The development saga of Nintendo’s ‘Popeye’ video game is a long and sordid tale. ‘Popeye’ its life as an arcade title that Nintendo desperately wanted to introduce to curb their slump after the failure of the game ‘Radar Scope’. Nintendo failed at an attempt to license the ‘Popeye’ characters for a game in the early 1980s. Due to this licensing failure, they were left with no choice but to scrap the ‘Popeye’ plans and create a different game. That game is known as ‘Donkey Kong’ and was a serviceable replacement for ‘Popeye’ that kept Nintendo alive.
Not long after ‘Donkey Kong’ became a break out success, Nintendo finally obtained the sought after character licenses from King Features Syndicate. The ‘Popeye’ arcade game finally in 1982. Nintendo ported a version of this game to their Famicon system as a console launch title in 1983. For reasons unknown, the game was not a launch title for the North American version of the console and did not see release until 1986.
The NES port stays relatively true to the arcade version. The game is a standard 80s single-screen platforming affair. You control Popeye going through various challenges to rescue your female romantic interest, “Olive Oyl”. What makes this game stand out from the others is the way your character powers up. Instead of grabbing a star, or heart or “box that says ‘POW'”, Popeye obtains superhuman speed and strength by ingesting spinach.
In their infinite wisdom, this game effectively predicted Genetically Modified Food and all of the benefits that come from eating those foods. By eating GMO spinach, Popeye gets the edge he needs to conquer the villains and save the day. It is truly great to see writers and video game creators both thinking out the box and be way ahead of their time in predicting the future. For all we know, GMO foods could have been a result of someone reading a Popeye comic book or playing this very video game and saying, “You know, I bet I could make spinach that actually gives people superhuman strength…”
Using the GMO spinach, Popeye is able to overpower his rival, Bluto, and complete the required tasks on each of the three stages of gameplay. The game correctly supports standard gender role expectations with a strong male rescuing a female in distress. I found no significant issues with gameplay and the graphics and sound were on par with many other early NES releases. Of course, it’s not quite a carbon copy of the arcade machine but it’s definitely as close as one could get in 1986.
Thank you, King Features Syndicate. Thank you, Nintendo. Without your wisdom and forethought, companies like Monsanto may not exist today.