Thursday, July 4, 2013

Video Game Review: Popeye for Atari 2600

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good graphics and some creative game play
Cons: Poor controls add to some frustrating game play
The Bottom Line
This game can be fun
But some limitations do
Add frustration, too

Simple Game but Frustrating Execution

While I never played the arcade version of Popeye more than once or twice, I just had to get it for my Atari 2600.  It wasn't a game I'd turn to often, but I do remember enjoying it.  I recently dusted it off and gave it another spin and found it more frustrating than I remembered.

The object of the game is simple.  You're playing at Popeye, and you have to win the love of Olive Oyl.  She is throwing out hearts, musical notes, or kisses (depending on the level), and it's your job to catch them before they fall in the water and sink.  Sounds easy, right?  Not so fast.  Brutus is after you as always, and if he catches you, you lose a life.  The unseen Sea Hag is also throwing bottles at you, so you have to dodge or punch those.  You can turns the tables briefly once a level buy picking up the cans of spinach floating around and throwing Brutus over board.

Each level of the game features multiple platforms you can stand on.  The higher up you catch that Olive is throwing, the more points you get.  On the very highest platform, Brutus can only jump at you from behind.  He moves slowly and stupidly, so if you can catch stuff up there, you are pretty golden.  Every time you catch something, the Sea Hag throws a bottle, but you can punch those.

The frustrating part comes when you miss something and have to go down a level or two.  If you are on the same level at Brutus, he just keeps throwing bottles at you.  It's almost impossible to escape because when you try to climb a ladder, you can't do it in time and get hit by a bottle and die.  And if the objects you are trying to catch get too low, it's almost impossible to catch back up and reach the highest platform again.  (If one sinks in the water, it also kills you.)

The graphics for this game are surprisingly good.  Yes, they are still Atari 2600 levels, but you can tell who each of the characters are and what it is Olive is throwing in each level.  The "bottles" are really just rectangles that come at you, but that's the worst thing graphics wise.

The second and third levels are red on a black background, which I remember being a huge issue when I first played this game on a black and white TV.  I had to adjust the contrast like crazy to see what I was doing.

The sound is fairly good as well.  There are the right cues when things happen, and the constant background music is decent.  When Popeye picks up his spinach, you hear the theme song, and it's a good version of it.

This is a one player only game, and unlike other Atari 2600 games, there are no game variations.  You get one version and level of play, and that's it.

The other issue with this game is the controls.  You use the joystick controller, and moving side to side is easy.  The fire button is how you punch either the bottle or the can of spinach.  The problem comes when you have to climb the stairs.  You have to get and keep the controller at just the right diagonal angle for that, and it's hard to find it and keep it.  That makes getting away from danger another challenge.

Having said all that, when I stuck this game in after years of not playing it, I still was able to make it to level 3 (of 3, the game starts over but harder after that) both times I played.  It's not impossible, but it's not as easy as it could be.

I played the arcade version so seldom, I'd be curious to see if these were problems with that or issues that came over with the port.  Popeye for the Atari 2600 isn't truly bad, but it is more frustrating than it has to be.

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