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Masters of the Universe: He-Man - Power of Grayskull (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Masters of the Universe: He-Man - Power of Grayskull (Game Boy Advance) review


"As a He-Man fan, I really tried to like this title. I watched the original cartoon as a kid, and had all the trinkets: the playsets, action figures, and even a He-Man sticker book. Yet I’m not so much of a fangirl as to stick up for a game like this, which is obviously a rushed and poorly designed cash-grab. "



As a He-Man fan, I really tried to like this title. I watched the original cartoon as a kid, and had all the trinkets: the playsets, action figures, and even a He-Man sticker book. Yet I’m not so much of a fangirl as to stick up for a game like this, which is obviously a rushed and poorly designed cash-grab.

Where do I begin. First of all, the game is not based on the original He-Man series, but on the remake. Thus, all the characters have had subtle make-overs from their originals. He-Man is slightly lankier and not as manly as his eighties counterpart. Despite cosmetic differences however, the cast of characters will certainly be familiar: there is the wizard Orko, the friends Man-at-Arms, Man-E-Faces and Teela, and a host of recognizable villains including Trap-Jaw, Beast Man, Mer-Man, and of course Skeletor. Despite the slightly disappointing He-Man, general manliness abounds everywhere, since most of the characters have Man somewhere in the name. It’s really quite overwhelming.

I was hopeful for the game as the title screen loaded up and erupted with He-Man’s famous cry “I have the power!” Then, puzzlement. He-Man begins his quest at Castle Greyskull, where he must both locate Man-at-Arms, who has apparently wandered off somewhere, and defend the castle from a host of skeletons that are attacking it. The first level wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great. I was hopeful that things would improve throughout the other 11 levels. Unfortunately, aside from a few flashes of inspiration, they didn’t.

There is no overall story arc to the levels; instead they are a collection of disjointed scenarios where He-Man is usually sent to rescue one of his friends who can’t ever seem to stick up for themselves and get abducted every time He-Man turns his back on them. Man-at-Arms, Cringer, Queen Marlena, Stratos, Man-E-Faces, then Man-at-Arms again. The Man-E-Faces level was particularly disappointing. He-Man is instructed to help Man-E-Faces defend the castle from Skeletor’s attack. I assumed this would mean that I would eventually have Man-E-Faces tagging along as an ally. However, when I finally found him, he said something like “oh great He-Man, thank goodness you’re here,” and then disappeared! Again, He-Man was left to fix everything. The last few levels crystallize somewhat around a quest to journey to Snake Mountain to save Teela, who has been….wait for it…abducted!

Of course since He-Man is the most powerful man in the universe, I was expecting to see some heavy-duty sword-wielding prowess. Not so, since He-Man has a limited number of moves that are, frankly, rather on the wimpy side. The A and B buttons jump and swing the sword respectively, while holding L causes H-Man to sprint and R blocks. He-Man can also perform a jump-attack and a charged attack, but the overall lack of variety when fighting was very disappointing. The jump attack is quite problematic when fighting enemies who hit back, because they always seem to hit when He-Man is in the air, defenseless, before he has a chance to swing. The charged attack takes too much time, and is therefore unrealistic for the same reasons.

The fearsome foes sent to stop He-Man all have the same unsophisticated attack pattern of charging head-on, pulling back, and attacking again ad nauseam. They frequently cheap-shot, and are generally only vulnerable to hits right after having attacked. As a result, He-Man must adopt a similarly repetitive and unimaginative strategy for defeating them, which consists of blocking the enemy’s attack, striking with the sword, blocking the enemy’s attack, and so on, until the enemy dies, which is often after 5, 6, or even 10 hits later. This strategy is the same for defeating most bosses, although the Mer-Man and Beast Man did stand out as being slightly more challenging.

Masters of the Universe is an action game that uses one of those quasi-top-down perspectives where the camera is above the player so that all the terrain looks like it’s on an angle. This makes jumping absolutely hellish. I hate to go as far as to call the game glitchy in this respect, but something was seriously wrong with the jumping nevertheless. Sometimes when close to a ledge, pressing the jump button would do nothing at all and He-Man would remain firmly on the ground. A successful jump involves painstakingly aligning He-Man with the next platform, pressing the jump button and praying, since the perspective often makes it difficult to judge angles correctly. Hit-detection is wretched here; if He-Man is just slightly touching the edge of the platform, he dies, because the game things he has landed in the water/lava.

Level designs are repetitive and totally linear and artificial. Aside from a few tasks like having to smash rocks or cut down a tree to cross a river, He-Man does not interact with the environment at all. The terrain obviously continues off-screen, but He-Man isn’t allowed to walk there. Even the most elementary of games will usually put in a row of fake-looking trees or an out of place rock formation to contain the gaming terrain. Not so with Masters of the Universe. No explanation is given for why He-Man can’t leave the screen, we are just expected to accept it and subdue our curiosity about what lies beyond.

The “exploration” (and I use the term very loosely) levels all consist of finding keys that unlock new areas, which then allows He-Man to progress through the level to the boss, which he must then defeat. The problem is that there is not always a logical reason for fighting the boss, except that the boss is there. Ooh, there’s Lockjaw hanging around across the river. Why don’t I go and fight him, because I’m He-Man, and that’s what He-Man does.

One blatantly silly scenario involves saving Cringer, who has been “abducted” by Clawful. After progressing through the level, He-Man arrives at the foot of a large hill with a cage at the base. Upon approaching the cage, we see that Cringer is inside. Then we are told “He-Man, you must defeat Clawful to set Cringer free.” WHY? Clawful is all the way up at the top of the hill, while Cringer is sitting there right in front of He-Man. Sure, he’s locked up and all, but iron bars are no match for the manly He-Man. Why doesn’t he just break the bars, take the cat, and get the hell out of there? But no, he has to climb all the way up a hill and fight a pointless battle. I know, without fighting and boss battles, there would be no game. But the developers should have devised more intelligent reasons for He-Man to do the things he has to do, rather than just telling us he must do it in order to finish a level.

Besides these exploration/fighting levels, there are three vehicle levels, where He-Man rides either Cringer or Stratos with the goal of trying to collect all 20 crystals. Again, rather disappointing. These levels were obviously included as an interlude from the fighting levels, but when I think of similar racing-type levels in, for example, Klonoa: Empire of Dreams, the ones in Masters of the Universe just don’t measure up. Control is stiff and limited to left, right, forward or back while travelling along a flat surface that never changes or turns.

Even those looking for a simple romp through the fields of nostalgia will find little to get excited about with Masters of the Universe. The graphics are grainy at best, and the characters and enemies are rendered with a poor amount of detail that makes it hard to pick out any defining features. As for He-Man’s allies, they aren’t even animated, but instead show up as little rotating coins with the person’s face on it. Touching the coin cues some dialogue with that person, but after the dialogue is over, they immediately disappear. Cheap. Very cheap.

That, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with Masters of the Universe. To a complacent and casual gamer who just wants a quick nostalgia-driven romp through a vaguely He-manly universe, go knock yourself out. But others, myself included, will quickly realize that Masters of the Universe is a game of chronic underachievement and unrecognized potential.

Rating: 4/10

alecto's avatar
Community review by alecto (January 25, 2003)

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