Sunday, April 14, 2013

Popeye (NES) Review

Written: April 12th-14h, 2013
Year: 1982, 1983 | Developed and Published by: Nintendo

I heart you, Olive!
One of the countless animated shows I grew up watching was the Elzie Segar and King Features Syndicate icon Popeye.  And who hasn't?  It's an intriguing premise with a strange yet likable sailor who's pretty slim but has got beefed up forearms, becoming invincible once he eats his can of spinach.  All the while trying impress and/or save his love interest Olive Oyl.  There were times when they mixed it up a little, but when I was little I enjoyed the ever-living crap out of this series.  XD  Hard to believe that the character's been around for almost eighty-five years, and that his animated shows have been around for eight decades.  I did say I enjoyed it a lot when I was little, but my opinion on the shows is somewhat different than it was before.

"I'm Popeye the Sailor Man!  I'm Popeye the
Sailor Man!"
There was a moment during my later teen years when I felt like revisiting these shows because I had a lot of fondness for them.  When I was finished with them I found myself laughing, but not for the right reasons.  The animation was pretty good for its time, but what really floored me upon watching them again was how silly they were (maybe a little too silly for their own good).  Although, that was probably the idea the studios were shooting for with this series.  I'm referring more to the episodes that were made during '43 to '57, which are noticeably different in style and tone than the ones that were crafted between '33 and '42.  I still like them enough, don't get me wrong, but to me nowadays the Popeye cartoons fall along the lines of "guilty pleasure" than anything else.  Still have respect for them though.  =)

Sailing through the open sea
Well enough about the show, let's talk about the licensed game itself.  After having gotten a green light from Kings Feature Syndicate, Nintendo decided to make a Popeye video game for the arcade back in 1982.  The following year Japan saw the release of the Famicom system, Nintendo's first 8-bit console which would transition to America in the form of the NES in 1985.  A well-known fact about the Famicom was that the first game that was made for it was the port of this coin-op title.  While most console versions were developed by Parker Brothers, the Famicom/NES version was done by Nintendo themselves.  And the end result paid off very well.

The Sea Hag attacks by throwing skulls at
The plot, as is standard for Popeye, centers on the titular sailor who's competing against his archnemesis Bluto for Olive Oyl's affection.  OF COURSE!  The goal of the game is to gather all the items that Olive throws down at you in order to proceed to the next stage.  In every first stage she'll throw down hearts, every second stage she'll send down musical notes, and in every third stage she'll throw the individual letters that spell out "HELP".  If the item falls to the water, make sure you grab it before it completely sinks otherwise you lose a life.  Of course it's not that simple as Bluto (and the Sea Hag on the harder mode) will try to do away with you.  The gameplay is simple and good as Popeye controls great, for he can move and climb stairs.  He cannot jump, but he does bounce off ledges as he walks off them.  In each stage you'll find a can of spinach which will allow the tables to be turned for a short period.  However, they're only available in the stages once: either when you start the stage or after you lost a life.

Only Popeye is strong enough to break glass
bottles by punching them
The visuals are basic but they're good and very colorful to look at for an early 8-bit title.  The characters look and animate well, and their design has preserved their charm from the show.  Anytime either Popeye or Bluto lose they do a rotating flipping animation, and any time Popeye consumes the spinach his skin temporarily turns hot pink.  Riiiight!  The first stage takes place in front of Popeye's and Olive's homes near water, the second stage takes place in front of a huge building near water, and the third one is set on a ship which takes place on top of water.  I just noticed, there's so much water below you all the time.  The songs are few but decent, and the 8-bit rendition of the Popeye theme sounds especially well-composed.  This game has decent aesthetic qualities, which is nice.  =)

In my opinion the arcade Popeye is a really good game, and this NES port is especially good.  The gameplay is simple yet fun, and for being one of the first ever NES games that were made it's not too shabby.  Sure there are three stages and it consistently loops after the last one, but it more than makes up for it with slightly amped up difficulty.  Just like the arcade original there are three stages... uhhhhhm!  Was that factory stage in Donkey Kong really that hard to emulate, or in Nintendo's case, recreate when it was ported to the NES?  That just seems sad.  -_-  The arcade game had bigger character sprites and significantly more detailed locations, which is a little weird considering the 8-bit conversion had tiny sprites by comparison.  The original Donkey Kong arcade trilogy had small character and enemy sprites, and their sizes were the same, even if the aspect ratio wasn't.  There are slightly less character frames in the NES version, and in the second stage J. Wellington Wimpy was standing on the other side of the seesaw; in the NES version Popeye miraculously bounces up from it to lil' Swee'Pea without any counterbalance to make it possible.  Huh!  Oh, well, I guess I can't really complain about that seeing as Nintendo was making baby steps with their 8-bit console, so I'll let that slide.

Popeye can also punch out Bluto's glass bottles, the vulture that consistently flies to the ship in the third stage, and even the skulls the Sea Hag throws at you in the harder modes.  A change that was made from the arcade version were that in the original the Sea Hag would pop up from time to time to throw bottles at you, but in the NES version she just stays in the upper right corner of the house throwing skulls down at you.  It's a nice change, I'll admit.  I was introduced to this game by the plug-and-play many years ago when I was a child in Italy, and since then I found it to be fun.  It does the show and character justice, and I believe it's worth a try.  If you like the show and characters from Popeye, I'm sure you'll like this game, as it's nice to play in short bursts.


Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and I hope you have a great day!  Take care!  =)
P.S.: This game must take place in the span of a few days, otherwise why would Bluto change outfits for each stage?
P.S. 2: 1982 introduced us to some great arcade games; including games such as this one, Donkey Kong JuniorDig Dug, Mr. Do!, Joust, Millipede, Kozmik Krooz'r, and even Super Pac-Man among others.  I'd count Domino Man but it was released a year after it was made.  =|
P.S. 3: Turns out that there's a Popeye video game that was exclusively released in Japan for the Super Famicom that was made by the company that gave us Double Dragon and River City Ransom.  That's news to me!
P.S. 4: One-color review again!  =(  I didn't feel like changing every paragraphs' colors this time around.

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