So, in the spirit of this very real, totally not randomly assigned “holiday”, I decided it was high time to do something I’ve wanted to do for about 30 years. I decided I would finally play Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man for the Atari 2600.
I first discovered the existence of this game while reading comic books in the 80s. Like so many other retro games, the ads for this game were glorious. They would often appear on the coveted rear-cover slot. Your game’s graphics might have 2 colours and look like blocks that took a shit on other blocks, but your game’s print ads and box art were there to spark the imagination and draw us little bastards into their Skinner Boxes until we were hooked.
I love that even back then game companies were honestly dishonest with their ads. It’s clearly written under the screenshots that they’re showing Intellivision graphics while advertising both ports of the game. Even then, I knew the 2600 was less capable in the graphics department, but I couldn’t have imagined how much less. Had I ever been able to find this game as a kid, I can’t even imagine how disappointed I would have been at the way it looked.
Still, even though I had never played it, I knew the game had a reputation for being particularly shitty. No one I ever met owned it, or played it… but everyone had a cousin that had played it and said it was shit. Normally you couldn’t count on third hand cousin experience but there was one way they could confirm it beyond even an 8 year old’s reasonable doubt. Just describe the cartridge.
Mattel Electronics games for the Atari are those ridiculously shaped awful games that look like a black wedge with a blue text only label. As such, even the best and most interesting of these titles would often get tossed right in the garbage. It also came out in the wake of E.T.‘s disastrous launch, during the crash of ’83. It’s still actually kind of hard to find. When this finally arrived in my mailbox a week or so back, it was the first time I had ever even seen a copy in Real Life™.
Shitty and hard to find… great. But wait, there’s more! Since all things Masters of the Universe are at least a little collectible, it’s also relatively expensive. Most good Atari 2600 titles, Asteroids, Defender, Space Invaders and their ilk, they cost about a buck on eBay. This thing floats between $15 and $20 loose, with no instructions, before adding shipping.
So, let’s finally get to the game itself. You play as He-Man. The game consists of 2 levels repeating.
On the first level, you fly a Wind-Raider from Man-At-Arms’ workshop to Castle Grayskull. You must dodge the weapons of Skeletor’s Evil Warriors. They fire Energy Bolts and Warp Trakkers at you. That’s not a typo… that’s how it appears in the manual. Energy bolts are straight lines that shoot upwards, Warp Trakkers fly around the screen and head in your general direction. This level’s design is very much a stylized rip-off of Defender.
I have to say though… the sprite depicting He-Man in the Wind-Raider is–as far as Atari 2600 sprites go–pretty fucking spot on.
If you can avoid these obstacles for “30 Miles” and land your Wind Raider on Castle Grayskull, you begin Stage 2. You’re teleported inside Castle Grayskull to face off against Skeletor on a stage that very much feels like a rip-off of Yars’ Revenge. Skeletor has armed himself with Rolling Walls and Laser Blasts. He-Man must walk through breaks in the rolling walls, while dodging or reflecting laser blasts. If he gets to the other side of
the screen Castle Grayskull, he may defeat Skeletor and start again on Stage 1, fighting slightly faster enemies.
Yup. That’s it. Even for a licensed Atari 2600 game, this game is shitty. I’m glad to finally have it though. I’ve known pretty much my entire life this game was a steaming shit pile, but that never once stopped me from wanting it.
In honour of this monumentally shitty occasion, I took a shitty video of the first time I played it. I took about 15 minutes of video, but these first 2 minutes tell the story more than well enough. And don’t worry about the slant, just pretend I took the video inside the lair of a Batman villain.
I love that it takes me 11 seconds to get from the first controller movement to the first “Game Over”.