pick any damn game he wants. What will it be? Well, come back for our next entry, and I’ll show you. Please look forward to it!