Popeye (NES)

Popeye Box Art

Popeye

System: NES

Release Date: June 1986

Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Genre: Platformer

Okay, on to Popeye. Are you familiar with the character? I hope so. Popeye is a fun property, plenty of neat characters that you can do a lot with. If you’re uninitiated, the main gimmick is Olive Oyl is typically Popeye’s girlfriend, but sometimes she wanders over to Bluto (Brutus in the game) to make Popeye jealous. Then Bluto tries to rub it in Popeye’s face and he gets ticked off, downs some spinach, and punches his bully in the face. I think the first time I played this was in the mid 90s at my friend Donal’s house.

Bluto getting his block knocked off after Popeye eats spinach.

Donkey Kong was originally designed as a Popeye game, with Mario being Popeye, Donkey Kong being Bluto, and Pauline being Olive Oyl. They couldn’t get the rights to use Popeye from King Features Syndicate, so made their own character, instead. I think it worked out alright for them. The always lovable Shigeru Miyamoto was behind the design of this title, as well, and it shows, following the gameplay loop of the Donkey Kong games closely.

Bluto throwing a barrage of beer bottles.

In each level, Popeye needs to avoid Bluto. Bluto has plenty of ways to put an end to Popeye. He can bump into you, throw beer bottles at your head, punch up from below (like Mario), jump down a level, or just grab Popeye from above. Popeye can grab a can of spinach once per level, which renders him able to punch Bluto out.

Bluto tries a Mario style jump punch.

The first level tasks Popeye with catching falling hearts thrown out by Olive at some weird multi-level wharf. The stage has four levels that Popeye can collect the hearts on, the higher up, the more points the hearts are worth. It’s possible to use a barrel at the top of the stage to trap Bluto and snag some extra points, while removing him as an obstacle for a few seconds. After you collect 24 hearts, the level is done.

The Sea Hag gets in on the action with bouncing skulls.

The second level looks like a town area. This time, you’re catching 16 music notes thrown out by Olive’s harp. Also in this level is Swee’Pea, hovering above a see-saw. You can use the see-saw to jump up a couple levels, but if you tap Swee’Pea, you get some bonus points. Annoyingly, there is a gap in the platform that Bluto can walk over, but you can’t.

Olive Oyl begging for H-E-L-P.

The third level is on a ship. Olive throws out the letters H-E-L-P that grows a ladder up to save her. Bernard the vulture swoops down and tries to stop Popeye, but he can be punched down for a big point bonus. After completing the loop, the Sea Hag appears as a bonus enemy, dropping skulls that you can punch away. There may be more things that happen in later loops, but I didn’t have the patience to make it that far.

Graphics: 1.0

I can tell who the characters are, but the backgrounds are bad. Like super chunky and ugly.

Sound: 1.5

The Popeye song exists in game and it’s not bad. The rest of the sound effects are fine, but nothing special.

Gameplay: 1.0

Not fun. Popeye’s punch is weak. Like, it should at least stun Bluto for a second so I can get away. Nope. At least it works on vultures, skulls, and bottles.

Difficulty: 1.5

How weak Popeye is makes me unhappy. Yeah, he can punch Bluto out after eating spinach, but it stops the stuff you’re trying to collect, so not helpful at all.

Fun Factor: 1.0

I did not enjoy my time playing this game. It’s a super early, super bad arcade port.

Overall Grade: 1.2

Popeye earns a D. It’s really not a good game. I’ll be happy never to play this turd again.

Popeye Video Review on YouTube

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