Tag Archives: Masters Of The Universe

Halloween Forever Review

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In the world of indie games it isn’t uncommon to see games that try to emulate the titles that inspired them. But when taking into account how many of these games exist, being one of the games that emulates them well is a pretty big feat. Being one of the games that not only does the memory of classic games justice, but does so with unique personality, and original additions deserves commendation.

One such game is Halloween Forever, and I don’t just say that because I saw the game’s artist do a live stream creating pixel art on Twitch. I bought the game (yes, bought. It wasn’t given to me, and I wasn’t asked to review this.) after discovering the channel because his stream turned out to be quite informative. After downloading it, I fired it up to find that it really is a fun, and interesting game. Like the Arcade, computer, and NES games that it pays homages to, it’s a challenging action-platformer. The most notable, and noticeable inspiration here is Capcom’s Ghosts N’ Goblins.

PROS: Cute characters. Animation. Music. Humor. Play control.

CONS: Confusing menu navigation. Blind jumps.

SANTA: Putting demons on the naughty list.

Before you can start the game, you’ll have to go through an options menu. This is where nearly all of the faults in Halloween Forever lie. Unfortunately you’ll need to know how the controls are mapped in order to navigate them, which you won’t. This oversight is the sole glaring issue. Because you can’t simply use the arrow keys, or the W,A,S,D, keys in a way that you would expect.

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That’s because you can’t see the default layout – to get into the menu options – to change said layout. So you’ll spend a good ten minutes figuring out what keys do or don’t select. Or you’ll take a wild guess, and try clicking the options with a mouse to find it actually works. When you do get into the control settings you’ll find the default settings a bit weird. W jumps, A,S, and D move you left, right, and let you duck. The Left key shoots, the Up key lets you interact with doors, ladders, and other things. You can re-bind the keys to something you like better, so if you want to play with a more traditional two button lay out you can. Still, navigating with the mouse through the menu options is going to make life easier. Fortunately you can also use a compatible game pad like the Xbox 360, Xbox One, or Steam Controller.

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Rounding out the options are the choice between whether to play full screen or in a window, and some configuration menus. There’s an interesting option in here if you find the game too trying for you. You can enable a 99 lives setting. Keep in mind the game more or less considers this a cheat code. So if you turn this setting on, the Steam achievements will be disabled as long as the mode is enabled.

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When the game boots, you’ll see a short sequence of cinema screens that give you a concise understanding of what your goals are. An evil wizard who looks suspiciously like a robed Skeletor has cast a spell to curse the world, and make Halloween last forever. Thus throwing the world into chaos, as it is invaded by monsters, demons, floating Gorgon heads, and of course; Leatherface. This of course, doesn’t sit well with a certain pumpkin who rises from the patch, and decides that he will be playing the role of He-Man in this Halloween themed adventure.

Once you’ve started the game, and you’ve selected your options you’ll get to choose a character. I’ll come back to this in a bit. When you first start the game you’ll pretty much have the pumpkin man you’re introduced to in the opening cinematic. The other option is Santa Claus. Yes. Santa Claus. You’ll find out later on that there are a lot of folks who have a stake in this mission to take down this reaper.

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You’re then shown a map that lays out the order of the stages you’ll have to go through in order to win the game. Then you’re off to the races. Right away, you’re going to notice the way the game looks. Then you’re going to realize that the game looks much better in action than it does on its description page on the Steam store. The graphics are a little bit simplistic, for some. But the number of frames in the animation, and the little details in them are not. I have to commend Imaginary Monsters for this. Characters run around smoothly, and they have a lot of nuances you’ll appreciate if you pay attention.

Fabrics flow around. Projectiles have visual flair on them. Bad guys’ eyes animate while the fireballs they shoot from their sockets are also animating the aforementioned flair. The bosses you’ll run into continue these things. So while the game does have an aesthetic that falls somewhere between a Commodore 64 game,  and an early 90’s MS-DOS platformer it’s more complex. These are the little things that would have meant multiple disks or a longer download back then. Of course the gameplay itself comes right out of the early days of NES games.

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As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest influences is Ghosts N’ Goblins. You’ll move about a lot like Arthur did in that game, with an attack, and a jump. You can also double jump in Halloween Forever. Your attack has an arc to it. So you have to plan ahead when you attack enemies as you need to land your shots just right. But that isn’t to say Halloween Forever is a cut, and paste clone of Capcom’s arcade game. They may share some movements, and settings. But that’s about where it ends. It does have a couple of other influences, like Castlevania, and Mega Man. Perhaps even a dash of Monster Bash. But even this is largely just in the occasional trap. Or in ensuring the bosses have a readable attack pattern. Which they do.

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But beyond that, you’ll find an entertaining, and charming action platformer. One that has a lot of endearing character designs. Not just in the heroes you control, but in the enemies you’re forced to confront. There’s a cuteness factor in the super deformed style these characters are portrayed in. This continues even into your projectiles, like your pumpkin man’s candy corn, or Santa’s barfed up Christmas presents. It’s really something that will make you smile. Everything controls smoothly, and responsively. Climbing ladders, switching platforms, taking out baddies all feel tight.

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What won’t make you smile (aside from the options menu) are some of the challenges in Halloween Forever. A couple of the later boss fights are downright brutal. Even after you’ve figured out their patterns. Of course getting to those fights requires getting through a gauntlet of platforming challenges. Each of the five stages might seem straightforward on the surface. But each has a few secret paths through them as well. If you find these secret paths you’ll be able to collect a hidden rune. You’ll also find other characters that have been taken, and held hostage. Which you’ll really need to do. Because once you rescue these characters you can play through the game with them. Each of these characters plays slightly differently from one another. Some have better attacks for certain situations than others. One may make one boss fight a lot easier, but might have a tougher time getting through another part of the game. Also rescuing these people means that reaching their holding cells in subsequent play through sessions will net you 1-Ups in their place.

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If you beat the game, and see its ending though, the game isn’t over. Each playable character has their own ending, and chances are you’ll want to see each of them at least once. All in all, this has at least as much content as the titles that inspired it had. The chip tunes are awesome, and while this game may be short, and sweet it is pretty sweet. An absolutely terrific first effort by Imaginary Monsters, and I’m surprised it hadn’t caught my attention when it was originally released a year, and a half ago. The only major issue on display here is the screwy options menu you’ll be better served using a mouse for. Beyond that, one might complain about a blind jump or two. But that’s really about it. If you want something cute, entertaining, and don’t mind it being a bit esoteric, Halloween Forever is for you. It’s tough, but not insurmountable. It also has a lot of charm. It’s a really fun game you ought to check out.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

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Reposted Review: Masters Of The Universe: The Power Of He-Man

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(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