This game was one of the three games that the original Famicom launched with. Mario Bros probably would've made more sense, but was only released in Japanese arcades the month prior and likely not an available option. Still, this game just feels weird to rush into the home console area of the market. Miyamoto wanted to make a Popeye game since at least '79, but sometimes just because you want to doesn't mean you should. Not that Popeye is a bad game, it's just nothing great either. With only three stages and gameplay nowhere near as unique as Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. it seems like Nintendo was more determined to have a liscenced game in their portfolio than something that truly speaks to the Nintendo quality factor.
If you want to play this game, I recommend checking out the arcade version. These NES psudo-2600 graphics definitely don't help anyone feel the love Miyamoto and crew tried to put in the game.
It was very strange to learn that this game was not made simply because it could be a marketable licensed game, but because its creator was actually a huge fan of Popeye and was determined to make a game out of it. So much so, that in a darker timeline, Donkey Kong may very well have been a Popeye game. It's easy to see through its aesthetic charms that this was a labor of love, but not without many flaws. While the game is fun, it's incredibly basic compared to what we've seen from other Miyamoto games, and the AI can be a bit wonky. I am happy that he was able to get this game out of his system though, lest he split his focus between making one of his future masterpieces and a future inexplicably Popeye focused game.
The more I think back about this game, the more I realize how forgettable it was to me. It felt like a pretty basic arcade game, and included some would-be interesting elements like the spinach and a few other elements (I’m serious, I actually don’t remember what the other elements were… something about a baby in the sky…) but none of these things actually mattered too much to me, because you could beat the level without ever needing them. I know that if you are going for a high score, these things are probably pretty important, but I personally don’t usually play for score.
I think I would have enjoyed it more if it involved a gameplay mechanic in which you are weak and absolutely need to take out Bluto/Brutus/Pluto/The Big man, in order to save Olive Oyl. Then you would have the option to try to take him on in your weak state or try to find or get to the spinach, which could be it’s own challenge, but pay off by making your fight with Bluto easier. Maybe there could have been a different obstacle stopping you from reaching the spinach in each level, or multiple ways to get to it. I think even those few options would make it feel less repetitive. Sure the difficulty amps up when you get back to level one but ultimately you are just doing the same thing again.
I didn’t have a bad time playing it. It Just didn’t stand out to me.