Nintendo is Great – Popeye (Famicom, 1983)

 

The series Nintendo is Great will explore every game ever released for a Nintendo console/handheld, beginning with the Famicom and working our way up to the Nintendo Switch.

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POPEYE

 

PUBLISHED: Nintendo

DEVELOPED: Nintendo R&D 1

RELEASE DATE: 12/1982 (JP), 1982 (North America), 07/15/83 (JP – Famicom), 06/1986 (US – NES), 09/01/86 (EU – NES)

ALSO ON: Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit, C64, ColecoVision, Intellivision, Odyssey², TI-99/4A

 

Poor Nintendo. They wanted to make a Popeye game so bad, and yet, nearly forty years removed, I ask why.

 

After Donkey Kong sold gangbusters, Nintendo presumably rubbed their success in King Features Syndicate’s face as politely as possible. KFS was like, “Woah shoot, we got a badass over here” and promptly handed over the Popeye license. Really, it’s not like Nintendo could do any worse than the misguided “Popeye” film starring Robin Williams… or could they?!

 

Shelley is not impressed.

 

Even if you enjoy the spinach-eating misadventures of Popeye the Sailor Man, Popeye is an inconsequential arcade title and the least of its Famicom launch brethren. The game may have been a labor of love for Nintendo, but the result is a basic arcade game that fails to present any fresh or original ideas.

 

He had it coming.

 

You play as the titular character, tasked with collecting items – hearts, musical notes, and the letters H-E-L-P – that Olive Oyl tosses down from the top of each stage. She doesn’t need to be rescued, per say. These are cries for attention and for whatever reason, Popeye is happy to comply. In your way is the jealous Brutus (or Bluto, depending), also desperate for Olive Oyl’s affections. Unless Popeye eats some spinach and is able to defend himself, one touch from Bluto will send him flying around the stage.

 

Big girls don’t cry, Olive, suck it up.

 

If you successfully avoid Bluto’s bullying and collect all of Oyl’s leavings across the game’s three stages, the whole affair repeats in a maddening loop. This repetition was acceptable and expected for a game released in 1982, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Indeed, the Nintendo-developed Popeye feels like a dramatic step backwards from both Donkey Kong games. Popeye can’t jump, avoiding Bluto gets tiresome, and gathering Olive Oyl’s crap just isn’t fun.

 

Popeye is brought to you by spinach, tobacco, and cowardice.

 

After Popeye, I don’t believe Nintendo ever developed another game out of a pre-existing property. While this might be because Nintendo profited more from their own properties than they ever would with others’, I like to think it was because Popeye just wasn’t that good of a game. Sorry Nintendo, you’ll do better next time…. or will you?!

 

D+

 

Oh, and yes: Popeye has ports to other consoles. I will cover. Different post. You’ll see. You’ll all see!

 

In the end, no one wins.

 

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Brian Decker

I’ve always felt like there’s a decent game lurking somewhere inside Popeye, I just haven’t found it yet. The fact that I can rarely even make it past the first loop tells me that there’s a deeper understanding of the mechanics that I just don’t have. Much like the ghosts in Pac-Man, this game centers around Bluto’s constant antagonism of Popeye (with the spinach standing in for the power pellets), but I’ve just never spent any time focusing on how his movements relate to my own. Regardless, the chase mechanic has never been my favorite in arcade games.

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