In my childhood, the dream of “arcade perfect” games was equalled only by one other seemingly impossible dream – that of “cartoon quality” graphics. Sure, Dragon’s Lair was a thing that existed, but if you craved a little bit more in the way of interactivity then we just had to settle for the best attempts that developers could manage.
In the mid-Eighties Spectrum market, nothing seemed to come quite as close as Popeye. While the animation of Don Priestly’s cartoon adaptation wasn’t spectacular, it had truly enormous sprites – Popeye and Bluto are about half of the height of the play area and instantly recognisable, thanks to the detail afforded by their gargantuan size. The world they inhabit is full of variety too, with very distinctive looks setting each screen apart from the last, but there aren’t too many of them simply because of the amount of memory occupied by the character sprites.
But while Popeye would seem to lend himself to a beat-’em-up, the character you control in the game is noticeably weaker than his cartoon counterpart – he succumbs to damage rather easily and uses spinach only as a means to revive himself. Rather than wandering along and giving baddies a good pasting, you’ll be thinking of ways to navigate our favourite sailor past the jerks that want to stop him from collecting hearts for Olive Oyl. As a result, Popeye is an altogether more thoughtful affair than you might have imagined, and is ideal for players looking for a puzzle-based arcade adventure.