Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … Reconsidered

A while back I talked about the backstory Python Anghelo designed for the pinball machine Popeye Saves The Earth. I hesitate to call the backstory “crazypants”. I don’t want to wear out a good term by overuse. Also “crazypants” is inadequate to describe it. “Crazypants, crazyshirt, crazysocks and crazyshoes, crazyblazer, crazysheltered from the crazybuckets of crazyrain by a craizywaistcoat and crazyumbrella” gets more at it. Somehow Anghelo, most famous for Joust, had a strange vision for Popeye. Joust you’ll remember as the “medieval knights in space using ostriches to bludgeon pterodactyls” game.

The plan sketched out had Popeye bothered by the hypodermic needles Olive Oyl finds on the beach. So he buys the Glomar Explorer. With the help of Al Gore and H Ross Perot, he launches a space ark with two of every animal in the world. They journey to such worlds as Odorsphera, where the natives’ lack of noses causes the planet to smell terrible; a planet of spotted and striped people; a planet where everything is red; unisex gay world; and a planet with three moons. Finally they land back on an Earth ruined by total ecological collapse, with the few, disease-ridden human survivors resorting to cannibalism. Was the game as fun as this preliminary concept suggested?

Back in the 90s we didn’t think so. Usenet newsgroup rec.games.pinball judged this Bally/Midway table to be the worst thing humanity had accomplished in at least 875 years. It was so awful the group sentenced the game to the ignominy of having its name rendered without vowels. I believe they’re still calling it “P-p-y-” over there. And I’m not joking: nobody on the group questioned whether “y” served as a vowel in this context.

Cute picture of Popeye, Bluto, and a number of animals looking concerned or indifferent on a ship, with the Earth and Moon in the background.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. I do not know how Popeye (right) accidentally sailed to translunar space.

But I got to play the game this past week. I wanted to share my impressions of how the game lives up to its crazystuff potential. Sad to say, not much of the concept makes it into the game. What is there is just enough to baffle people who hadn’t read the nine-page document. For instance, there’s nothing in the game suggesting Popeye is going into space with any of the animals. Sure, the art on the side of the machine shows the Earth and Moon in the background of Popeye’s ark. But it also shows an eager young raccoon perched atop a giraffe who’s weighted down with a heavy, Funky Winkerbeanesque ennui. That could mean anything.

Animals bunched up on a space-going ship. At the back of the ship Bluto is being whalloped by various animals including a monkey.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. Far right, Bluto is whacked by a monkey.

There is an environmental theme, with Bluto locking up animals that Popeye frees. And there’s these Bluto’s Cartel shots. In them Bluto does stuff like put bricks up across the video-display scoreboard. This the game explains as Bluto’s Earth Pavers. It’s always nice to see a shout-out to Usenet foundational group alt.pave.the.earth. But if Bluto is paving the Earth one cinder block at a time, he’s really not much of an environmental menace. Over a normal working life he might be able to pave, like, something the size of Rhode Island with cinder blocks. But that’s not so much of the Earth. Also he’s building walls, which are vertical. The surface of the earth is more horizontal, like a floor. If Popeye left him alone he’d probably screw up some wind farms and make a nasty shadow but that’s it.

Another Cartel challenge makes it look like you, as Popeye, and Bluto, as Bluto, are winching control wheels to drown the other in a tank of water. That’s a misunderstanding created by not paying attention when the challenge gets started. In fact you and Bluto are trying to drown one another in a tank of oil.

And that kind of describes the game. The playfield has a lot of fun art of animals lounging around or singing to themselves. There’s also tiger- and lion-men paying shuffleboard with turtles who are either really big or the lion- and tiger-men are really small. Lion- and tiger-men really aren’t endangered. Heck, they take over Pittsburgh one week every summer for Anthrocon. They don’t need Space Popeye. The game is full of mysterious asides like this. Like, I get why Wimpy would put a bottle of catsup in a champagne bucket, but why would Popeye put a wrench in his?

Fun play field art of animals in comic action, mostly. Lion- and tiger-men playing shuffleboard with turtles, an iguana sprawled out over the 'Special' score light, that sort of thing.
Playfield detail on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. I’m not sure the penguin in the center at the bottom is doing a fan dance with a tablecloth but cannot rule it out.

The video screen has some fun animations, must say. And the voice acting is not bad, considering that everybody born before 1980 learned how to do Popeye’s voice except the people hired to do Popeye’s voice in projects like this. And the game with everything working is not so bad, though I bet it broke all the time in annoying ways in actual arcades. And I could point out gameplay issues that make you hate everybody who takes pinball seriously, but why? The game probably deserves to have at least two of its vowels restored.

Koala on the edge of the ship, staring down. I may be reading a sense of despair into its expression that the artist didn't intend.
Side art on the pinball game Popeye Saves The Earth. The koala contemplates the complicated ways of fate while sitting at the prow of a space-going ship.

So, in conclusion, may I point to the side art again and ask: is that koala on the edge of Popeye’s space ark contemplating suicide? It’s a strange and disappointing game, but humanity has probably done worse things in the last 875 years. Well, 886 at this point.


Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

7 thoughts on “Popeye Space Ark 2000 Pinball … Reconsidered”

  1. Of your suggestions, I think I like ‘crazy blazer’ best…reminds me of “Get Smart’s” Lazerblaser which slowly made short work of coffee pots and telephones in Max’s apartment(not to mention the wall and the bank next door ) as Max went around wearing the blazer unknowing of its secret or of how he’s activating it. Is/was there a Get Smart pinball game?


    1. There was not a dedicated Get Smart pinball game. But there was, in 1988, the Data East game Secret Service which had a spies-and-counterspies theme. Among its features was a “retina scan” where it made the scoreboard LEDs sweep left to right a couple times as you started the game. And it had music from spy-themed stuff, including Mission Impossible, Secret Agent Man, and Get Smart for a two-ball multiball. It’s a pretty genial game, and one of the first pinball games that I ever got really into, even though now I have to admit, oh yeah, it’s a Data East pinball game.

      After the game finishes it plays an instrumental version of Nobody Does It Better, except they have enough voice chip space to have a woman breathily say, Bay-bee, bay-bee'' during theBaby you’re the best” part of the song.

      It’s kind of cheesy, but I really do like it.


  2. I wouldn’t worry about the koala. In those pre-Internet days the artist probably only had Quantas Airlines ads to use as reference models. If you recall those ads consisted of an upset koala saying he hated Quantas for polluting Aussieland with low brow Americans.


    1. Oh, you’re right. I had forgot about the Qantas Koala. Yeah, that’s not going to give anyone a fair idea of what koalas are like. Now, Cubcake, from Mort Walker’s Boner’s Ark, that’s more fair.


  3. I ran into a few instances of Boner’s Ark,but have yet to see a koala, interesting strip,and at the risk of saying ill of the dead,I see he wasn’t any better at drawing zebras then he was drawing squirrels.


    1. Oh, Cubcake’s the … well, the character that looks faintly like Bimbo with wriggly Mickey Mouse ears. Turns up a lot.

      Comics Kingdom’s Ask The Archivist page utterly charms me with the revelation that the winner of the name-the-little-koala contest run in the strip was one “Georgianna Bender from Scranton, Pennsylvania. She won a two foot tall papier-mâché statue of Cubcake, worth $50.00, made by Mort Walker himself. That it was in fact, worth that much was guaranteed by Mort because he filled it with fifty dollars’ worth of coins and bills.

      Say what you will of the artwork and those years that it’s hard to figure why exactly we still have Beetle Bailey. But there is a certain inspiration in making a papier-mâché koala filled with fifty dollars in coins and bills and sending it to a woman in Scranton. If Andy Kaufmann had ever done this we’d still be talking about it as a stroke of genius.


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