For photos of the entire toyline, check out The Toy Box and Action Figure Archive.
If people remember anything about Captain Power, it's likely to be that the toy line was interactive with the show. If you've been watching along with us, you may have noticed that Dread's forces and their vehicles all have some sort of glowing red box of one type or another on them. That wasn't an attempt to make them look more cool, they're actually targets. Using the Powerjet XT-7 (a lightgun disguised as one of the ships from the show) you'd rack up points for every "hit" on the various targets, and subsequently had points taken away when the sensor on the toy was hit. If the point counter on your XT-7 hit zero, the figure inside was ejected, putting an exclamation point on your failure to save mankind.
So you could still play along when the show wasn't airing, three "missions" were released on VHS cassettes. They were "Future Force Training", "Bio-Dread Strike Mission", and "Tank Does Dallas". Actually, the third one was "Raid on Volcania", but I can't help think firing at a fornicating Sven-Ole Thorsen would be more fun.
Other interactive toys included the Phantom Stryker (the Bio-Dread counterpart to the XT-7), and the Power On platform, which the Captain Power figure plugged into. Whenever there was a "Power On" sequence in the show, the platform would cause the chest piece of the figure light up, simulating the transformation.
Please don't ask me how any of this worked. My greatest scientific accomplishment was getting a B- in Mrs. Birchfield's Earth Science class. My research however indicates that the effectiveness of the lightguns was a bit suspect.
The rest of the toy line was standard 80s stuff. There were two waves of figures, with the second wave featuring two characters (good guy Stingray Johnson, and bad guy Tritor - both water-themed) that were dropped before production on the series began due to budget constraints. The figures themselves aren't that great when compared to other popular action figures of the era, but they more or less capture the spirit of their live-action counterparts. There were vehicles and playsets as well, but only the Powerjet and Phantom Stryker really stand out.
As for other merchandise, like many of the shows featured here on the Showcase, Captain Power had its share of tie-ins beyond just the toyline. There were bed sheets, a sleeping bag, a plastic lunchbox, mugs, various items used for birthday parties, kites, activities books, a game for the Commodore 64 computer, and promotional tie-ins with Burger King kid's meals and Kellogg's Corn Flakes, among other odds and ends. None of this merchandise is exactly dazzling, though the sheet set is pretty cool and has me wondering if it came in king size.
As of this writing Captain Power, doesn't seem to be a hotly collected property. The toy line is readily available on eBay, and even carded figures command less than loose samples from more popular action figure lines. The rest of the merchandise is a little less common, but no more sought after, or so it would seem based on my eBay searches. Unused lunchboxes with the tags still attached were listed for as little as $13.00.
Unfortunately, when it comes to merchandising, the legacy of Captain Power seems to be a failed gimmick and a pile of shrugworthy swag.
Being one of those rare handful of wonderful people who had the honor of owning a Sega-CD, I'm very familiar with FMV (Full Motion Video) rail shooters (bless you, Sewer Shark), and figured I knew what I was in for with these. And yeah, that's pretty much what they are, but I'll still get into things a little more in depth for those interested.
Skill Level 1: "Future Force Training"
We open from a first person POV in the Power Base command center, as Power walks in and says we need to go through a training op to see if we're set to be a Soldier. He Powers On and - passing over an opportunity to have our POV also Power On - leads us to the XT-7 Powerjet.
This is where things catch me by surprise. I figured the rail might be a compilation of footage from the show, or a model set like what we see in the closing credits. Instead, this is full on cell animation straight from Japan, and it is exquisitely detailed and fluid, with fully animated background rushing past and enemies zipping about, kicking in afterburners with great kicks of smoke. This is amazing stuff and instantly glued me to the screen.
We begin with training stuff. With Power and Hawk guiding us over the radio (Power the leading voice of calm, Hawk the exclaiming, excited cautionary) we first take on a swam of Sky Mines - spiny drones that shoot after you and swoop in to explode - then chase after an escaping Phantom Striker jet. We move into a bombing run on a Dread factory, complete with some great birds-eye-view animation, before other Strikers swoop in and attack, turning this into a full battle instead of just training. Then Soaron arrives, and we get to see some glorious animation of him swooping about with his Minions, black clones who trail after him without independent thought.
Once we shoot them down, another Striker comes in, using a dogfight to lure us into an uncharted tunnel (Hawk literally shouts "It's a trap!"). We're streaking through a maze of metal, with sudden forks and slamming doors, the Striker leading us deeper in until it overloads its own reactor core, and we're suddenly racing a nuclear explosion to the exit.
Taking a breath to enjoy some scenic mountain vista shots, we're ordered home, but we get to swoop in and take out some enemy gun turrets (Interlockers) along the way. They all suddenly lift in the sky on thrusters and swarm around us, but we fight them off. That's when we see humans on the ground and this becomes a rescue mission.
Hawk: "He let them live so we'd go in!"
Power: "Then he got his wish, because we are going in."
Everything they've got, mines, Strikers, Interlockers, Soaron's minions, is all thrown at us at once. Even under all this fire, we land and shoot off forces as we open the rear hatch and the survivors rush in. We keep fighting long enough to kick into Hyperdrive (guess they hadn't yet worked out the portal gates from the show) and we're home free.
Power appears, doffing his helmet to us in congratulations, but then we get a final surprise as Dread hacks into the transmission with one of those great "Next time!" threats all the baddies did in the day.
Looking at the credits:
- Holy crap, Kenji Kawai did the music! Loved his work on the scores for Patlabor and Ranma 1/2, among a vast many other.
- The animation producers are the group who did Bubble Gum Crisis, A.D. Police Files, Megazone 23, Gal Force, Madox-01, Armitage III, and various parts of the broad Tenchi Muyo franchise, and the actual animation crew is a who's-who from all the major stuff of the 80s and 90s.
- "Mechanical services" and backgrounds by Shinji Aramaki! A magnificent mecha designer on the likes of Mospeda and Megazone 23, he also worked on Amerian 80s cartoons like Transformers, MASK, and Pole Position (yes, Tony), before shifting into directing with Madox-01, Gaiarth, the Appleseed movies, Starship Troopers: Invasion (written by Flint Dille!), and the recent Captain Harlock film.
While this was pretty much what I expected in terms of a low-interaction rail shooter, holy crap was I not expecting it to be amazing cell animation from some big name people of that 80s OVA era. And in terms of the game itself, at 15 minutes, it's an impressively complete gaming experience, with multiple stages, a boss battle, a massive final fight, each playing out for just long enough to keep you hooked in, but briskly enough to keep from overstaying its welcome. The narration of Power and Hawk clearly explains everything that's going one while adding a bit of drama and excitement. Even just watching along, this is a fun treat.
Let's see how the remaining two fare!
Skill Level 2: "Bio-Dread Strike Mission"
We open in the midst of a hectic Power Base, with Power, Pilot, and Tank swinging around controls. There's no time for training as a major Dread installation manufacturing Troopers (or, as Tank calls them, "Trubers") has been found, and you'll be flying into action alongside Power and Pilot, with Tank coordinating from base. Pilot's fatigues are different here, a very dark shade of brown. I'm wondering if these shorts were filmed early in the series, and this is an initial costume which was soon changed. She's still got that power drill thing in a holster, though. Did we ever find out the story behind that?
Forgot to mention in the last one, that not only do we get all the great action animation, but you even get these gorgeous 80s anime shots of consoles coming to life and all the screens in our jet lighting up with info. God am I loving this stuff. And look, there's Power and Pilot in jets of their own, doing a midair dance before we kick into hyperdrive!
Missles are suddenly exploding all around us. We sweep to the ground, weaving through Interlockers as the others take them out. Then we hyperdrive to the next level, and it's a compound built around an old city, at the heart of which is, adorably, the "Tower of the Seer" (Sears Tower, thankfully not Tower of the Willis). We're jetting through city streets, through and around skyscrapers, set to a surprisingly haunting score, and get this: our mission is to actually blow up the Sears Tower. Yes, this is something they made and marketed to children. And not only do we take out the tower, but it goes up in such a huge blast that it wipes out the entire city with it. According to Pilot, that cripples Dread's comm systems. Helluva way to take out comms!
Next, we plow through Strikers to get to a massive hangar complex, where we have to take out their control tower and as many hangars as we can. We do so, with the tower again vaporizing everything around it in one of those "pillar of light to the heavens" anime explosions. And have I mentioned the huge moon in the sky? Lord this animation. We now focus on a supply bridge over a river.
Pilot: "That's a river?"
Power: "Well... it used to be."
And now we're setting into a main military complex, again being swarmed by everything, including dozens of Blastarr (anime Blastarr!!!) clones on the rooftops. We plug it away, but we've taken too much damage to keep this up, so we focus on taking out that bridge, scoring us our third birds-eye-view massive explosion.
Just as we're congratulating each other on halting Dread's push north and heading home, a massive assault carrier, "One of the biggest ships in Dread's fleet," drops down from the heavens, unleashing waves of Soarons. Even as we're desperately fighting, Dread is hacking into the radio channels to jeer us on. "You're a flea, Jonathan Power! And I'm going to swat you!" Since we're not having much luck outside the carrier, we decide to go into it, with more stunning corridor animation as we pinpoint and blast its atomic drive. Oh god the massive core chamber is so beautiful, and it blows and we're again racing an explosion out. And on a final big boom, we have a few more Strikers to swat through before kicking it into a hyperdrive home.
Back at the Base, Power gives us some words of encouragement before we all laugh at a muted image of Lord Dread raging impotently on a screen.
I worried two of these in a row would be a slog, but again, I was on the edge of my seat for most of this and can't wait to check out the third! That said, if I have one beef with this video, and boy is he a literal beef, it's that this is further proof Sven-Ole was made for many things, but voiceover work wasn't one of them.
Skill Level 3: "Raid on Volcania"
A bit of a misfire in the opening of this one, as we just hang back, watching Power quietly walk from a terminal to his Power Station and Power On... and then quietly walk away again. Then "Red Alert" sirens blare, and we've got everyone on screen. Power and Pilot are in the Dropship, Hawk reporting in from somewhere, Scout and Tank manning the console at Base. Dread has just called in, howling about how he's uncovered the location of rebel outposts and is going to wipe them out. I'm really intrigued by Dread's portrayal in these, as a much more typically Snidely Whiplash type baddie, which really puts a contrast against his more nuanced villainy in the show. Anyways, Scout turns toward us and tells us to jet up.
Blinky anime panels alight, ahoy! Power and Hawk accompany us in their own jets, though it would have been cool to see an anime Hawk zipping about. Our first stop is Outpost Vega, which might be Las Vegas, but I can't tell for certain. Apparently, a band of human traitors took shelter there and have attempted to rebuild the city in secret. As we swoop in to fend off Strikers, those traitors also fire on us, believing us to be Dread forces. So we need to dodge friendly fire while proving our humanity by taking out Dread forces in spectacular fashion. There's an especially well animated bit near the end of a Striker losing a wing and pinwheeling into an explosion.
Next, we're off to Washton Province (yep), where we're instantly ambushed (Power: "It's a trap!") by Soarons and Interlockers. We fight them off, then head to the capital building where survivors are supposed to be hunkered, but Hawk is shot down. We set down inside the building, Soarons swarming from every direction, and pick him up. So now we have Hawk back-seat driving us the rest of the way, and in an odd quirk, we never hear anything more about human survivors or if we picked them up. They're just not mentioned again.
It's decided the best way to save the remaining outposts is to directly attack Volcania itself, taking out their control centers, and Hawk hopes the spread of Dread's forces means our opposition will be light (Power: "I wouldn't count on it.") There's some great animation of our jets skimming through toxic clouds, and we're at Volcania, with open skies for several kilometers as we start trashing the factory sector. Soarons are suddenly everywhere, but Hawk spots a tower. Power: "Let's go street level, sneak up on it," and we're in the trenches, punching through clouds, zipping past massive machinery, blasting through Soarons, and I'm loving it.
The tower goes boom, and now we're circling Castle Volcania itself, finding a point of entry as, yep, we plunge straight into Volcania to take out a central control module. We've got a new foe, Biodread Workers, maintenance drones that look like they could be Lacchi's big brothers. As we keep going, I love how Power orders us to keep taking out motion sensors so we can preserve the element of surprise. I don't think there's any surprises left at this point, Cap! As we go deeper and deeper into exquisite corridors, Dread again hacks into the radio, heckling us and telling us we've already lost and all the outposts are already wiped out (Power: "You're a liar, Dread, and you know it!").
Then we reach a massive armament chamber full of towering, active missiles, and honeycomb walls open unleashing countless Soarons and Interlockers, and it's a fury of explosions as we try to find the computer input somewhere in the middle of this all. We find it, jetting down a couple more corridors, and there's the computer, and we're the ones given the task of taking it out. Boom.
Power: "Let's get out of here. There's just one more thing I wanna do. Leave Dread a little message." As we fly through the mechanized guts of Volcania, we blow a swath through them on our way out.
Then we get a flat shot of Power at a poorly lit terminal as he tell us we've earned our wings.
The live-action segments may have dropped the ball on this one, and we could have used some more Scout on the comms, but it's still a wonderful, exciting adventure, packed with some of the best animation yet in this trio, and it really says something that I could watch 45 minutes of this stuff back-to-back and not feel bored in the least. And it does make me wonder what this show would have been like had it been entirely or at least partially animated in this style (I'd gladly take the shift in technique over the poor model overlays), but that's pretty much what Spiral Zone was. Seriously, as great as this series has been at times, these videos were a real highlight for me, and may go down as my favorite installments.
Now, as for "Tank Does Dallas"...