Review – Popeye
This might shock some of our younger viewers, but Popeye is actually (and factually) one of the most important gaming characters of all time, despite being a borderline centennial cartoon franchise. One of the first games ever developed by Nintendo, as well as Shigeru Miyamoto in general, was an arcade adaptation of Popeye, way back in 1983. Let’s just say that the franchise was in dire need of a remake, a brand new game to bring its history back to the spotlight. It was time for Popeye to become a household name in gaming once again.
I couldn’t have imagined anyone more capable of completing said objective than the developers behind Calculator, the most iconic killer app available on the eShop. Thank goodness for Sabec, for they have finally given us the modern rendition of Popeye we’ve been asking for. One that isn’t as epic as their modern rendition of a calculator application on the Switch, but something pretty damn close in terms of quality.
Popeye is a shocking Switch exclusive, a game that showed up from out of nowhere to become one of the most iconic releases of the year. It’s a game that truly defies the concept of a killer app, a console exclusive, the reason one should pick up a Switch OLED instead of a PlayStation 5. Who needs Ratchet & Clank, Returnal, and Demon’s Souls‘ remake anyway? Can the PlayStation 5 render all half a dozen polygons that comprise Popeye’s character model? Don’t think so. Can a SSD-based hardware like that one compute the epic fifteen minutes of gameplay that comprise the entirety of Popeye‘s campaign? Nuh-uh. Can you punch Bluto in the face with a DualSense? Niet!
Everything you loved from the original arcade game is featured in this extremely inspiring remake, but with a much more ambitious level of scope. Remember that first level, where you were supposed to collect a handful of hearts in a small 2D level, all while avoiding being attacked by Bluto? It’s all recreated in this version, but instead of a small, cramped, and challenging 2D setting, you have an entire tridimensional beach level for you to explore. A pointlessly enormous level, full of sand and low-poly objects that make the game feel like what could have been one of the best games released in 1995 for the Atari Jaguar CD. One could put Popeye right next to the original Star Fox and try to count how many more polygons the former had when compared to the latter. Maybe three? Four? I’m pretty sure it’s no more than six.
Bluto does show up, but he’s more of a bro than a foe this time around. A lot of time has passed since the 1983 original and both gentlemen have finally managed to settle their differences. He shows up in the level, but he usually doesn’t bother you. You can walk right past him without any issue. He will look at you, probably ask how you’ve been doing, and mind his own business. Every now and then, he does try to chase you for a few meters, but he has put on some weight since the 80’s, so he won’t chase after you for long. It felt more of a light jog with a friend, a casual game of catch, rather than a foe trying to catch his sworn enemy.
The second level was set in a pirate ship, one so detailed that I could have easily been fooled if someone had told me it was actually cut content from Sea of Thieves…. had Sea of Thieves been originally planned for the Sega 32X. Instead of just collecting physical manifestations of Oliver Oil screaming “help”, our damsel in distress will spit out letters that will form a sentence. That’s right, folks, Popeye subverted my expectations by being a borderline Wheel of Fortune crossover, albeit without the wheel, or the fortune, or Pat Sajak to cheer me up…
The third level almost felt like a crossover as well. It was set in what I can only describe as “trying to run Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag on a Windows 95 computer”. The framerate was akin to that as well. Such warm, nostalgic feelings of me trying to run demanding games on my old PC in the early 2000s. I wasn’t expecting for Popeye to make me feel so nostalgic and reminisce of the good old times, but that’s what it ended up doing. It’s the gift that kept on giving throughout its two dozen minutes of runtime.
It’s not as if Popeye didn’t take advantage of its licensing deal to fully embrace every element from its source material. Olive Oil does utter one sentence, like once per level… and it’s always the same sentence. Who cares anyway? Do you know how many voiced lines of dialogue Olive had in the 1983 original? None! Cry your heart out, Miyamoto! We also get the famous Popeye theme song for a whopping two to three seconds whenever you grab a can of spinach. You don’t need more than that. Three seconds of it was probably all the budget could afford. The rest of the game features a lovely rendition of a public domain children’s tune to remind you that Popeye is fun for all the family.
Popeye is… well, it’s something else. It’s a game. It doesn’t crash upon booting it up, and pressing buttons results in actions happening onscreen. That is the best praise I can give to this astonishing Switch exclusive. It makes me even wonder as to how the developers have managed to snag the licensing rights for the franchise to begin with. You know, we keep complaining that Sony rules over its digital library with an iron fist, censoring some unnecessary content in their store, but there are times where I guess Nintendo should start adopting a few of those drastic measures when it comes to their store’s curation. Or lack thereof…
If someone had told me this was a cancelled Popeye game originally planned for the Atari Jaguar CD, I wouldn’t have been able to notice the difference.
The gameplay loop is as boring, dumb, pointless, and uncreative as one can be, but I will be honest: the controls work. As in, Popeye can walk and occasionally punch Bluto after picking up a can of spinach.
The soundtrack is comprised of a single ten second loop of a public domain children’s tune. With that being said, the game earns an extra point in sound for having Olive Oil uttering a single line of dialogue and for playing the Popeye theme song for three seconds once you eat some spinach.
Fun Factor: 0.5
Well, I guess that the game doesn’t crash and that pressing buttons results in actions happening onscreen?
Final Verdict: 1.5
Popeye is available now on Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.