For anyone out there who has been waiting patiently for a good videogame based on Mattel’s He-Man property – which first saw toys back in 1982, and later a very popular cartoon series – the last three decades have not exactly been the kindest of years. Early on there were a handful of obscure and largely bland He-Man games released on the Intellivision and Commodore 64, after which – excluding a fairly mediocre Playstation 2 release – Eternia’s greatest hero hasn’t had a single game made about him since. Chillingo – in an effort to right this grievous wrong – has recently released He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe (out now, $0.99), but is this finally the worthy title that fans have been waiting for all these years?
The plot begins with Skeletor gleefully announcing the completion of the center stone in his latest bid for control of Castle Grayskull: an evil iOS game that He-Man will not be able to win at. He-Man then immediately accepts Skeletor’s challenge to play his evil app, after which He-Man promptly finds himself captured while Skeletor runs off gloating about how Grayskull’s secrets are finally to be all his. He-Man – still the strongest man in the universe – promptly breaks free of Skeletor’s dungeon and proceeds to chase the villain through many iconic locations across Eternia, leading up to their fateful showdown inside Castle Grayskull itself.
None of the action in He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe is controlled through the use of on screen buttons, Chillingo opting instead for an interface based entirely around taps and swipes. Sliding your thumb on the left hand side of the screen is used to control the direction He-Man walks/jumps in, where as tapping on the right hand side of the screen makes He-Man swing his sword around. You can also perform a wide variety of context sensitive actions by swiping in any of the four cardinal directions on the right hand side of the screen, including things such as whirlwind sword spins and battle-axe tossing.
For the most part the controls in He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe do what they are supposed to, but they could definitely afford to be a bit more responsive than they currently are. For example: while walking left and right seems to work perfectly well at first, you will eventually discover that it doesn’t respond quite fast enough to enable you to successfully attack an opponent sneaking up on He-Man when he is already fighting someone else. This is probably why most of He-Man’s unlockable moves, such as the spin strike that lets him attack opponents on both sides, seem to be entirely geared around taking care of situations where He-Man’s responsiveness is less than perfect.
Speaking of the game’s unlockable special moves, they are purchased from the Sorceress by spending the various gems that He-Man will find laying about as he smashes through various enemies and bits of scenery. While a player has the potential to make IAP purchases to acquire gems more quickly, during the course of finishing the game I was able to buy all of special moves and the first health upgrade without being made to feel as if I was ever grinding. Only those determined to find every last hidden Eternian Lore entry, many of which can only be reached via unlockable upgrades to He-Man’s special moves, will find an unnecessary grinding challenge present in He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe.
Perhaps the most disheartening part of the game’s IAP system is that without dropping money for extra disposable gems, players won’t comfortably have enough money to both buy all the basic moves as well as any single use power-ups. The single use items can be used to summon Man-At-Arms to shoot at oncoming foes with his powerful arm blaster, or – even more iconically – lets He-Man hold his sword aloft and temporarily summon extra power from Grayskull (during which time he can hit enemies so hard so that they go flying into the device’s screen, causing faux cracks to temporarily appear). It is nice that the game never pulls impossible cheap shots to necessitate the use of these non permanent items, but it’s still shame-worthy that He-Man’s “fabulous secret powers” were used as the bargaining collateral to encourage IAP spending.
The mostly ignorable control and IAP issues aside, I just want to make this one thing clear above all else: He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe is actually fun to play. There is a real and tangible feeling of satisfaction in watching He-Man run through the various iconic locations from the TV Show and Toyline, mightily smashing his way through enemies and scenery along the way (as a bonus collapsing scenery can even defeat nearby enemies). The stages also feature a great deal of variety and gimmicks to ensure that things never become boring, for example: in one Snake Mountain stage you’ll be avoiding falling magma erupted from a nearby volcano, where as in another stage in the same area you’ll dealing with the flowing lava that periodically rises and lowers.
Another area of joy are the lovingly handled boss fights that occur in the final stage of each and every world segment, with Chillingo going through a who’s who list of Skeletor and his most famous lackeys (as well as Hordak, which seems a bit odd). Each of these boss fights feature a diverse selection of unique attacks – such as Mer-Man getting his giant pet sea monster to help him – that you will have to learn how to best evade in order to persevere (it does make me glad that none of the boss fights employed cheap tricks, as some other IAP offering games have been wont to do). Perhaps the biggest bit of fan-service comes when you finally reach the end of the game and find out what would happen if Skeletor ever actually did get his boney hands on Castle Grayskull’s secret power, but I’ll be nice and not spoil the epic final boss fight.
I will now – to close things out – talk about the graphics of He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe, which are all appropriately roid-raging and colorful (just like the He-Man property always was). While the game doesn’t feature either the exact art style of the classic Filmation cartoon series, or the mini-comics that Mattel packaged with their action figures, the look that Chillingo ran with still works well. For even more artwork – including concept art from both the creation of the game, as well as the entire franchise – players can seek out and collect the various hidden Eternian Lore fragments.
iFanzine Verdict: Once you get past the fact that the game’s controls don’t respond with absolute 100% perfection, and that the IAP system means you won’t be getting to freely exploit He-Man’s “Fabulous Secret Powers”, you quickly realize that He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe still has a lot to offer. While the game is definitely not the most powerful ever offered in the universe, or even on the iOS, the special love and attention given to the title definitely makes it the most powerful He-Man game ever made. With the game’s mixture of varied stage gimmicks – various locations – and diverse and well conceived boss fights, even non He-Man fans have a real chance to genuinely enjoy the title thanks to the low price tag.