(Originally posted on the inactive Retro Retreat)
Fabulous secret powers will be revealed to you when you insert the game into your classic console.
Even in the early days, sometimes a good licensed game would come around. Best of all this one came out when the character was in his prime. Relive your childhood, or discover something awesome from before your time. It’s time for a little bit of old school.
PROS: Impressive considering the hardware. Play great. MOTU fans will still love them.
CONS: Games are fairly short. Cheap AI, at higher difficulty replays.
WTH? The 2600 version has a better title screen, and intro?
Before diving into these games, a quick history lesson for those who weren’t around for the series when it originally came out, or when it was rebooted in 2002 in a new series on the Cartoon Network. Masters Of The Universe was an insanely popular toy line made by Mattel in the early 80′s. It’s storyline has had several rewrites throughout it’s existence. First being told through minicomics that came packaged with the toys. Shortly thereafter Filmation put out it’s classic cartoon based on the toys, and instituted it’s own series bible which became the more accepted version of the storyline. I won’t go deep into it as we’ll be looking at the games. But for those not already familiar with the series, Masters Of The Universe is about a planet called Eternia. On it there are several factions of good or evil. The main cast is the monarchy. Led by King Randor, Queen Marlena, they seek to keep peace upon the planet, and help the various inhabitants. There is also an ancient castle called Castle Grayskull.
Castle Grayskull holds the majority of the magical power of the planet, and is constantly under assault from the various factions of evil. The most common of these is Skeletor, and his band of evil warriors. Like most evil villains, he wants to take the power of Grayskull for himself so that he can take over the world of Eternia. (Insert “Of Course” Raul Julia meme) Unbeknownst to King Randor, his son Prince Adam was given a legendary sword of power that would turn him into Eternia’s greatest warrior: He-Man. As He-Man, Prince Adam defends the planet of Eternia from Skeletor, and other threats. With all that out-of-the-way, here’s Masters Of The Universe: The Power Of He-Man.
Released by Mattel in 1983, Masters Of The Universe: The Power Of He-Man (It’s a long title) was found on two consoles. Mattel’s own Intellivision system, and it’s main rival the Atari 2600. In today’s world of First Party, and Third Party mindsets, one would wonder why Mattel didn’t use He-Man as an exclusive to sell more Intellivisions. Though I suppose the case could be made that putting out a 2600 version made sense as it brings buyers in from two installed bases rather than one.
The game is pretty much the same on both platforms but there are a few differences that will be pointed out in this article. The main objective is to stop Skeletor from taking the power of Castle Grayskull for himself. As such, there are two main stages to the game. A shoot ’em up level, and a boss level. The shoot ’em up level will have you flying He-Man in his Wind Raider dropping bombs on Skeletor’s troops on his way to Castle Grayskull. (As an aside, the Wind Raider is one of the cooler vehicles in the toy line, and mythos.)
Skeletor’s troops don’t go down as easy as you would think. They shoot laser guns into the sky at you. they also fire discs up into the sky that lock onto the Wind Raider’s heat signature. What ends up happening is a tricky maneuver of trying to shoot down discs, while avoiding lasers, then hoping to place a bomb close enough to the enemy so that he will fall into the crater you just made. You’ll be doing this for 30 miles. If you can beat this stage you will land on Grayskull, and make your way to the boss stage.
The differences between versions at this point are pretty minimal. The Intellivision version runs much faster though, and so players will have to think a lot faster. The graphics are also a lot better. The discs appear as deadlier fireballs, and Skeletor’s henchmen run back, and forth along the bottom making them more difficult to hit. The Atari 2600 version is instead more colorful, and enemies don’t have as much animation going on. He-Man still looks about as good here in the Wind Raider as he does on Intellivision, but the rest of the visuals are decisively in Mattel’s court. To be fair, The Intellivision coming out far after the 2600 certainly left that expectation though. Nevertheless, MOTUTPOHM is still one of the nicer looking 2600 titles. It’s also a challenge in it’s own right.
The boss stage is where the differences really come into play however. On the 2600 it’s a single part battle. Skeletor has magic walls that move toward He-Man. There are small gaps in them that are just enough for He-Man to squeeze through. To complicate things, Skeletor uses his Havoc Staff as he did in the comics, and cartoon episodes of the day, to fire magical lasers at He-Man. Luckily He-Man can deflect the blasts with his Power Sword by pressing the fire button. If you can get He-Man to the other side of the screen however you’ll see Skeletor defeated, and you are treated to one of the few, and best endings of any 2600 title.
The Intellivision version however features a three-part battle with Skeletor. The set up is similar to the 2600 port, except that instead of magic walls, Skeletor summons hordes of fireballs, demons, and other objects of doom. He-Man has to get around the obstacles to get to Skeletor. Upon doing so you will be treated to a sword fight, and then a cinema screen showing He-Man chase Skeletor down to the next part of the boss fight. The second part is pretty much the same thing except for a scenery change. Beating this challenge leads to a final battle on the top of Grayskull. Defeat Skeletor in this fight, and you’re treated to a cinema of Skeletor retreating Castle Grayskull.
Once you beat either version the game will automatically re start on a higher difficulty. One final thing of note however is just how much better the title screen is on the Atari 2600 port. Mattel featured a really cool transformation intro in the game so you see Prince Adam turn into He-Man as the cartoon’s theme plays in the background. It’s something old timers who grew up in the 1980′s as He-Fans, and She-Ravers will absolutely love if they missed out on this title back then. Younger fans will enjoy visiting the game at least once, while collectors of 2600 or Intellivision cartridges may find this one of the more interesting titles in their respective libraries.
The main drawbacks with these games are the short length, and repetitiveness. These don’t have the same satisfaction as the “Hi-Score” games of the time in terms of gameplay. MOTUTPOHM does do what it does well. It’s a really fun, and well made licensed game which is a sad rarity in any era of video games. But it’s not something you’ll re-beat 100 times in a row to out score your friends on, the way vintage games like Pac-Man or Donkey Kong beckon you to.
Masters Of The Universe: The Power Of He-Man IS however a must buy for any He-Man fan, and a solid recommendation for anyone who wanted to see what classic hardware could do if pushed to the limit in a way that works in it’s favor.
Final Score: 8 out of 10