Popeye the Sailor Man... I guess what was cool back in the 1930's seems pretty lame now, but Popeye was one of the toughest cartoon characters of his day. Popeye would usually spend his time beating the crap out of local trouble maker Bluto who was constantly kidnapping his main girl Olive Oyl (get it?). Somewhere down the line they added a baby named Sweetpea to the cartoon who was usually used as a plot device to lure Popeye into some dangerous situation or another. Ok so it wasn't the greatest cartoon on earth, but it makes for a nice video game
In 1980 someone in Hollywood thought that Popeye would make a good musical/movie and that Robin Williams was perfect for the role. While the movie was a flop (a bit too dark, and a bit too long), Nintendo decided to make an arcade game to ride on the buzz the movie generated. The arcade game was a minor hit so Parker Brothers to port Popeye to just about every system they could think of including the 2600. The 2600 version plays pretty close to the arcade game, but as is the case with most 2600 arcade ports, it was watered down a bit.
The goal of Popeye is run around each screen collecting love tokens (hearts, notes, and letters) being thrown by Olive Oyl at the top of the screen. These tokens will float around the screen until they eventually reach water at the bottom. Once they reach the water they will begin to sink unless picked up in a short amount of time, if a token does sink Popeye will lose a life. Once you collect all 16 tokens on a level, you'll move on to the next. Of course you can't just run around each stage unmolested, your arch nemesis Bluto will chase you around trying to catch you. Bluto can also jump down from level to level, throw beer bottles at you (which you can punch), jump up and hit you on the level above, and generally makes it impossible to stand still for more than a few moments.
Normally you're powerless against Bluto, but if you pick up a can of spinach which randomly appears on the sides of the screen you can knock him off the level temporarily. However Bluto will always come back after a short time, so make the best use of this time. Another benefit of the spinach is that the tokens will freeze wherever they are and can be collected much easier. Teaming up with Bluto is the Sea Hag, who will throw bottles at you randomly from the sides of the screen. There are three screens, and they all play very similarly.
For technical reasons, all the characters are a single color but are still recognizable. The artwork is a bit on the questionable side however as Popeye looks like he has a bad case of the Mumps, Bluto looks like the Incredible Hulk on a bad day, and Olive Oly could double for the wicked witch of the west. In addition to monochrome sprites, some of the more interesting features of each level had to be removed to make them work within the limitations of the 2600. For example, the bucket and punching bag (which Popeye could use to temporarily disable Bluto) have been removed from the first level, which makes it a little harder. Another missing feature is the vulture from the third level, but in this case it makes things easier rather than harder. However the biggest change is to the games second level.
In the arcade and most home ports, the second level featured
a see-saw with Wimpy on one end. Popeye could jump on the
see-saw and be thrown upwards to the third floor. If he
caught the rings (held by Sweet Pea) he'd stay on the third
floor, otherwise he'd fall down to the second. In the 2600
version there are instead two trampolines on each side of the
screen on which Popeye can jump to reach the upper floors.
It's unknown why this change was made, but it was probably so
the screen could make use of playfield mirroring so each side
has to be identical. Interestingly it appears that this
wasn't always the case (see the prototype below).
||Screen and movement demo
|?/??/83||Atari 2600 Popeye 8K PAL RLS.1||PAL version|