Review > He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe

First off, a very important caveat: this review is for the iPhone version of this game only. I have not played it on an iPad and I have reason to think the experience might be at least somewhat different. Moving on…

The first thing you notice upon firing up He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe is that it’s clear Classic Media and its Filmation-related rights were not involved in this project. The music is a sort of store brand version of the Filmation He-Man theme. It would probably have been better to just go with a generic Conan the Barbarian-style Wagner-and-Holst-inspired soundtrack, but I think the game company, Chillingo, really wanted to draw in nostalgic fans of the old cartoon.

As for the art design: I think the primary references the designers were given were the licensing media we’ve seen for the 30th Anniversary – sort of a mix between MOTUC and Millennium. Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain look straight out of the 2002 Mike Young Productions cartoon, while the character designs for the gameplay sprites – for He-Man and Skeletor, at least – are clearly based on their MOTUC looks with some cartoonish exaggeration. Some fans think they were inspired by the “Mini-Masters” prototypes that were revealed at the 2011 Comic-Con, but looking at those now, I’m inclined to doubt it – I think it’s just the similarity of exaggerated proportions that makes people compare them.

I also suspect the designers of this game were not MOTU fans. Rather, they seem to have a vague memory of He-Man as a goofy kids’ property from the 1980s, and the game reflects that. They don’t seem to know much about Eternia and don’t seem to have asked Mattel about it. For example, apparently Skeletor and Hordak have a truce going at the time of this game, because Horde and Evil Warrior bad guys are interspersed freely.

Seriously – that line is in the game. I did not Photoshop that.

The whole game has a very self-aware sense of humor I found very off-key (though occasionally amusing, as in the pic above). It’s like the designers couldn’t believe they were hired to make a game based on MOTU (“He-Man? Really? That old cartoon from the 1980s?”) and made a game that kind of pokes fun at the franchise. At one point, He-Man runs into Man-At-Arms, who says he lost his blaster, to which He-Man replies, “Well, that happens to every He-Man now and then…” Yes, an impotence joke, folks.

Think I’m being too hard on He-Man? The “story” for the game begins with Skeletor creating the very game app you’re playing as a way to lure He-Man to Snake Mountain and trapping him:

“By the way, do you like this Key to Castle Grayskull? I wear this on a chain on my neck now, for some reason.”

But honestly, things like story and the mixing of Horde and Evil Warrior don’t really matter; I’m more than willing to forgive inane storytelling if the gameplay is fun. But it isn’t.

Playing this game – on an iPhone, at least – is a frustrating experience. You tap the screen to swing your sword, swipe forward or back to move, and swipe up to jump. Those are the basics. There are all sorts of extra moves you can do, all involving swiping and all worthless because the game is never sure which way you’re swiping. Get used to the sound of He-Man’s grunt of pain as you repeatedly leap directly into the flying creature you’re desperately trying to kill! Thrill as mook after mook hits you from behind while you try to turn around!

Later in the game you gain a jump attack for flying creatures. It requires a special quick swipe. You will do a regular jump (and get hit in the face by the flying creature) nearly every single time you attempt this. Minutes will be spent attempting to kill one bat.

It’s possible the problem is my big clumsy man-fingers. But this is the aspect of the game I alluded to at the beginning – I suspect that the larger playing surface of the iPad may make all this swiping a bit easier, as the game will have an easier time figuring out what you’re trying to do by the longer swipe.

Not pictured: the Tubbytronic Superdome.

There are seven zones with 3-5 stages in each zone, with a boss at the end of each. Similar to games like Angry Birds, each stage has a three-star rating system depending on how well you did. Back when I played Angry Birds, I was completely obsessed with getting three stars on each stage, refusing to advance to the next stage until I’d gotten all three. In He-Man, I soon found myself rushing just to get through the stage without dying and considered that victory enough. By the time I reached the Fright Zone, I’d lost interest in the game and stopped playing.

Often as you’re working your way through a stage you’ll notice what looks like a secret area or pathway or something. Nine times out of ten you’ll accidentally run past it a bit, most likely because you’re dealing with a stupid bat or a Horde Trooper. Sadly, you can’t backtrack. So your choices are to either restart and run for your life again, trying to remember to stop when you pass by that secret area, or just keep going and forget about finding the secret. If the game were fun – if fighting the bad guys were satisfying and not frustrating – I’d happily have replayed the stages, but with the game as it was, I was happiest when I got to the end of them.

The game has the usual power-ups that can be bought at the Sorceress’s “store” (either for credits gained by playing stages over and over until you have enough, or by spending real-life money if you’re unwilling to put yourself through that – but still, for some reason, want to finish the game). I’m not sure what the “Lore” area is for but I think that’s where you can check out the vintage art you can unlock as the game progresses.

Overall: I’m no game snob. I’m perfectly happy with hack ‘n slash games like this, especially when I like the property. If the swiping interface weren’t so annoying, I’d probably have been able to get a good amount of fun out of this game. I’d love to try it on, say, Xbox Live Arcade, where I can just hit buttons and joysticks to move the characters.

The Good:

  • Great character designs
  • MOTU-authentic art
  • The occasional funny bit of a dialogue
  • Low $1 price

The Bad:

  • Controls are very frustrating on an Iphone
  • Constant stream of cheap hits
  • Only way to improve character is to grind through stages repeatedly or spend real money
  • Off-key, self-aware humor
  • Annoying music

For an alternate, much more positive take on this game, check out this review.

Comments now closed (7)

  • You’re right, the gameplay is very different on an iPad. I didn’t have any problems with the controls… in fact, I was impressed with the “joystick” on the left that would reposition itself every time you put your thumb down, as well as all the different attack modes you could do with the swipes on the right. I can see how that wouldn’t translate on an iPhone screen, though.

    I agree that there wasn’t much of an attempt at a storyline, and what was there was confusing. Was this all supposed to be Skeletor’s game within a game? If so, what’s the point of He-Man playing this game? Since when does Eternia have tablets anyway? I just tried not to think too much about it.

    I was disappointed that Battlecat didn’t make an appearance, except during the end credits. It would have been great for He-Man to ride Battlecat during a “running stage”.

    • There's a joystick on the iPad version? There's nothing like that at all on the iPhone.

      And you're right, a running stage seems like a missed opportunity…

      • Yeah, it was kind of a transparent control pad that would appear when you put your thumb down. You don’t really control He-Man with swipes, it’s more like you slide your thumb around to get him to move back and forth.

  • I have this on the iPad and loved the controls. Very easy to use and feels nice. But yeah, on the iPhone I can see where these controls would be terrible.

    There's no joystick. Just different sides of the screen have different game effects for how you swipe your fingers.

    • Hmmm…well, in any event it sounds like a much better experience on the iPad. Maybe they'll update the IPhone version so it works better.

      What do you think of the aesthetic and the music?

  • I would be miffed about the controls ( I don't find it any better on the iPad than I do the iPhone), the boring story, and the near-total lack of giveashitaboutitness the makers have for MOTU, if not for the darn thing only costing me a buck.

    With that in mind, it's ok. I might never get used to touch screen game controls. Gimme a game pad.