The Surprising Influence of Popeye on Video Games.

What do Mario and Pac-man have in common? Some things are obvious: stared in breakthrough arcade games, mascots for the entire medium, and both are characters in Smash Bros. Another, not so obvious, connection is the influence Popeye had on both their creators. Let’s look at how this spinach loving sailor helped create gaming as we know it now.

The first thing I associate with Popeye is spinach. Whenever he eats it his muscles get even bigger, then anyone who messes with him gets clobbered into the stratosphere. Toru Iwatani cites Popeye’s connection to spinach as the inspiration for the power pellet in Pac-Man, which turns the formerly deadly ghosts into snacks. The power pellet marks the first-time a power-up appears in a video game. Without Popeye we wouldn’t have the power-pellet, and consequently fire flowers, protective barriers, quad-damage, or the hammer in our next game.

A common storyline in Popeye involves the titular sailor fighting with Bluto over their common love interest Olive Oyl. When Nintendo tapped Miyamoto for their Radar Scope conversion project, his original intent was to create a Popeye game based on that dynamic. But Nintendo was unable to secure the rights, so instead he created new characters with similar relationships. He took further inspiration from King Kong, subbing in Donkey Kong for Bluto, Pauline for Olive Oyl, and Jumpman for Popeye. After the success of Donkey Kong, Miyamoto got the chance to make an actual Popeye arcade game.

Popeye kong

While each player in this story is extremely well known, their influences on one another aren’t obvious. This connections serves as a great demonstration of the hidden threads connecting various pieces of media.

5 thoughts on “The Surprising Influence of Popeye on Video Games.”

  1. This is a very interesting piece of trivia. I think it’s amazing how a character created in the late 20s would greatly influence a medium that wouldn’t solidify until nearly 50 years later. I think Mr. Miyamoto once said that Pac-Man is his all-time favorite game, so the connections run really deep.

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  2. I found it interesting that Popeye influenced Mario and Pac-Man. I never considered that Pac-Man becoming more powerful after obtaining a Power Pellet mimicked Popeye’s increased strength after eating spinach. I also never realised that Jumpman’s, Donkey Kong’s and Pauline’s relationships in Donkey Kong was so similar to Popeye, Bluto and Olive Oyl. It seems strange that such an old cartoon inspired a new aspect of a game so many years later, which became such an integral part of computer games. It is a bit similar to the way the famous business owner and recluse Howard Hughes influenced a diverse range of popular culture, such as a storyline for a James Bond film and the character of Tony Stark in Iron Man.

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