After a long break its time to welcome you all back to the world of Arcade conversions. Popeye was originally created for the arcades by Nintendo in 1982 and was one of the earliest games released for the NES and was ported to just about every system available at the time. I first played the game way back in 1984 on a friend’s Atari 2600 (I would have been around 4 at the time). Thinking back I believe Popeye was the first video game I had ever seen let alone played so it’s to blame for the 20 odd years of interest in games. Because of this it’s always held a sort of Holy Grail status in my mind the one game my parents could never afford to buy (my first foray into games ownership was a Commodore 16 in 85, no consoles until the late 80’s for me) yet would always remain a favourite in mind. The only thing I ever seem able to recall is the first screen and none of the game play so it makes for an interesting trip down memory lane to finally get my hands on a copy for the NES.
Seeming to be one of the mid range titles price wise on eBay I was able to pick up a boxed copy for £7 which is cheap considering I’ve seen it sell for as much as £15 with the instructions as well. The box itself was a bit tatty when it arrived but the cartridge didn’t even require cleaning booting straight away which is always a bonus. One thing I’m becoming used to with the early releases is the basic title screens and Popeye’s was no different, a simple choice between 1 or 2 players with game A or B for both. The B option simply being a much harder version to play but for the purposes of the blog I’ll stick to the A game.
The game is quite basic the goal is to catch a set number of whatever Olive throws down (this comes in the form of hearts, letters or musical notes and missing an item as it falls simply means it sticks to the bottom of the screen in the ocean where you can run by later to pick it up. You might think its just a case of waiting for all the items to fall but it can take a good while for them to descend as they tend to float in a breeze like feathers and with Bluto, Popeye’s nemesis running around you constantly have to keep moving. In total there are 3 stages the first based at Olives home, the second at a port and the third on an actual ship. Completing all three causes them to loop endlessly with the main goal being to make as many points as possible. To help you on your way you can collect tins of spinach with the game kicking in with the Popeye theme from the old cartoons, his muscles growing and the chance to hunt down Bluto and punch him across the screen. Besides Bluto and some birds in the last stage there are no enemies that pose a threat however each screen does have a unique part. The first being a punching bag that can be used to drop a flowerpot on Bluto’s head for more points, a seesaw in the second screen to jump up half the screen and a moving platform in the third which is a bit uncreative though the birds do make up for it. Finally we come to the music besides the Popeye theme there’s the same constant tune hat plays throughout all the levels. I’m not sure if its a rendition of the arcade cabinet but its pretty annoying and doesn’t ever stop.
So the important question for me is whether after all these years it’s actually a good game. For a full priced NES title at the time I would have to say no due to it being short and a bit limited the game itself plays extremely well and I had no problem running around the stages controlling Popeye. Some of the item collection requires quick movements to avoid Bluto and the slick controls mean the player is responsible for being caught rather than poor controls. For an arcade title good controls are an absolute must and Popeye doesn’t disappoint in that regard. I still owe a lot to this game as it really created the gaming urge all those years ago and it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t end up with something like M.U.S.C.L.E!