The Game: Well, blow me down! Popeye the sailor man gets his own video game. On level one, you’re trying to catch Olive Oyl’s falling hearts before they descend to sea level and are lost, while ducking Bluto’s punches at the same time. A can of spinach appears every so often, giving you the opportunity to read the big bully the riot act (comic strip-style, of course). On level two, the falling hearts are replaced by falling musical notes, and you’ll need Wimpy’s hefty help to keep Swee’Pea from drifting away on a balloon. (Nintendo, 1983)
Memories: A true licensing coup for relative newcomers Nintendo, this project hooked them up with the cartoon marketing savvy of King Features Syndicate (and don’t think for a moment that Nintendo didn’t soak up as much knowledge as it could to put to use on its next hot property, Mario Bros.) But even though it’s a well-loved and remembered game, it wasn’t Popeye’s first arcade outing.
Popeye’s first arcade appearance was decidedly less official than this game was. With the blessing of neither Midway nor Namco, or King Features Syndicate for that matter, some enterprising bootlegger retrofitted Popeye characters – or at least rough approximations thereof – into Pac-Man. As odd as this may seem, it’s wasn’t completely incomprehensible: just substitute spinach for power pellets, and voila, instant Popeye game. But this incident did at least demonstrate that there was a real Popeye game just waiting to happen somewhere.
Though I never quite got into this game the way so many others seemed to, it seemed to strike a chord, even resulting in Parker Brothers issuing cartridge versions of the game for every platform under the sun, from the Atari 2600 to – shockingly – the Odyssey2 (at least outside of North America). And to be fair, the graphics and music were incredibly faithful to the classic cartoon characters, given the limitations of game graphics at the time.