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History of Popeye the Arcade Game

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A year after Shigeru Miyamoto set the arcade world on fire with Donkey Kong, Nintendo released the legendary game designer's latest epic, one he had been plotting, planning, and conceiving long before he came up with the idea for Mario and the big ape.

The curious thing is, if it weren't for negotiations breaking down for the Popeye license, Donkey Kong would have never been made, and had it not been for Donkey Kong's monumental success, there never would have ended up being a Popeye arcade game.

Basic Facts:

Getting the Popeye Arcade Ship to Sale

In the early days of his career Shigeru Miyamoto was tasked to design a game using components from Nintendo's failed Radar Scope arcade cabinets. At the same time the historic arcade game company was in heavy negotiations with King Features Syndicate to obtain the rights to license the popular comic-strip and cartoon character Popeye, the Sailor Man.

Popeye started out in 1929 as the main feature in a newspaper comic strip called Thimble Theater, which later was renamed after the famous sailor man. As his popularity grew, Popeye became an international star and was featured in comic books, cartoons, movies, and toys.

Miyamoto went to work designing ideas for a Popeye arcade game utilizing the key concepts from the cartoon shorts. Unfortunately negotiations fell though, forcing Miyamoto to come up with a new game idea; but this didn't mean he had to scrap the basic concepts or mechanics. Instead Miyamoto took the core of his original Popeye design and used it as the seed to grow his first major iconic game, Donkey Kong.

Popeye Punches Back:

After the monumental success of Donkey Kong, King Features revisited their negotiations with Nintendo and a deal was hammered out; with the project going right back to Miyamoto who was now the shinning star of the company.

Miyamoto reworked his original designs, maintaining the same core but changing things enough so it wouldn't play like Donkey Kong, but still share some of the familiar fun elements, all while still being a dramatically different experience.

Popeye Goes To the Arcade:

The ladylove of our pipe smoking hero, Olive Oyl, is being romanced by Popeye's nastiest nemesis, Bluto; but when Olive sees Popeye pitching her some woo with a flower, she exclaims with glee, "Popeye Catch!" and begins to toss symbols of love to our favorite sailor man.

Broken hearted, Bluto starts chasing Popeye all over three single-screened platform levels, aiming to take the sailor down though thrown beer bottles or fisticuffs. Along the way he gets a help in pummeling Popeye with the help of fellow baddie, the Sea Hag.

The Gameplay:

Across three cycling levels Popeye must avoid Bluto, who grabs, jumps and punches at the sailor man while chasing him around four platforms, all while Olive Oyl dreamily paces from above, tossing out symbols of her love. Popeye must collect all of these symbols, 24 hearts in level one, 16 musical notes in level 2, and letters to the word "Love" in level 3.

Popeye is given three lives, for which he can earn an extra every 40,000 points. Instead of dying he loses a life every time he is touched, grabbed or punched by Bluto, or is hit by one of the bottles that either Bluto or the Sea Hag throw at him.

Popeye is also hassled by an Olive-kidnapping buzzard and a white skull who skulks in the corners of level 3. Popeye can also lose a life if he let's one of Olive's symbols or gestures of love fall to the ground and sink into the water, for that will get Popeye a scolding worse than anything his enemies could dish out.

Popeye's Arsenal of Fisticuffs:

Now don't go thinking Popeye is so helpless that he can't defend himself against the likes of Bluto and the Sea Hag. His first line of defense are his fists, which allow Popeye to punch bottles out of the air, knock-out the evil buzzard, and smack a punching bag into a barrel that will fall on Bluto's head. However, Popeye's most powerful weapon of them all is still spinach.

Popping around on different sides of the platforms is a can of spinach, If Popeye punches it, he receives an extra boost of power that for the length of two quick-playing choruses of "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man" he can punch Bluto out. This also causes Oilve's falling trinkets to freeze in the air and give bonus points if their snagged in time. The spinach is available only once per-level, and it doesn't wipe Bluto out for good. After getting socked he flies around the screen and falls in the water, but moments later climbs out, angrier than ever.

Popeye Hits Consoles:

The arcade game was a big hit and quickly became fodder for the second-generation home consoles. Nintendo wasn't part of the home video game market by then so they licensed the porting duties to Parker Brothers. Soon versions of Popeye were released for the Atari 2600, Commodore 64, ColecoVision and every other major console of the time. Then the last official version of Popeye the arcade game was developed and released by Nintendo themselves in 1986 for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Since the NES version there has been no port of re-release of the original Popeye game, most likely due to the license between King Features and Nintendo running out. The closest we've come to a version for any system after the NES was in 2008 when Namco released an official remake for mobile phones, which features graphical upgrades of the original game, as well as new levels inspired by Miyamoto's classic game design.

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