The object of the game is for Popeye to collect a certain number of items (24 hearts, 16 musical notes, or all of the letters in the word "help") while avoiding the Sea Hag, Brutus and other dangers. The player must use an 8-way joystick to move Popeye both back and forth on platforms and climb up and down stairs or ladders.
Up two players are able to play the game, by alternate playing, The top five highest scores are kept along with the player's three initials. Popeye was available in standard and cocktail configurations.
There is a punch button, but unlike similar games of the period, no jump button. (Conversely, Brutus can jump down a level and also jump up to hit Popeye if he is directly above.) Each level has a can of spinach. If Popeye punches the can, he becomes temporarily invincible and can knock out Brutus just by running into him; although after a few seconds Brutus will swim back out and be ready for action again.
In Round 1 of each three-round cycle is a punching bag, which Popeye can use to knock loose a nearby barrel from its position near the top of the playing field. If the barrel falls onto Brutus' head, the player earns bonus points (based on where Brutus was attacked) and renders Brutus harmless for several seconds.
Otherwise Popeye's attacks did nothing to his nemesis; although the attack button did destroy items that could hurt Popeye such as bottles, vultures and skulls.
Other licensed Popeye characters in the game are Olive Oyl, Swee'Pea, and J. Wellington Wimpy, though they are mostly decorative and do not add to the gameplay. Wimpy appears in Round 2 on one end of the see-saw in the lower left corner of the field, to act as a counterweight. Swee' Pea floats high above, with bonus points to be earned if Popeye can spring off the see-saw and touch him.
The game was licensed by Atari for exclusive release in the UK and Ireland, and featured in an Atari designed and manufactured cabinet.
The game was ported to various home game consoles, there was even a board game based on the original game (released by Parker Brothers in 1983). A tabletop video game was also made, and it was one of the first notable such devices to have a color LCD.
Popeye was one of the first three games released for Nintendo's Family Computer game console, known outside of Japan as the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Most ports were handled by Parker Brothers, except for the NES version, which was ported by Nintendo themselves.
In 2008, Namco released an enhanced remake for mobile phones. The game plays largely the same, though it features an Enhanced mode in addition to the arcade original, which includes a bonus stage and an extra level where Popeye must save a sleepwalking Olive, as well as some trivia segments. In the game it is possible to earn tokens, which can be used to buy some of the old comic strips.
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