Retro Respawn – Handheld Month Week 3 – Popeye 2 (Game Boy)

Handheld Month continues as we take a look at a game for Nintendo’s chunky slab of portable entertainment that was the original Game Boy. I decided that for this week I’d take a look at a game that I hadn’t personally played before, as it’s nice to broaden one’s horizons now and then. Looking for suggestions, I paid a visit to the forum to ask folks in there if they had any recommendations.

So today’s game comes courtesy of Ijjysmith, who suggested I give Popeye 2 a go and…I’m kind of struggling to find a lot to say about it. Released over here in Europe during 1994, Popeye 2 is a sequel to a Japanese exclusive game from 1990, also on the Game Boy. It’s strange that we got a sequel to a game that was never released in the West, but as far as I can ascertain, the events of the first game have little to no bearing on the sequel.

Even stranger was that Popeye 2 saw its original release in 1991, meaning it took three whole years before we finally got our hands on it here in Europe. At first, I thought that there must have been some sort of a tie-in that would go some way to explain why anyone would bother bringing this three-year-old game out in another region. However, after sniffing around, I couldn’t locate anything Popeye-related that this game could have been cashing in on.

What does intrigue me is the prospect of Popeye being so incredibly popular in Japan that he got his own region-exclusive game as consequence. I did a bit of digging, and I really can’t see why the first game, essentially a Donkey Kong clone, didn’t transition over to the West. I can only assume that the Japanese believe that, due to him being a sailor, Popeye has killed his fair share of whales over the years, as I struggle to see other reasons for him to be beloved amongst the people of Nippon.

You’ll notice I haven’t said much about the actual game thus far, and there’s a reason for that. By no means is Popeye 2 a bad game, but it’s not a particularly great one either. It’s a serviceable platformer with Popeye himself crowbarred into it. There are a few nice little touches here and there, but overall the game nestles comfortably in the middle of the pack. If it was a colour, it’d be beige. If it was a plate of food, it’d be one of those “just cheese” sandwiches from Tesco.

Such middle of the road games certainly have a place, especially on handheld consoles when you just want a quick distraction whilst out and about, but they are usually very difficult to write about. If a game is either thoroughly cack or wonderfully enjoyable, you can burn up thousands of words either ranting or effusing about it in equal measure.

But a game like Popeye 2 is just harder to talk about because there isn’t really that much to say. This was very much one of those cases where I was left staring at a blank laptop screen unsure with how to start this one off, dreaded writers block thumping me on my cranium with bruising glee.

The story is standard fare for the Popeye series. After his woman is kidnapped by a scurvy pirate, Popeye has to light his pipe, stock his pantry with spinach and set off to save his Olive whilst also accruing a treasure map as part of the deal. The platforming itself works well enough, with B button operating as both a punch and also run, whilst A button acts as jump. Popeye has a life bar represented by tins of spinach, naturally, and as it increases, so too does his strength.

Collect enough tins of spinach and Popeye’s arm will grow to a ridiculous size, allowing him to cover more ground and cause more damage with his attacks. Collect even more and Popeye will actually start chucking cans at the assorted collection of baddies as projectiles.

Evil nasties in the game range from discourteous crabs, annoying birds and a slew of scurrilous pirates up to no good. The birds in particular can be very bothersome, especially when you’re climbing mainsails or descending down ropes to the bottom of caves. At the end of each act, you’ll find yourself in battle with a fearsome boss. These tend to range in difficulty, from a spooky ghost that you can defeat relatively easily with good stage placing to a near impossibly cheap ginormous dragon.

These boss battles again fail to truly enthuse, and you can’t help but feel like they’ve been included because a game like this should have them, as opposed to it needing them. The levels themselves are nicely designed, but an unnecessarily harsh time limit makes any sort of proper exploration difficult, and you’ll usually just end up rushing to the level’s conclusion so that you don’t die. This was the aspect of the game that I disliked the most, especially when you consider there are hidden areas in levels that you can find with a bit of inquisitiveness.

Having such a quick time limit means that you can never truly get lost in Popeye 2’s world, because you’ve got the game equivalent of an impatient parent tapping their watch in the corner of your eye whilst you try to have fun. If you’re going to make a platformer with decent sized levels worth exploring, then you need to also give us enough time to actually explore them as well!

I’m not sure I’d recommend Popeye 2 if I’m being honest. Again, it’s not a bad game. It works, it can be enjoyable at times and it does a decent enough job of translating Popeye and his world into handheld form. However, it translates that world but then goes with a standard “route one” platformer that really doesn’t get the most out of it.

Next week, I’ll be taking a look at another Game Boy platformer that definitely hits the brief for what you’d want and expect from a handheld experience. Join me as we close out Handheld Month!

Thanks for reading.

Until next time;

Enjoy Yourselves!!!

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