In my youth (victory was a power pellet? – Ed) my father would generally take me to Showbiz Pizza every Saturday afternoon and give me a very generous five dollars worth of tokens to spend in a glorious haze of pixelated fun for an hour or so. When my pocket started to get light on tokens I would find myself heading off to where the less popular arcade games were being kept, shunned by players for the newer and louder machines in the next room. This is where I would get my time to play Donkey Kong Jr., Pole Position, Bagman, Mr. Do!, and Popeye.
I was maybe ten or eleven when I last was able to play the arcade version of Popeye so when a couple of weeks ago I stumbled onto the Atari 2600 port of Popeye at my local comic book shop for a meager fifty-cents I didn’t really see leaving the store without it in my hands.
Once I reached home it didn’t take me any time at all to get it slotted and with joystick in hand I flipped the power switch, and after a press of the select button I was treated to a quick few notes of the “I’m Popeye the Sailor Man” tune, before being amazed at how nice the characters looked for a 2600 title. The famous one-eyed sailor man was easily recognizable as was Bluto, Olive at the top of the screen was perhaps the only character to get a slight snubbing graphically. Well, I guess that the Sea Hag, Whimpy, and Swee’Pea received the greatest snubbing as they are not in this port.
I smiled as the game began proper and was delighted to hear that the arcade game’s rather catchy tune was emulated wonderfully by the cartridge port. There are three stages in Popeye, each similar in design and in each the goal is to catch an item of affection that Olive Oyl tosses from up above as they float down to the water below. On stage one it is hearts, stage two has musical notes, and stage 3 has snowflake-like objects. You have a few seconds to rescue the waterlogged items before they are gone if you find yourself too busy avoiding Bluto’s hands or his rapidly flung bottles. Off to the sides of the screen you also have to keep an eye on bottles being hurled your way by some off screen assailant…so maybe the Sea Hag is still in the game?
Luckily for Popeye there is a can of spinach, one per stage, that alternates location up and down one level, and when things get too
tough you can nab it so that by touching Bluto he’ll be knocked off screen but don’t think you’ve seen the last of him because he’ll be
back before you know it. Most of the game has a wash and repeat style of play as you go about your task of collecting the items of Olive’s affection and hurriedly running up and down stairs to try to lure Bluto away from where the items are falling. Stage Two and Three up the difficulty a notch naturally and by throwing in new gaming elements such as trampolines and a moving platform it keeps you on your toes. Especially the trampolines, there was more than one game ended by Popeye bouncing up and into a thrown bottle.
While not a true arcade port, of course, the music and play control is top notch and I see no reason why any Atari 2600 fan shouldn’t add Popeye to their gaming collection! I give it 4 out of 5 stars because the wash and repeat game play does start to wear after the sixth level.