09/04/2016

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: SUPER ADVENTURE (COMMODORE 64)

Today I'm going to hold aloft my magic sword, which will reveal fabulous secret powers to me and will also, if the playground rhymes of my childhood are to be believed, give me the power to pick up a flower, even if it takes me and hour or two. Released by US Gold in 1987, it's the Commodore 64 adventure game Masters of the Universe: Super Adventure!


Or is it? Apparently not, as the game refers to itself as Terraquake an adventure starring He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I think this is the more accurate title, because there's definitely quaking going on but the game is not all that super.
I'm sure most of VGJunk's readership is of an age that knows all about Masters of the Universe, or as I and everyone else I've ever interacted with calls it, He-Man. They didn't seem to be masters of the country they lived in, never mind the entire universe. Anyway, He-Man is the story of young Prince Adam of Eternia, who receives the Sword of Power from deep within Castle Grayskull. The sword transforms him into He-Man, muscular defender of justice and aficionado of furry underpants. This is handy - the defender of justice bit, not the bearskin kecks - because Eternia is plagued by the evil Skeletor and his minions. He-Man and Skeletor fight, toys are marketed and a moral lesson wraps things up at the end, in much the same way as every other cartoon from the Eighties. Then He-Man became various computer games, including this one.


Of all the possible genres available to them, the creators of MOTU: Super Adventure went with a text adventure in order to recreate the action and excitement of the cartoon. That's a little worrying. I'm not sure Prince Adam has much of a cerebral side. He named his very masculine alter-ego He-Man, for one thing.
The game begins with Prince Adam standing before his father, King Randor. Ignore the images of He-Man and Skeletor at the sides of the screen, they're simply for decoration and aren't floating by the king's shoulder like the angel and devil of morality. For his part, King Randor look like an anaemic, grumpy lion. So, the gameplay - it's a text adventure, so you type in commands, usually in a verb - noun structure and then become frustrated when the game can't figure out what you're trying to get it to do. In this case, I kept trying to talk to the king by entering TALK RANDOR, but I was rebuffed by the parser, which told me that it "won't help". I was almost resigned to the fact that I wouldn't be able to talk to anyone at all in this adventure game when I realised the mistake was not mine. The creators of the game had spelled the king's - the very first character you interact with, don't forget - name wrong. They called him "Radnor" instead of "Randor." This king is not nearly radical enough to be called Radnor, but here we are and this immediate lack of quality control does not bode well.


Now that I know his "real" name, I managed to talk to the king. He told me to "go my son and seek out He-Man," which you'd imagine won't take long. I also looked at the king, causing Prince Adam to offer a scathing appraisal of his own father, as you can see above.


Wandering around the castle lead me to Prince Adam's bedroom, where we learn that Adam never sleeps and doesn't even know how to use a bed. An insomniac virgin, that's our hero. Looking at the bed reveals that "the bed posts hide your secret," so I tried ripped one off the bed and holding it aloft, hoping I'd transform into He-Man. The problem here was that the text parser was confused by the words "bedposts," which in turn confused me until I figured out that "posts" was what it wanted to hear. Trying to determine which arcane collection of words will get your character to do the thing you want is a puppy-filled meadow of joy in almost all text adventures, and MOTU: SA is no different.
Aside from the bedposts, the best thing about this scene is that the ever-present sprites of He-Man and Skeletor take on new significance as they gaze at each other from opposite sides of a four-poster bed. It's difficult not to detect a faint undercurrent of romantic tension, as though Skeletor's just about to tell He-Man he's never done anything like this before and he hopes he'll be gentle with him.

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As it turns out, there was a switch on the bedpost that revealed the secret cubbyhole where Prince Adam stores the Sword of Power when he's off doing the opening hospital wings and meeting foreign dignitaries side of being a prince. There's no time for diplomacy now, though, and as Adam grabs the sword he is transformed into He-Man, mighty warrior of goodness! Okay, so I've found He-Man - he was inside me all along and not in a wishy-washy Disney sort of way - so the game's over now, right? Well, no, of course it isn't. Now you're He-Man, you can get to work on solving the constant earthquakes that are plaguing the land. How do I know there are earthquakes? Because for the first third of the game, the message "the earth tremors more violently" appears after every single action you take. Fortunately it stops doing this later, even before you've turned off (spoiler alert) Skeletor's earthquake machine, but while it's there it's a completely unnecessary annoyance clogging up an already very slow game.


After playing Shadowgate I was rather wary when I found a room full of mirrors, but walking through one of them lead me to a confrontation with the evil Mantenna, minion of Hordak! Hordak does not appear in this game, more's the pity. Poor old Mantenna has not come out of the conversion to the digital age well, has he? He seems shy, almost apologetic, and his leechlike circular mouth now looks like nothing more than a butthole right in the centre of his face. Also, they spelled his name wrong, despite managing to spell it correctly on the same screen. That's two characters we've met now and two names spelled incorrectly. I'm looking forward to my battles with Beestman and Skeleter.


Ever the diplomat, I tried talking to Mantenna in an attempt to find a peaceful resolution, but that didn't work and he killed me instantly. The weird thing is, he killed He-Man by throwing a "web of intrigue" over him. I, erm, don't think that's what a web of intrigue is, chaps. Surely a web of intrigue is the kind of thing you'd see in a densely-plotted spy thriller full of double-crosses and sinister machinations? Did the developers think a web of intrigue was a physical thing that the KGB used to ensnare their victims? Or maybe the effect is psychological, and Mantenna has so thoroughly convinced He-Man that he's a Soviet sleeper agent that our hero gives up on his quest and wanders off to steal atomic secrets.
Whatever the case, the only way to proceed is to attack Mantenna. This causes He-Man to murder Mantenna with his sword. Not capture him, not disable him, the Sword of Power apparently vaporises Mantenna, and there's no coming back from that. The text even describes Mantenna as "terrorised." I'm beginning to suspect that the makers of this game didn't really get He-Man.


After taking the special item dropped by the late lamented Mantenna, I travelled back through the mirror and out into the Eternian countryside. This is where MOTU: SA really gets going, as you travel through the land looking for items to collect and villains to defeat, eventually uncovering the path to Skeletor's lair atop Snake Mountain. These early screens are notable because they reveal that Eternia's roads are paved in solid gold, so I guess the royal family are the worst kind of bacchanalian despots. You could have spent that gold on building some hospitals for the common man, King Randor, but no - you just had to have a gold-plated driveway. Still, it explains why Skeletor is so keen to conquer the kingdom.


Eventually I wandered into a bar, which wasn't painful because it wasn't an iron bar. No, it's the Man At Arms Inn, owned and operated by He-Man's staunch ally Man-At-Arms. As a British person I am very disappointed that it's not called the Man At Arms Arms. Man-At-Arm himself is not looking well, with the unhealthy grey skin tone of a chimney sweep with tuberculosis. It seems the business of running a public house is tougher than I thought. He also appears to be wearing an old-fashioned telephone receiver on his head, but I won't hold that against him because he gave me a weapon called the Moleculator.


Here we see He-Man, powerful warrior and protector of the innocent, scrabbling around in the dirt to collect some broken glass, presumably muttering under his breath about how Superman wouldn't have to put up with this shit.


He-Man can't even get into Castle Grayskull without some hideous creature trying to attack him. He's not very observant, either: I told him to look at the moat, and he assured me there was nothing special in there. You might have seen the swamp-monster of Grayskull Castle enough times for it to stop being special, pal, but have some consideration for the player.


I'm still having trouble getting into the castle. I feel like entering the hero's base of operations should not be this difficult. Could the Sorceress have not helped me out somehow? To be fair, this time the difficulties I was having weren't my fault. I kept trying to use the drawbridge but the parser wouldn't recognise the word, because some joker decided it's actually called the jawbridge. Because the castle is a skull, you see. Normally I'd salute such dedication to punmanship, but not when it's preventing me from progressing in a lacklustre text adventure. Puns are powerful things, and should be saved for appropriate situations such as conversations with friends, articles about old videogames and eulogies.



After far more effort than was strictly necessary, I made it into the castle and thus into the presence of the mysterious Sorceress. She told me that Skeletor is behind the earthquakes. Thanks, lady. Sorry if that sounded sarcastic, it's nice to have clarification of the extremely obvious plot point. Oh no, I can't stop being sarcastic! I'm sooo sorry!


The moment I decided that Castle Grayskull could fuck right off was when I entered the Math Room. The Math Room. A room for maths! Why is this here? Is He-Man going to sit down and knock out a few algebra problems? Look, I don't want to be too harsh but have you seen He-Man's haircut? He's obviously not an intelligent man. I can't imagine him doing any amount of maths, let alone a sufficient volume of maths to require an entire room dedicated to that specific purpose.
The upshot of entering the math room is that I found a bead and something called a "minus manacle" so this is obviously one of those kinky sex dungeon math rooms.


Having exhausted the castle, I strode back out into the gold-paved wilderness only to be confronted by the dark magician Evil-Lynn. Did the game spell Evil-Lynn's name wrong? You bet your ass it did, and yet against it managed to do so while spelling her name correctly on the very same screen. It's kind of amazing, really.
This time I didn't bother trying to chat and went straight into attacking Evil-Lynn with my sword. Unfortunately she predicted this and trapped me with a freezing spell aimed at He-Man's feet and that's it, game over. The way every enemy encounter in MOTU: SA works is that there's one specific solution and if you don't do it immediately then you die. This can be irritating, especially if, like me, you keep forgetting to save, and it took me quite a few attempts to realize that what you're suppose to do here is jump. Jumping makes He-Man leap over the magic spell and hack at Evil-Lynn - the game's words, not mine - until she too is killed. You'll notice that I only entered "jump" there, not "jump and hack someone to death with a sword." It seems to me that those should be two separate actions, the jumping and the murdering. Just don't let He-Man play hopscotch with your kids, okay?


At this point of the game, I turned to a walkthrough. I knew it was going to happen sooner or later, because this is an adventure game from 1987 and there was no way I was going to get through it under my own steam. MOTU: SA doesn't really feature puzzles as such, just using the right item in the right place, and while I managed to figure out the majority of them thanks to the odd small clue - the picture of the fish on the abacus I took the bead from, for example - there were more than a few that I'd have never figured out. Take this section, for instance, where you have to shrink a mirror by attaching the minus manacle to it. It would never in a million years have occurred to me to combine a manacle and a mirror. I was also having trouble navigating, which I accept is totally down to me. It's not a particularly large game-world and you could easily map it out on paper, but unlike in, say, Questprobe Featuring Spider-Man I could never quite put together a reliable mental map.
Also note the reference to the "sign of the speculum" in the screenshot above. "Speculum" is Latin for "mirror." I'm telling you this so you don't go Googling "speculum" because it also means something else that you might not want to see on your image search results, especially if other people are in the room.


It's Beastman, one of Skeletor's minions! I think he was basically Skeletor's right-hand man in the cartoon, because raw animal ferocity and a low IQ are just what you want in a trusted lieutenant. As with all the villainous characters you encounter, there's only one correct way to deal with Beastman, and that's to throw a magic hexagon on the floor. This freezes time momentarily... but you need the hexagon again later, and picking it back up unfreezes Beastman. So, as you'd expect, He-Man does the most heroic thing he can think of: he stabs Beastman to death while he's paralysed. This game really is more intense than I expected. What's MOTU: SA's subtitle, The Day He-Man Finally Had Enough of Skeletor's Bullshit? Blimey.


I bumped into Mossman on my travels. They spelled his name correctly! Well, you wouldn't want to upset Mossman, would you? He might angrily grow very slowly on the north side of your body. He's pledged his loyalty He-Man, possibly worried that angering our merciless hero would lead to a swift death, and so Mossman tags along for a while. At least, he does once you use the command "get Mossman," relegating him to the status of an inventory item. But why would you want the King of the Lichens following you around anyway?


Why, so that he can drink the foul water of this swamp for you, naturally! You're a good egg, Mossman. Disgusting, but good. Of course, now I feel bad that He-Man didn't mention Snout Spout. You know, Snout Spout? He-Man's ally, the cyborg man with the head of an elephant, whose entire purpose in life is to suck up large volumes of water and then spit them out somewhere else? Yeah, I probably should have given Snout Spout a call on this one. Sorry, Mossman. I hope the violent gastoenterologial episode you're about to experience doesn't prove to be fatal.


Also appearing in this game is Mer-Man, gormless guardian of the waterways. Mer-Man came out of the transition to Commodore 64 graphics better than most of the other characters, and his usual expression of slack-jawed bogglement is captured nicely. This is where the "fish on the abacus" clue I mentioned earlier comes into play, and dropping the bead into the water causes the bead to multiply. Mer-man slips on the carpet of beads and is Home Alone-d into the lake. Considering what's happened to all of his colleagues, I'd say Mer-Man has gotten off very lightly indeed.


After receiving some vague advice that I could summon the friendly wizard-creature Orko by lighting a fire in a high place, I made He-Man climb up a mountain. There was a wyvern up here defending its children, but my Sword of Power made short work of it and the wyvern fell off the mountain. The wyvern's children are then described as "following their parent over the edge," just in case you were worried that MOTU: SA was going to stop being so relentlessly bleak any time soon.
There's also guano on the mountain. He-Man won't have anything to do with the guano, although looking at it does trigger a surprising reference to David Attenborough. Man, I'd love to see Attenborough do a documentary about Eternia, I want to hear him get awe-inspired by a man called Fisto with a very big hand.
And yes, I did order He-Man to eat the guano, but he wouldn't do it. He doesn't have the iron stomach of a Mossman, I guess.


Orko responded to my signal fire, and now he's following He-Man around and not really doing much. Orko has one specific function that you need to use in order to complete the game, so I really wasn't kidding when I said these "party members" are basically just inventory items. If you don't know who Orko is, he's one of the few characters that knows He-Man is actually Prince Adam, and he operates as the same kind of vaguely annoying "cutesy" sidekick character that every cartoon of time time was legally mandated to include. Ghostbusters had Slimer, Thundercats had Snarf and Orko fills the role in He-Man, operating as a floating Black Mage-esque magician who keeps trying to do magic despite his spells never working properly, which is like giving a blind person a loaded shotgun and telling them they're at a clay pigeon shoot.


Orko's sole purpose is to open a secret tunnel into Skeletor's lair, which you achieve by bringing him to this screen. However, the first time I tried it I managed to get stuck. You see, boulders roll down the hill, and you're supposed to jump over them, but I accidentally went back to the previous screen. Every time I tried to return, I was instantly crushed by the boulders, leaving me with the two options of either a) loading a saved game or b) standing around forever, staring at Skeletor's distant castle and wishing I was friends with a wizard who knew what the bloody hell he was doing. It was a difficult choice.


Summoning my dwindling reserves of patience, I finally made it into Snake Mountain and was immediately glad to be following a walkthrough, because I didn't expect to have to do any plaiting in this He-Man game. That's right, you have to assemble a grappling hook by plaiting some reeds into a rope. That's not a bad puzzle, truth be told - there's a certain logic to it, and you are told that the reeds are fibrous so you might be able to puzzle it out yourself. It's just the verb "plait" that I struggled with. It's just so out of keeping with the concept of He-Man as a whole that I never would have thought of it on my own.


Deep inside Snake Mountain lies Skeletor's High School Computer Lab, complete with rows of obsolete PCs with ineffective web filters! Actually, this is MOTU: SA's only real "puzzle," with a combination lock that must be cracked by inputting symbols in the correct order. Happily, I already knew the correct order. A rock monster told me. He told me after I destroyed his body, leaving only his head alive. The code was my reward for sparing his life, although it might have been kinder to finish the job. A rock monster that's just a head? I'm pretty sure that'd be more accurately described as "a talking rock."


At last, the final confrontation! He-Man barges into Skeletor's inner sanctum, and Skeletor responds by trying to shoot He-Man in the head. Good call, Skeletor. You can't give He-Man an inch. Just ask Beastman's grieving family. Unfortunately for Skeletor, I've still got the time-freezing hexagon, so I chucked it down and stopped time. Skeletor's power bolt freezes inches from He-Man's face, our hero somehow resists what must be the overwhelming temptation to pull down Skeletor's pants and draw a moustache on his skull, and by pulling the lever that operates the earthquake machine the game is completed.


Your reward for saving Eternia - saving it a fortune on patching up the solid gold roads damaged by the quakes, I mean - is a simple "well done" message and the revelation that, unlike almost everyone else he met in the game, He-Man spares Skeletor's life and has him imprisoned. His show trial will be a brief mockery of justice, his execution swift and public.


If you're judging Masters of the Universe: Super Adventure as a He-Man product, then you have to say it's a failure: a basic text adventure with licensed characters hastily slapped into place, the tone of the cartoon completely ignored as He-Man carves a bloody swathe through a variety of misspelled minions. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that He-Man was a exquisite treasure of a show that should be treated with reverence, but I loved it as a kid and still have a lot of affection for it now (I have a Mantenna figure sitting on my desk as I write this) so it's disappointing to see it treated so poorly. Part of the problem is the same as with the Questprobe games, especially the Hulk one: He-Man simply isn't a good fit for the action-free text-based scenario.
But what about simply as a game? Well, it's okay, I suppose. Somewhat restrictive and very light on actual puzzles, but I've played a lot worse and while many of the "puzzles" seem baffling at first there's usually at least one vague clue to help you out. Much like myself, it's a little slow and not very interesting, but hardly terrible. At least Orko wasn't in it much.

12 comments:

  1. I'm surprised that the game spells "Attenborough" correctly.

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  2. "That won't help you at the moment, and there is no guarantee that it ever will."

    My god. For some reason, that strikes me as incredibly fatalistic.

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    1. It's especially bleak when you try to talk to someone and get that response.

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  3. Was it a trend in the 80s/very early 90s to make somewhat-disturbing text adventures out of things whose audiences were mostly young kids?

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    1. I think not giving a shit about the source material was a trend, yeah.

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  4. "Written by Mike Woodroffe "? The same Mike Woodroffe who wrote the two Elvira-Horrorsoft-Adventures and later on created Simon the Sorcerer, wrote a He-Man text adventure before? The things you learn on this blog...

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    1. The Woodroffes began as computer-shop owners importing Scott Adams' Adventuresoft games to the UK, converting them to the Spectrum, Beeb, CPC etc. as "Adventuresoft UK", which outlasted the original by quite a while. By this point they had reverse-engineered Adams' adventure game format and were taking it to their own underwhelming places with a series of peculiar license uses including this, Gremlins and Fighting Fantasy. I believe Simon is currently running Rare.

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    2. Ah, thank you for this information, I love learning stuff like this.

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  5. When I was on a boat tour in the cold lakes of the south of Chile I saw some beautiful rock formations covered in snow. Then one of the crew members told me it wasn't snow but guano. I never thought that an 80's text adventure based on He-Man was gonna trigger that repressed memory after so many years.

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    Replies
    1. What a beautiful memory, thank you for sharing it.

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  6. What to do when the tentacle grabs you at the moat? I've tried everything!

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