The Many Faces of . . . Popeye

By Alan Hewston

This classic platform game is one of the top-ten all-time most "ported" classic video games on 8 classic home systems - all made by Parker Brothers!. Tied for ninth on my 2000 classic home video games list see:

Popeye is a frustrated hero who is only allowed to defend himself, save for once per round where he grabs his can of spinach and fights back. I'd love to go a whack Brutus more than just once a round, but any contact with him (sans Spinach power), and you're sent overboard. On each round (screen), there are 4 different floors (platforms) #1 through #4, where #1 is at the top. In all 3 rounds, Olive Oyl, throws tokens from the top of the screen that you must collect. Hearts, then musical notes, then X's (smootches), and you must catch all 16 to 24 (varying with version and round) to complete the round. Brutus chases Popeye around the screen, and although he cannot access floor #1, he can jump upwards and grab Popeye, or reach or jump down to any floor below. On all rounds, and all floors, Sea Hag can throw bottles inwards towards Popeye from the left and/or right edges of the screen. Popeye can either move away from them or punch them and score points. Get hit and you lose a life. Brutus can also throw bottles at you, most often in combo with the Sea Hag. Time is also your enemy as you must collect the tokens before they sink beneath the water. After swaying left and right during their fall, the tokens will eventually hit the water, where a warning song is played - telling you that your time is almost up.

Round 1, Sweet Hearts: All floors but #1 extend all the way across the screen. Floor #1 has a "THRU" ledge or tunnel, that permits you to leave the left/right side of the screen and enter the other. Brutus cannot use this THRU. The other floors all have diagonal stairs going down/up at the edges. Floor #2 has a down ladder, which only Popeye can use. On the Atari 8bit, 4200, C64 and CV, once you move done, you fall down all the way. The other ports allow you to descend part way, duck a bottle or confuse Brutus and then come back up. Floor #1 has a punching bag in the middle that you can punch. A well-timed punch will send the punching bag into a large barrel (hanging there), and upset it so that it falls straight down. Time your punch just right and trap Brutus inside the barrel. This will score you some bonus points and keep Brutus busy for a few seconds. Once used, the barrel only reappears if you lose a life.

Just as in the cartoons, Popeye's can of spinach will save the day. Once eaten, the Popeye theme will play, and if you chase down Brutus before the music ends, you score 3000 points. In round 1, the spinach randomly appears along the far left side of floors #2 and #3. In all rounds, there is only one can of spinach available.

Round 2, Love Notes: Olive now tosses out love notes. The THRU ledge is on floor #2. A sea-saw is at the left edge of the screen on the bottom of floor #4, upon which you can jump down from #3 and bounce up to #1 or #2. #1 is reached only if you time it right to touch Sweat Pea (or equivalent) hanging above floor #1. The spinach will be found on the sea-saw, but can only be retrieved while walking on floor #4.

Round 3, X's X's and more X's: Olive now sends out X's, or Smootches. Instead of a THRU ledge, floor #1 now has a large gap, that can be traversed via a slider. Step and slide over to the other side, or step and fall through to floor #2. Floors #2 & #3 have openings that only Popeye can use to move to the next lower floor, whereas Brutus walks on air crossing them. The spinach can be found randomly moving from far left to far right side on floor #4. Watch out for the Sea Hag’s swooping Vulture attack, but enjoy the thrill of punching a vulture at 1000 points a pop.

Version Differences - Some versions have differences, that impact the Gameplay, but not too much: faster falling tokens on the C64; Brutus reaches down first, before jumping down, or cannot just jump down anywhere, Sweat Pea is missing completely or is not seen but there is still a bonus; the Atari 2600 round two has 2 trampolines instead of a sea-saw; Vultures may be missing; Bonus lives vary at 30K and 40K; ladders are an all or nothing move up/down - so learn each version - if the move is manual, or automatic.

[Wife Q: Why do I need ALL these versions? A: To be able to write the “Many Faces of . . . ” ]


Arcade Game Designed in 1982 by: Nintendo

Classic Platforms: Atari 2600 (Joe Gaucher), 5200, 8 bit, Odyssey II, Ti 99/4A, Intellivision, Colecovision, Commodore 64 - all 8 versions by Parker Brothers.

No luck with any other programmer credits.

Categories: Gameplay, Addictiveness, Graphics, Sound & Controls

More info on Popeye can be found at:

Disqualified: Odyssey II (N/A)
Being pretty much released overseas, this ER cart will not be in many of your libraries - which is the main reason I’ve disqualified it. Popeye alone will not justify me buying the O2 multi-cart. But the Digital Press guide notes that the Olive Oyl “Scalding” animation is present, and Brutus has acquired vomiting-power!!! Basing my experience playing the O2 version of Q*bert, dare I say one of the "better" O2 releases, Popeye, if done as well, would still have no chance to medal in this field. I would, however, expect it to be one of the best 10 games available on the O2.

We're Not Worthy: Intellivision (29), Atari 2600 (31)
At first glance the Intellivision port looks OK with decent (6) Graphics, but then you immediately hear the sound effects that are only adequate (4) at best. In fact all the sounds are down right irritable and annoying to the point that you want to kill the sick bird. The Gameplay is good (6), but really just has the basic elements with no pause or any options added. I penalized this score as Brutus is just too darn fast, making the game have more a dumb luck factor taking away from the strategy or Gameplay. The Controls are very good (7), and are take a lot longer to master the skills of punching and changing directions near the stairs and ladders. The Addictiveness is good (6), and it makes a great addition to the otherwise small Intellivision arcade library.

The Atari 2600 had no chance here mostly due to the mediocre Graphics (5) and Gameplay (5). The Graphics are almost too dark to play the second round, and the Gameplay lacks any options, and is missing too much. The Sound is decent (6), and the Addictiveness is good (6) enough to bring you back for more. The Controls are outstanding (9). I did not give any 10's this month, as I find that even though if you master the Controls to any version of Popeye, there is still a programming element or complexity to punching and climbing those ladders and stairs that makes you err a bit too often.

The Top 5:
To speed things up, let's take the remaining 5 versions and compare the categories individually. The Controls are superb (9) on the C64, Atari 8 bit, but only very nice (8) on the TI and CV, and then only if using a better stick than the standard controller. The 5200 is generously given a (7) as you'll be resetting this game over and over again due to the controller back-stabbing you. They work smoothly and seem great for a while, but then all-of-the-sudden you can't guarantee that you'll be standing still to throw a clean punch in self-defense. Any time you want to go down you need to push down, re-center, then down, re-center . . . for every stair. The Addictiveness and Sound are nice (8) for all versions save the 5200 which I had to knock down to (7) - you may get addicted to the reset button (I did) thinking that you'll actually figure out the faulty controls. The Graphics are very good (7) for the 5200 and 8bit; crisp (8) for the C64 and CV; and outstanding (9) for the TI. The CV Graphics are outstanding like the TI, but there is an obvious sprite detection problem that cannot be ignored. The Gameplay for all 7 ports have almost no additions from the arcade, but is very good (7) for the C64, 8bit, and TI; and even more enjoyable (8) on both the CV (adding starting rounds), and the 5200 (with the only pause button in this lot) - oh for shame Parker Brothers didn't program a little bit more.

Just missed it: Atari 5200 (37), Atari 8bit (39)
Who would have guessed that the only version with a pause button would be the Atari 5200. A nice bonus, but a pause doesn't help when you're reaching for the reset button constantly. I thought that the Atari 8bit would fair better, but its graphics are usually lagging behind. Nothing's really wrong with this version, which like the C64 (and I think TI), can also be found on disk. Play the 8 bit version if you enjoy the 5200, but are frustrated or controller impaired.

Gold Medal: Colecovision (40). TI 99/4A (40), C64 (40)
These guys are all winners, and I could not break the tie by 1 point. All 7 versions could have been improved in Gameplay with a pause, or adding any other options. Seems like Parker Brothers just stiffed Popeye as we all know that these machines are more capable. I'd need to play these games a lot more to pick a single winner, but I'm leaning towards the CV right now - despite its sprite overlap problem. I almost gave the C64 the Gold as its Controls pretty much warrant a 10 for the smoothness and fewest problems - but I "wimped" out. BTW, Wimpy does make his appearance in round 3. The TI made a fine first appearance here, and I know now how correct many of you are regarding the quality of the TI arcade games - they're really well done - based on the 5+ I have. I hope that my TI PE box and new floppy drive ($6 at the CCAG 2001) will work OK, especially since a local TI group has some disk games and maybe cart games that will really help keep TI games showing up in this column. Finally, many thanks to Harry for getting me a TI 99/4A Popeye in time for this review.

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