Back in the early-to-mid 1980’s, serial cartoons (i.e. not the 5-minute long variety) used to be fun and light-hearted throwaway programs which didn’t seek to achieve anything other than to entertain. He-Man was one such cartoon, and I recall watching it and enjoying it. And then, one dark day, things changed. Suddenly, at the end of the cartoon, He-Man came on to deliver a message, telling us what the moral of what we had just witnessed was. Why would they do this? Why tarnish light entertainment with this cheesy ‘do the right thing, kids’ epilogue? Shouldn’t our parents and schooling teach us this stuff? Suffice to say, the world changed. Anybody under the age of about 20 will have grown up with children’s programming no longer being just about fun, and probably never have experienced a moral-free episode. No, now everything had to teach a lesson, too.
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Tying in with the theme above, Masters of the Universe He-Man: Defender of Grayskull comes with a moral, too: if you buy this game, you have more money than sense, and deserve all the ridicule you get. And that moral takes into account the target audience’s age and the game’s budget price, too.
What we have here is a 3rd-person action adventure title that sees you as the titular hero. That naughty Skeletor, He-Man’s nemesis, is up to no good once again. He wants to get his hands on an orb that will allow him to rule all of Eternia in his own, wicked way. So it’s down to you to stop him and restore peace once more, fighting through an assortment of Skeletor’s lackeys and boss characters until you meet the bone-head himself in the final confrontation. In addition to the combat, there are some rudimentary puzzles and some Indiana Jones esque traps to evade, and He-Man fans may well be excited when they read that you can wield different weapons, perform numerous standard and special attacks, and even ride on trusty old Battlecat in some stages. And, on paper, some may think that it seems a snip at £19.99, but those thoughts would be wrong.
It doesn’t take long for the game to show what it is all about. Starting in a dungeon prison, your first task is to escape. You’ll run around and kill a few guards, and then come up to a locked door, for which you will need a key to open, in typical fashion for the genre. This key is not out in the open, though; of course it isn’t. Somebody thought that for a laugh they would hide it in a jar, which you need to smash. Hmm, okay. Once through this, you will come up with the first traps you need to evade, which basically involve timing your run under (or through) the closing doorway. If you are out with your timing, then you die. No second chance here, folks.
Of course, not all areas require a key to progress, but you wouldn’t know it, and this is one of the gripes with the title; the conditions for making progress are just not clear. Sometimes you will need to kill all the enemies in an area (which can be spread over a fair distance), or destroy a generator of some sort, or find a key hidden in a vase stuck in a dark corner. And with no map function, sometimes you can be wandering around aimlessly in the larger environments, without much of idea what to do. For a target audience of 7+, it just isn’t good enough.
And level-design aside, things are not helped by the dreadful camera and sluggish controls, which make the obligatory platform sections harder than they need to be (and yes, a badly-judged jump will again result in instant death), and combat feel clunky.
The meat of the game is the combat, though, unfortunately things do not improve here. It’s pretty much standard fare; various attacks can be pulled-off by moving the analogue stick in different directions with the attack button pressed, and He-Man possesses some special attacks, too, which are performed replete with a slo-mo pan-and-scan camera. The enemies lack variety, though, and the AI is non-existent. You needn’t bother with special moves either, or changing weapons; in fact, it is all too easy to button-mash through with the initial starting sword. Maybe this is all the kiddies would want, but it is incredibly dull. The game does try to spruce things up with some Battlecat levels, which allow you to ride around, instead of run, and use some target seeking missiles, but these feel tacked-on to try and create the illusion of doing something different, when in reality you are doing the same, but with more restrictive combat options.
So what we have here then is another game hoping the license will pull it through. It’s short (which, in view of the quality is probably a good thing), lacks any incentive to progress through the narrative, there’s too much aimless wandering around, too many annoying traps and the combat isn’t satisfying on any level, nor is there a lot of it. It’s not great to look at, with bland environments and unimaginative character models, nor does it sound great, with clipped sound and limited FX. And the biggest problem is that it’s just dull in the extreme, and lacks any fresh ideas. The only real positive is that the lack of blood or bad language, which will probably keep parents happy, as little Johnny certainly shouldn’t be corrupted by anything contained in this game, other than becoming bitter and twisted towards licensed software in future, maybe.
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In the end, this is a title aimed squarely at young children and/or He-Man fans. Even considering that, though, it probably wouldn’t please either group, and there are other games around that would provide better entertainment and are more worthy of your cash. To try and put a He-Man moral spin on it, I’ll close by saying this: You should not judge games by their appearance alone; it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Still, in this case, it doesn’t matter what you judge it on, it’s crap. Avoid.