‘He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe.’ Pause and think about that title for a moment. If you were expecting a hardcore, serious epic to appease the adult Masters of the Universe fan within you, then you should probably stop right there and reconsider any notion of purchasing this game. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of He-Man and his friends, and you have a sense of humor, and you don’t take the whole thing too seriously, then there is a pretty fun game waiting here for you.
He-Man: MPGU (for short) by and large feels like a loving self-parody of the cartoon and action figure franchise from the ’80s. The art style is much like the original cartoon, but more exaggerated and with a few touches of the early 2000s Mike Young series sprinkled in for good measure. The music and voices– limited as they are– call back to the original cartoon series as well. The music doesn’t sound exactly the same; our best guess is that the original tunes are still owned by Classic Media, or whoever owns the cartoon series now. Regardless, they’re as close as they can get without being exact, down to using the same types of instruments as the original works.
Come feel my flaming sword.
The gameplay is fairly standard side-scrolling stuff, with a bit of platforming thrown in. Fortunately, the platforming parts usually don’t tend to be too difficult. That aside, most of your time is spent moving from left to right and beating the pulp out of everything in sight with your magic sword. You’ll destroy enemies, boxes, enemies on boxes, the works.
The enemies themselves are a mix of classics such as Horde Troopers and Skeletor’s robots, as well as new designs. Every so often, you’ll face off with a boss, be it the lowly henchman Beastman or Skeletor’s old boss, Hordak, whose Fright Zone is inexplicably right in the middle of Eternia.
Ah, but there we are, taking it too seriously– more than the developers, at any rate. The game opens with Skeletor inviting He-Man over to try a new app he’s been designing, then trapping him and snatching his key to Castle Grayskull. He-Man breaks free, and the game basically becomes a chase throughout the land as The Most Powerful Man in the Universe attempts to keep his foe from the fabulous secret powers that lie within the castle’s stone walls.
Whenever He-Man catches up to Skeletor at the end of a level, the boney villain’s jaw drops cartoonishly as he heckles him from a safe distance. Defeating Beastman drops him into muck, his eyes poking through in a similarly cartoonish manner as he blinks helplessly. And Hordak… well, that one should really be seen for yourself, especially if you remember his transforming abilities in She-Ra: Princess of Power.
Along the way, you gather crystals that can be spent to bolster He-Man’s abilities, giving him new sword techniques, punches, or even the ability to toss the same axe the figure came with (but was conspicuous by its absence from the cartoon). You can also pay to get an occasional arm-blaster assist from Man-at-Arms, or if you’re really in a bind, call upon the Power of Grayskull itself to simply allow you to trounce whatever is giving you trouble.
And you may need that extra power boost, as the controls are pretty good, but not perfect. They aren’t quite as responsive as they need to be, and when you’re hammering at the sword ‘button,’ you need that responsiveness to keep Skeletor’s troops from closing the gap. Similarly, you’ll be pressing right more often than not, but every so often, something will come from the left, and you might have a little more trouble turning to face it than is ideal.
Definitely should’ve worn a jacket…
Another helpful tool that keeps the controls from being too much of a burden is Orko’s roulette, which you can use after dying. Just spin the Trollan’s magic wheel, and you can earn one of a variety of prizes, including crystals for purchases or even a restart from the last checkpoint.
Special bonuses await more skilled players as well. Collect He-Man’s ‘H’ emblem in the stages, and you’ll unlock a piece of ‘lore,’ which includes such things as concept art for the game and comic covers and package art from the old toyline. Navigating them is a slight hassle, but it’s still a cool bonus.
He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe isn’t a perfect game, but it’s fun to play despite its flaws. Moreover, if you’re a big fan of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, you’ll enjoy it that much more.