Popeye must catch hearts, musical notes, or letter from the word "HELP" that his girlfriend Olive Oyl, who is located at the top of the screen, is tossing down. These items slowly floating items descend to the bottom of the screen and eventually 'break' unless Popeye can collect them.
Popeye's nemesis, Bluto, pursues him throughout each of the repeating three stages. The Sea Hag also appears to hurl bottles, etc. at our hero. Sweet Pea and Wimpy also make appearances but only serve to provide opportunities to score more points.
The three stages consist of the dock level, the street level, and the ship level. Difficulty increases each time the player completes the set of stages. Controls consist of an 8-way joystick and a 'punch' button.
History & Design
Popeye was released by Nintendo in 1982. Its cabinet is the same design as the earlier more recognizable Donkey Kong and the later Donkey Kong Jr. cabinets. A cocktail table version was also released. The game was designed by Genyo Takeda and a young upstart designer named Shigeru Miyamoto. The Popeye characters were originally going to be used for Donkey Kong, but Nintendo decided to go with an original character creation that evolved into the iconic Mario. The CPU was a Z80 Chip running at 4MHz. Sound was produced using a AY8910 chip running at 2MHz.
THE DOCK STAGE - Popeye must catch 24 hearts that Olive Oyl tosses down one at a time. The HUD displays how many hearts the player has collected. If a heart reaches the bottom of the screen, the player will lose a life if he doesn't retrieve the breaking heart after about 10 seconds.
Bluto chases Popeye throughout the stage. There are two ways he can be temporarily disposed of. One is by punching the signature can of spinach that will periodically appear on the sides of the screen. Once the can is punched, Popeye gets stong and turns red for about 10 seconds and has the ability to punch Bluto, sending him bouncing across the screen and into the sea. Catching hearts while in this 'red mode' will also net double points. The player will get 3000 points knocking out Bluto but he will shortly climb back out and continue his pursuit. The second way he can be incapacitated is by hitting a punching bag that dislodges a bucket. If timed right, the bucket will fall on Bluto's head giving the player 2000 points and some time to grabs some more hearts before he eventually pulls the bucket off.
Both Bluto and the Sea Hag like to throw bottles at Popeye. These bottles can be broken by punching them. Bluto throws his bottles in groups of four and the Sea Hag will periodically show up on the side of the screen, throw one and disappear. Sometimes there will will be one on each side and they'll simultaneously throw a bottle, attempting to 'sandwich' Popeye between them is he isn't fast enough with his punches. Bluto can also jump up to a higher level or reach down to a lower level to knock Popeye out. Players should take caution when passing Bluto directly above or below him.
THE STREET STAGE - This stage is similar to the first but features a different level layout and Olive throws musical notes instead of hearts. There is also a seesaw located in the lower left corner that, if timed right, allows Popeye to be launched in the air, thanks to Wimpy standing on the other end. Once in the air, Popeye can touch Sweet Pea for a point bonus who is floating above with a balloon.
THE SHIP STAGE - The final stage features similar gameplay with two different features. One is there is a sliding platform at the top. Second each time Popeye catches one of the H-E-L-P letters that Olive tosses him, a ladder step will appear. Once enough letters are caught and the ladder is completed, Popeye can climb up and rescue Olive. The Sea Hag's pet vulture will also come out on the left side of the screen. Popeye can punch it continuously for points.
Once Popeye rescues Olive, players are treated to a short intermission where Popeye's theme song is played while his face appears on the screen, blowing his signature "toot, toot" on his pipe. Players are then returned to the first stage again with increased difficulty. The Sea Hag now send bouncing skulls at Popeye, which are more difficult to punch. They will also fall down from an above level and knock him on the head if he is walking directly below.
Popeye was ported to several popular home consoles in subsequent years including the Atari 2600 and 5200, Intellivision, Colecovision, Odyssey2, and eventually came full circle releasing on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Ports to computer systems included the Texas Instruments TI-99, Atari XL, and Commodore 64. A mobile phone version was also released in 2008.