You may remember our coverage of Popeye for the Vic 20 in MM #1390. Beamrider faithfully converted the arcade original, pushing the Vic 20 to its limits and I awarded it an overall mark of 70%. That was despite its blocky graphics and the occasional difficulty in discerning what was going on due to the cramped playing area.
Not to be outdone, Gabriele Amore has attempted the same job on the Spectrum 48K.
The basic premise of the game is that you play Popeye the sailorman collecting the hearts thrown into the playing area by Olive Oyl. You must avoid Bluto, and the bottles he throws at you, and must collect up a quota of hearts to proceed to the next level.
With an extra 32K to play with on the Spectrum compared to the Vic, you'd be forgiven for expecting the same game with better graphics. Which is what I was expecting when I loaded it up. I was very quickly disabused of these expectations.
Honestly, there are so many problems here that I find it difficult to know where to begin.
Firstly, there are no instructions. This was also a problem with the Beamrider version. The original arcade game contains a large amount of "cartoon style" features (being able to drop a bucket on Bluto's head, for example) but without any indication of how to operate them, you're left with your own guesswork. This is time-consuming, annoying and unnecessary. If you can be bothered to convert a game, then supply it with some instructions so that those who want to play it can indeed do so.
Start the game and you get the familiar four level screen one with Olive at the top, and Bluto pacing around below. So far so good. Oddly, the screen freezes and you have to press M to start the game at this point. No idea why but hey ho, let's do that and get the action going.
Your problems begin almost immediately. In the original, you descend from the starting platform by going to the extreme right and walking diagonally down the stairs. But in this version, the stairs are, in fact, the biggest danger to your health. Firstly, they are not hard right against the sides of the screen, so it's possible to fall off them into a 24px wide area that doesn't exist in the original. This is the exact area often occupied by the bottle-throwing Sea Hag. You see the problem?
Having worked out that you must spin around and sort of 'fall' down the stairs diagonally (that is, walking to the edge of them and landing on the next one), you may need to immediately retrace your steps because Bluto is on the platform throwing bottles at you. In the original, it's a synch, diagonal up-right as you would expect. Here you must actually jump up the stairs one at a time. This takes time you don't have. Don't even get me started on trying to attempt from the final stair up to the platform above - you're more likely to throw your Spectrum out of the window than pull this off! Oh, and none of these quirks affect Bluto. He doesn't have to jump the stairs at such a slow speed, so he will immediately catch up with you. And that's one life down.
Next, everything moves in 8x8 CHR$ "jumps" rather than by smoothly-scrolling machine code. This means that, even if you keep well out of the way of the Sea Hag and Bluto, their bottles come jumping across a very small area at breakneck speed whilst the best your character can do to avoid them is waste a screen-move executing the "punch" or jump in the air.
Not that jumping in the air helps - the collision detection is so bad that, although Popeye is safely out of harm's way mid-air, the bottle still registers a hit and that's two lives down.
What about the famous cans of spinach? The ones that render you impervious to Bluto? Surely collecting one of those would make the game playable, even if just for a short time? Well, I wouldn't know. As you can see from the screenshots, there are two accessible cans of spinach only a short walk from the starting position. However, one of them is positioned almost permanently behind the Sea Hag and the other doesn't seem to get picked up even when you walk right up to it and hammer on the fire button. Or maybe it is picked up and I am invincible to Bluto but I just don't know it because there's absolutely no change that would reflect it.
How terrible is this conversion? Well, if you stand extreme right and press the punch key, you'll see your extended first appear one line down screen left!
On a good day, you might just be able to collect up enough hearts (by good luck rather than any skill) to see the second screen. I haven't managed it and I have *really* tried. It's so difficult just to move about that you'd have to be suicidal to try and attempt any of those more "cartoony" inclusions. Mind you, I'd doubt if they're even implemented properly. There's no intro with the Popeye music, Popeye doesn't blow his toot-toot pipe, and even the introduction with the two competing for Olive's attention is missing. In addition, even the simple arcade quirks (which Beamrider all managed to include in a computer a third of the Spectrum's size) are missing. Bluto never even tried to grab me from the platform above or below!
The only good thing about it is the music, apparently added after the code itself was written by Alexandro "Seto Taisho" Grussu.
If your programming skills aren't up to the job yet, don't start with a "fast and furious" arcade conversion like Popeye. It's a waste of time for everyone.