Go ahead and think back to when you were five, or somewhere around that area. Now, using your five-year-old brain: think about the year 2000. Crazy, right? Well this mother is from 2002, and it was the year that Mattel decided to smack us with Masters of the Universe again, but this time with a little help from the Four Horsemen, Sculptors of Detail and all Things Totally METAL.
...of course, if you were five in 2000, then I guess this kinda falls flat. Also: Welcome, 18 year olds! I am an old man compared to you. Also also: man, if you were into He-Man, then this would have been the same kinda deal for you that the vintage castle was for me! CRAZY!
We're not talkin' about the folks who had this as their definitive He-Man, though (would be great to hear from them, however!) I was just outta high school at this time, and...*ahem* well, I was hanging out in my friend George's grandparent's basement and watching crazy movies while eating pounds of ramen, but that's beside the point.
Toyfare magazine (R.I.P.) did a special on the revival of MotU, showing off the early sculpts from the Four Horsemen before all the basics were solidified. The early sculpts were full of all the crazy detail you might have come to expect from the Horsemen (perhaps with some McFarlane figures) and had a certain classic flair in terms of colors. They didn't all end up with the same paint jobs, and He-Man lost his classic Iron Cross, but I was sold either way!
When the figures came out, I saw them for the first time in a comic shop (with bilingual packages). They were WAY overpriced, but that's how crazy excited I was for these: Bought He-Man and Skeletor and jumped out the comic shop in slow-mo with rainbows and sparkles streaming from my big, watery anime eyes.
Hurt like hell.
Point is: I was ALL IN. I wanted to be, anyway. If I had to mark a point where my old toy hunting habits slowed way down, it would be in the 2002-2003 area. All thanks to MotU and trying to find any figure that wasn't a variant of He-Man or Skeletor. Don't get me wrong: There were actually some pretty freakin' cool variants of He-Man and Skeletor. There were just a fuggin' LOT. Either no one wanted them, or the fans grabbed all the side characters before I got there. I tried the whole get-up-early-and-go-toy-hunting thing, but BAH. Forget that crap! If I can't get it without draining my car of gas, then it wasn't worth it.
The collection was swiss cheese for a good while (I've filled some holes in the last few years) and I basically gave up on the poor toyline. Couldn't stand looking for them. There was one thing that I COULD find....but I considered it out of my reach, 'cause I didn't have the space (PFFT, like I do now?) I speak of Castle Grayskull, of course. Thankfully these things do not go unnoticed by loved ones, so for one of my birthdays, my wife (then girlfriend) went out and bought the Sam's Club version of the castle that came with some extra figures (two of which were He-Man and Skeletor variants, who'd have guessed?!)
"Angular" was the name of the game! Almost every round part of the old castle is just...sharp, on this one. Not that I'm complaining! The wide front and ANGRY eyes are quite imposing, though it is a bit strange since this castle is supposed to be strictly for the good guys this time around.
The imposing wideness only strikes from the front or the back, though. From the side: FLAT!
Like He-Man says: It was a different time. Playsets have always had a foldable ability so that kids could slide it out of the way when it wasn't in use, but the 2000's were the beginning of the decline for playsets (though perhaps it started even earlier than that). They were a hard sell, since kids were doing the video game thing more and more, and investing in a big playset was a risk. You didn't know how long the kids would even use it! So if you were going to invest in it, then it better be able to hide! Not like that fat 'ol castle up there: it had to be able to slide in anywhere!
Ah-heh...vintage He-Man's sentiments mirror my own, a little bit. I really do like the castle, but I won't lie: the mystery was HUGE for me, with the vintage castle. Ya'll know that now. The most popular and well known version of He-Man is the old 80's cartoon, though. Sooo...that was, of course, the focus of the 2002 cartoon. They added in a whole lot of lore, both new and old, but the mysteries were surrounding He-Man's origins and other cool stuff. Just...not so much the castle. Perhaps they might have gotten to it, but they never got the chance.
As it is: this is the fortress for the good guys! I suppose the castle could still evoke that sense of mystery, but sadly I don't have the viewpoint of someone growing up with it. Lets see if we can change that viewpoint as we go, shall we?
Since this belong to the good guys, I guess they tried to dumb down the strange evil-like side to the castle. Rather than a skull on the front door, we have a noble lion! It ah...doesn't impress me as much. It's tough to say, 'cause I've got that bias toward the old castle. It's not like this looks bad...just not as foreboding. That could be a good or a bad thing, and for me in particular, I feel like it's kinda boring.
However, that's only the tip of the iceberg in terms of details! You could see a lot of spaces on the vintage castle where you knew what they wanted, but they couldn't make it happen with the price range they were going for. Seems like they tried to add a few more of these details this time around, while just adding interesting stuff that works, along the way. Like this grate - it lines up with the dungeon! If you really wanted, you would get some ooze (from any old toyline) and have a bit coming out of it. It's a neat touch!
There's also the base of the whole castle - something that was planned for the vintage one, in the form of a cardboard base that would surround the castle. This is just a plastic base built into the bottom, but they decided to litter it with a few things, like this old broken sword.
The main skull is...cool, but has a little too much emotion for me. Once again, I am biased with my love for the vintage. I just love the vacant, neutral skull on the old castle. This one, though built for the good guys, is clearly AARNGRY, and has the 2002 He-Mans asterisk-like symbol right on the forehead. Even with the angry face, it doesn't seem to evoke the feeling of "STAY BACK" that the original did.
Still...considering it without the comparison: It does look cool! I'm cursed to compare it, but I also cannot ignore the fine sculpting.
And of course, the extra details! We never had a balcony before, and this would have been awesome if they had managed to make a Sorceress. Note all the cool scuffs and battle scars all over it.
Now, while I'm not a huge fan of it just being a fortress for the good guys, they at least rolled with the idea really well.
This is one of the features that is just...fun. Makes no sense, but it's fun! You can see the Power Sword in a specially formed window. How cool! I don't know why the Power Sword is being kept there, especially since He-Man needs it to transform...but hey, it's cool!
Of course, you can stick the other swords in there if you like. It's pretty much built for the 2002 sword, as you can see. You'll see how you get to the sword when we head inside. Meanwhile, continuing with the front:
The vintage castle had a clear handle on the top, but this one hides it with this little flip-down front part. It fits even my big 'ol hand nicely, and it doubles as a neat little battle-damage feature.
Since we're holding on to the top of the thing, lets flip it around:
One thing that seems to be no secret now, is that the vintage castle had plans for a secret back door. You can see a clear rectangle on the back of the vintage castle that could have been a door (and I'm pretty sure I remember using it like that) but it was just solid plastic like the rest of the castle.
...the same goes here, but at least they sculpted a door in there! Honestly, I'm not sure why they couldn't fit that in there. I bet they planned on it, but for some reason, even the meager features in this castle proved too much to even add one more door (perhaps they electronics held them back?)
And hey, a creepy skull knocker! I don't think they'll let you in, though. Nice to see the skull motif in at least one other place.
Final cool thing about the back of the castle is all the windows! Yeah, the castle is supposed to be locked tight against the forces of evil, but since this is a new castle, it is neat to see some more windows. Wish this castle had come with a ladder so you could make use of some of them from the outside! ...not that anyone can fit in them, but I liked the old ladder. Sue me.
Anyway, lets move out front and find out how we open the gate!
I should mention that there are two versions of the 2002 Castle Grayskull. Mine is the first version. As explained: It responds to these chips in the foots of certain figures. It was all of them, but they stopped using the chips at some point and acknowledged that by releasing a second version of the castle where all the features were manual. I never got to use that one! So we'll be checking out the originally intended electronic features.
So on the doorstep of the castle we have this dragon crest...for some reason. You'd think it would be He-Man's asterisk or a skull, but what do I know? Next to it you'll see that gold foot, where you're supposed to place the figure and slide it over the crest.
Before we hit it though, here's an interesting tidbit: On the package for the castle you can see a basic fight between good and evil, like you do. On the very bottom - it's easy to miss - you can see Skeletor being...eaten by the floor?
Hey, it's the doorstep! ...eating...him. So what happened to that feature? I assume it was supposed to react to Skeletor when you place him on the crest. It lets He-Man in, but Skeletor gets EATEN. I couldn't help seeing if there was something under there.
There was nothing. It does lift up on a hinge, though! So I assume there would have been teeth under there and it was planned and ready to go....but for some reason, they took it out. Who knows! All we have now is an odd picture of Skeletor being eaten by a doorstep.
Now, I wanted you to hear this goofy thing, so I made a little video of how the whole deal works. I had planned to keep my hands out of the way, but I forgot how it worked and...well you'll see. Screw editing.
SHUT UP YOU TOY! The video just cracked me up the way it was, so there.
I will admit: the feature is kinda neat! I just wish the sword was somehow involved. I guess it can't be though...'cause technically it's in the castle. Ah well.
Anyway, when Skeletor tries to walk up...
...of course, I didn't go far enough. I forgot how it all worked until recently, and I didn't feel like going back and showing you what REALLY happens if Skeletor persists. It's dumb! I mean, especially when the original idea was the doorstep eating him. Instead...if you keep Skeletor there, the castle just tells him to stand on the dragon crest. If you remember from the He-Man video, the castle tells him to stand aside. So the door opens on Skeletor!
Yes, it opens. Either way. The only penalty that Skeletor gets is a door in his face. But it's still open!! All he's gotta do is brush himself off and walk in, unless it just slams shut again. I just didn't think of Castle Grayskull going all looney toons on 'em. But now I am.
HEY, you wana go inside the castle now?
The castle swings open with two doors to make a longer-looking castle. Of course, you have to bring the sides in to hold up the fold-down floor, so you don't really get to make use of the length.
HAHAHAAAaaaaa...ahhh...Snake Crush Skeletor. Remember how I was talkin' about all the He-Man and Skeletor variants? Well as much as there were cool ones, there were also things like THIS.
'Course, I love 'em. How could you not? I mean, if it wasn't Skeletor, he'd be a cool new character! So in general it's a cool design. It's just...well, it's Skeletor for some reason, AND that helmet is hilarious! It's so happy!
Yeah, lets get back to looking around the bottom floor!
...oh, we haven't even started.
Well, look around! The bottom floor is always as big as you want, 'cause the floor where you place the castle is ALSO the bottom floor. I will say that the double-sided opening makes the inside feel more contained than the fold-open style of the vintage castle, but not so much that you don't see the floor around you as more castle.
WHOA-HO, a plastic computer! Breakin' the bank with this one. This computer isn't as mysterious as the previous ones though....I think. Maybe they're MORE mysterious? 'Cause I have no idea what they're supposed to be doing. The Red Button just controls the castle defenses (in case you want it...undefended?) and the rest seems to be castle...status. I guess. And a radar. Nothing that shows the vast reaches of the universe or other dimensions, 'cause this is just a straightforward computer! Neat, but nothing that really takes my old-man attention. Might have been a bit more exciting as a kid, though. Ya know...skull computers. Those are cool!
Anyway, the only other interesting details sculpted on the bottom floor is this skull and rad silver rat. Right by that grate I showed you from the outside! So Silver Rat can come and go as he pleases. Skull has to stay, though. They don't...do much.
Beyond that, the right wall is full of cool stuff! Mattel kept the loose items to a minimum on this one, so we've got some things attached to the walls.
This is another one of those cool-but-nonsensical things. I love it! I just don't know why. Doesn't make much sense. Why is it attached to the back door? Why...well, just WHY in general? What's the point of a big key to Grayskull? Especially on the inside?
But that's just the old man talking. When you think of it in kid terms, this could be taken out and hidden outside the castle for an interesting story, or could be a key to something deeper in the castle, or any number of things! Still, I do wish they had added a microchip inside the key so it could interact with the castle in some way.
Jonsey - below in the comments - pointed out that the key does indeed have a chip in it and works exactly the way I had wanted it to! I just...didn't think to try it out! Not sure why. I'll bet it was mentioned in the directions, but I have no idea where those went. Minor nitpick rescinded!
This actually injects some of that mystery that is missing, for me. It makes just the right amount of nonsense that makes you ask the questions that, in turn, sparks the imagination.
I might go so far as to say that this crazy key is one of my favorite items from the castle. I kinda wish they had added something like it to the new MotUC castle...well, they technically did, in a way. You'll see, later on!
Anyway, my next favorite feature follows thusly:
YEAH, weapon rack! This time it's strapped to the wall, which I gotta admit, is pretty cool! The separate rack wasn't really my favorite thing anyway: it's the weapons! That is something this castle does really well, too. We've got a nice array of guns and bladed odds and ends. The sculptors didn't try to recreate any of the old items from the vintage castle, and I gotta say: they didn't need to. This stuff follows the aesthetic of the toyline and works well. The whole castle is different for the most part, so why shouldn't the weapons follow suit?
This stuff extends past the timeframe, too! The guns especially look fantastic with the MotUC figures. As with the key, I kinda wish they had tried to recreate one or two of these items for the new MotUC castle, but no dice. Seems like they tried to...ignore most of the 2002 castle.
Yeah, this feature is actually kinda neat! I just don't know where it is. I'd dig for it, but the absolutely frigid temperatures of death for the last few days have kept me from digging in the garage or the storage center. Instead, you can check He-Man.org right here to see what the fence looks like.
I love that they made the dungeon into an actual little area! This is definitely one of those items where they saw a limitation in the original design and ramped it up (even if I did like the way it dropped you off at the door, originally).
Now lets get upstairs. Without stairs. Wait, how do we get up there?
Yeah, there's no way to get up there except the classic flying-toy trick that translates to "they went upstairs." You know what I'm talkin' about. I can't really complain 'cause...well, where would you put an elevator? Still, would have been nice to maybe hide some stairs under a floor, or maybe add the ladder I was talking about. It's not a huge loss, but the reason they can't fit anything like that also kinda limits what you can do up there.
It IS sort of a bridge. Just a long walkway. The vintage castle had a bit more floor room, ya know? I appreciate what they did to allow for easy storage, but I feel like it sacrificed too many things to get this to conform to the standards of the time. I mean it looks nice! And even the features that are there are pretty fun. But think of what they could have added with just a tiny bit more space!
Moving on! You'll see the crest from the door up here.
Which I guess drives home the idea that this is sorta the castle's symbol? Even though they use the asterisk symbol on the skull out front and on the key. I guess I'm just not impressed with the lion crest thing...makes this area seem kinda plain and uninteresting. It worked as a innocent crest on the front door, but it seems like something more important should be here. The lion crest is for some unnamed toyline with knights and dragons, not Castle Grayskull! Castle Grayskull need the LOVE, y'knowwhat'msayin'?
So further along we have the DOOR. Though honestly, if you knew nothing about this castle, it's just a special wall! Also, from the outside, you can see the sword, so...I guess you'd figure this has to open somehow. It's a cool feature which, once again, is a little odd. I guess the Power Sword is the prize here, for the 2002 castle. Even if He-Man is supposed to be carrying it around. I suppose it's possible that this castle was built before they were clear on all the story details going into the new toon.
Huhuh...Disco Skeletor. Not his real name, of course. He was just another insane repaint variant in a long run of He-Man and Skeletor variants for 2002! As you might expect: I love him. In fact, he's one of my top favorite toys in general. He's just so...everything I love. Crazy looking, Skeletor, an oddball repaint, and kind of mysterious. I want to find the person who decided on this deco and shake their hand! Also find out what the thought process was behind this. We have the story behind Pimp Daddy Destro, now we need the story behind Disco Skeletor!
But lets keep it moving.
There's that dragon crest again! How cool would it have been if they had used He-Man's asterisk or a skull? Or anything that made sense? I guess it's nice 'n classic medieval stuff, but this is MotU! Come on! Ain't no standard medieval here!
Now, you can probably figure out what happens if Skeletor tries to get in the secret door...
UUUWWAAAAHH!! Ha! I love that scream. Anyway, as you'd expect: any hapless enemy who tries to invoke the castle (if they got past the vicious door-in-the-face at the gate) will be dropped into the dungeon! Without the fence piece this is pretty much the same deal as the original castle so, back to the start for you!
(On a side note: The castle and all the figures have long since been cleaned up and stored again, but seeing that pic of Skeletor resting on the 2002 Power Sword STILL made my brain think that I should move that as soon as possible so the sword doesn't get bent. I've got a serious...thing...about bent accessories.)
So now what happens when I fidget awkwardly with He-Man on the crest?
That sucker SWINGS open with force! If they wanted to try the door-in-the-face trick again, Skeletor would have been a home run straight out the castle and into wherever Team Rocket blasts off to.
As I've said: This is just Rule of Cool. I have no idea why the sword is kept here when you most certainly would have He-Man carrying his sword most of the time. It doesn't matter. It's just cool! I love the sword showing through the window, and I love the secret door and the way you get into it. And besides; I doubt many kids were thinking about how little sense this made. This castle may not have impressed me as much, but I've got a serious bias. I think there was more than enough in here to strike up the spark of imagination.
And of course - being the accessory freak that I am - this vac-metal Power Sword was a major thing for me! I still really like it, and somehow the vac-metal hasn't flaked off on the handle, even though it's been in and out of his hand and the pedestal. The point of the blade is rounded for some reason...but that's okay. I guess it's because the sword is hard plastic rather than the softer plastic on the normal one....but come on. The normal sword's plastic isn't so soft that you couldn't poke someone's eye out.
Not like it matters - it's chrome! I love that crap.
We're in the final stretch! The top of the castle is a bit more roomy than the vintage, which only had the two turrets open. This has the whole stretch, though it's only as wide as the floor below it, so you only have room for a couple fights here and there. There'll probably be a lot of dangerous falls during said fights, which is always cool.
One side has the flag, like the original. It serves it's purpose, but it's kinda...boring, to me. Nothin' special in terms of design. Non-descript sword and spear behind the asterisk symbol - at least it IS that symbol this time! Still, it doesn't have that cool design of the vintage flag which showed if evil or good was controlling the castle. There's no need for it here, but it would have been cool to see a more interesting design at least. Looks like someone threw it together in photoshop real quick.
...doesn't matter in the toy sense, but forget it! I'm an adult and the design bores me. I'm bored. You're boring me, flag. Get your act together!
Now of course the new gun turret fires missiles! They weren't gona pass that up. I have no complaints - I was a 90's kid from age 7 on out, so I'm used to missile launchers. They fire well enough and I've somehow managed to keep track of the missiles so far. Otherwise it works as well as the original in terms of...ya know, having a gun up there. It does have an upgrade of being able to swivel around! At least, I consider that an upgrade. Launching missiles are more of a...sideways grade. Not good, not bad. I was never that big of a fan of them, even during the time when every toy company thought kids my age absolutely required them. I mean, you can fire a missile and have to go look for it, or you can imagine you fired something and make some explosion noises and the play goes uninterrupted. Which sounds better to you?
OH! Looks like it's already time to wrap this up!
So, you probably got what you expected, here. I love love LOVE the original Castle Grayskull. Naturally I'm biased toward it and I look a bit unfavorably upon this poor wafer of a castle. I'm not against looking at it like a toy, though! I mean, I DID use the original castle as all sorts of different things for ALL my toys, back then. Would this have served the same purpose?
Of course! There's still plenty of play space and features, and though the electronic bits are kinda goofy (would have liked to check out the manual version) I still like them and they do work. For the most part. I think they should have kept the man-eating doorstep, but whatevs. There's also plenty of mystery for anyone with an imagination - from the computers, to the key, to the hidden door concealing the Power Sword.
And lets face it: it may not be the mysterious fortress of power...but I think I'm kinda in the minority here. A vast majority of kids in the 80's were probably using the castle as the good guy's castle, like in the toon. I probably would have as well, had I been a bit older in 83 rather than...well, just born. This castle is no different, and it serves the purpose of a fortress for the good guys really well! And hey, it's still all creepy and angry looking, so it can be foreboding for anyone.
Whoops, couldn't help it! I just love that Skeletor SO MUCH. Look at that face! LOOK AT IT! So awesome! That's another thing that puts my bias to the side a little: I just loved this toyline! I loved the aesthetic, I loved the reboot, I...well I was okay with the toon when they hit their stride on the second season, and even though the toys had annoying action features they were STILL fun! And friggin' works of art.
I loved when they started MotUC, but I'm not gona lie: losing the 2002 series really stung. They promise a reboot, put so much force behind it - a new toyline, cartoon, playsets, vehicles, everything - and then it all just crashes for some reason. Audience disinterest or lack of characters on the shelves, whatever. I was enjoying the ride, but they stopped the car and pretty much yelled at me to GET OFF. And then halfway into MotUC they sorta...tell us again to stop jumping on that old car they stopped in middle of the road. 'Cause we were! They were gona mix all the different eras of MotU, but at some point they needed to stop the extra 2002 style heads and tone down the *shudder* "Hyper Anime Detail", as they called 2002's style. Bascially they just removed some detail, which was fine....it just also translated to fewer ideas.
Now, of course, we've seen some 2002 items brought back, like Skeletor's double sword, or some of the unique characters (with simplified detail). So all wasn't lost! We just didn't get the kind of stuff we figured might show up back when the line started, and the death of the 2002 toyline still hangs in the air like the ghostly skull over the vintage castle in the old minicomics.
Lets end this on a happy note, though! These were awesome. The castle was cool as well, and matched the figures to a T. Any kid who caught on to this doomed vehicle hopefully had the same crazy battles I had - or even better! I may not have been as impressed with the castle, but I like to think that this set still served its purpose in its place and time, and I really hope some kids have fond memories of it. It only lacks things to my biased heart. In the fresh eyes of a newcomer, it's still a badass skull-faced castle withholding secrets and ultimate power! As such, I'm gona continue to keep it along with my vintage castle. The two can stare at each other angrily, but I think they get along fine in my timeline of MotU. The castle was with me in youth, with me in my late teens, and it's with me again today!
As soon as I get around to taking more pics. Gimme a break.