You play Popeye, trying to collect hearts, musical notes, or letters of the word "HELP" from Olive Oyl, who walks back and forth at the top of the screen and sends them floating down. Each of the three levels has four platforms, broken in places and connected by stairs or ladders. If a heart/note/letter reaches the bottom of the screen, it lands in water, and you have a limited time to get it before you lose a life. Collect them all and you advance to the next level. Unusually for a platform game, Popeye cannot jump, except in one corner of level 2, where Wimpy is standing on a seesaw.
Standing in your way are Bluto/Brutus (called Brutus here), the Sea Hag, and on level 3, her vulture Bernard. Brutus chases you around, trying to kill you with Collision Damage, and throws bottles at you. He can jump both up and down through platforms. The Sea Hag appears on the sides of the screen when you pick up something from Olive, and throws bottles at you. On level 2, and level 1 once the game starts repeating, she also stands at the top of the screen throwing skulls. The vulture on level 3 has carried Olive to the top of a pirate ship's mast; hence the "HELP" letters. It flies across the screen swooping up and down. You can punch the bottles and the vulture.
Spinach is available once per level on the side of the screen, but it keeps teleporting to different platforms. This is the only way to deal with Brutus.
There is some interesting history here, in that a Popeye game is what Nintendo wanted to make when they made Donkey Kong. They couldn't get the license, so Miyamoto came up with a love triangle that mirrored the Popeye universe. The three characters became Mario, Donkey Kong, and Pauline. After Donkey Kong, they got the license, and did this. Popeye was designed by Miyamoto, and his style is easy to recognize here.
Lesser known Popeye video games include; the Technos title Popeye: Ijiwaru Majo Seahag no Maki, which translates to Popeye: The Tale of the Sea Hag, only released in Japan for the Super Famicom; a Game Boy title by Sigma Enterprises released only in Japan followed by a sequel which saw worldwide release; and Popeye: Rush For Spinach by Namco for the Game Boy Advance, released in the US and Europe. Tropes below do not apply to any of these titles.
Popeye provides examples of:
- Ambidextrous Sprite: Popeye. Not really noticeable, until you start wondering which side of his mouth is holding his pipe...
- American Kirby Is Hardcore: Oddly inverted for the NES port: the Japanese and European box art have Popeye slugging Brutus in the face, while the US one has him reuniting with Olive.
- Big Bad Duumvirate: The Sea Hag assists Brutus from the second loop onwards.
- Butt-Monkey: Bernard, since you can punch him unlike with Brutus, and repeatedly do so for extra points.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Wimpy isn't on the seesaw in the NES port, so it appears that you're being launched by thin air.
- Cutscene: A character introduction when the game starts, and one at the start of level 3 that shows Olive being carried in by a vulture.
- Doo-Wop Progression: The main gameplay theme does this.
- Endless Game: It gets harder after the first round, that's about it.
- Every 10,000 Points: Or rather, 40,000 points, an extra Popeye.
- Floating Platforms: One in level 3.
- Grievous Bottley Harm: Brutus could throw bottles at you (up to four at a time), and the Sea Hag could also throw bottles at you (she'd appear on both ends of the level you were on); you had to punch them out of the air before they hit you.
- Ground Punch: Brutus shakes the screen when he falls.
- Level Goal: Collect everything Olive Oyl throws.
- Musical Gameplay: The music changes when something from Olive is sitting in the water, and Popeye's theme plays when you eat the spinach.
- Music Is Eighth Notes: Variation: the second level has Popeye collecting sixteenth notes from Olive Oyl.
- One-Hit-Point Wonder: Anything that hurts you causes you to lose a life, as do some things that don't.
- Painfully Slow Projectile: The bottles thrown by Brutus and the Sea Hag.
- Power Up Motif: What else would power up Popeye?
- Respawning Enemies: Brutus and the Vulture, almost immediately.
- Ring Out: What you do to Brutus when you have the spinach and touch him.
- Scoring Points: This being an older game, points do have a purpose.
- Spring Jump: A seesaw on level 2 with Wimpy standing on it.
- Timed Power-Up: The spinach lasts for a limited time, or until you hit Brutus.
- The Unfought: The Sea Hag, for obvious reasons. All bets are off with her pet vulture Bernard, though.
- Video-Game Lives: You'll lose them if you don't collect everything Olive drops too.note
- Wrap Around: One platform each on levels 1 and 2 allow this, marked by a "THRU" sign.