Sunday, 24 March 2013

Review: Masters of the Universe 200x

The other day, for reasons I can't really remember, I ended up getting out my box of 200x Masters of the Universe figures. Getting this out is no easy task, so it must have been a really great reason, despite my forgetfulness. Being quite heavy, the box normally lives under a pile of other boxes of toys in the cupboard under the stairs. So to get at it means shifting a load of other stuff first.

I say all this only so you appreciate the amount of effort it took to write this review. Although I forgot to take any photos before sticking everything back in the box. Please forgive me, just this once.

200x, aka 'the hyper-detail series', is over 10 years old now, which amazes and astonishes. I remember when it first hit the shelves. I saw He-Man in Forbidden Planet and thought what an absolutely terrible figure it was. While there were fans at the time, I think we can now all agree that the 200x He-Man toy looks terrible.

Thankfully, some of the variants were a hell of a lot better. Ice Armour He-Man, for example, and of course Snake Armour He-Man. Sadly, all the rest were pretty terrible, existed in the 000s and a lot of blame can be placed on their existence for the line ending when it did.

While He-Man (and to an extent Skeletor) were pretty bad, the rest of the figures were universally brilliant. They all featured their action features from the 80s, which I thought was pretty cool even if it did cost in articulation and the like.

Stratos's flapping wings, however, were definitely terrible.

All the designs were updated from their 80s counterparts, increasing the detailing (hyper detail!) and, well, generally making them look a lot cooler.

Part of the problem for Mattel, however, was that each figure had a completely unique sculpt. Whereas in the 80s there was heavy parts reuse between figures to reduce costs, they couldn't do this now. This meant that these things were pretty darn pricey for Mattel to make. Reuse of moulds had to be achieved somehow. Children had to rebuy figures they already owned!

Near the end of the line a whole bunch of repaints appeared on shelves. Some, such as the 'snake armour' ones weren't too bad. Stupidly they didn't look the same as the snake armour versions in the cartoon, but at least Mattel added in some extra accessories so it wasn't too bad buying these things over again.

But then things went crazy. Disco Skeletor crazy. I have no idea what Mattel were thinking when they told the factory to make Skeletor in those colours. I don't think Mattel had any idea what they were thinking either. It looks terrible. Really, horribly bad. Never has a toy been produced in such a horrendous assortment of colours.

In many ways the line was over before it began, a bit like the new ThunderCats line. There were lots of places to place blame, but I think the main ones were a lack of 'push' for the cartoon on Cartoon Network in the US and the Smash Blade disaster.

Obviously without the cartoon being shown 'properly' by Cartoon Network, advertising for the toys was always going to be limited (a bit like new-ThunderCats). The Smash Blade disaster, however, was all Mattel's fault as they packed 000s of He-Man and Skeletor variants in each box of toys sent to retailers and very few of the other characters. It makes sense that all fans of the show would want the main character, but Mattel took it a tad too far and children ended up being annoyed they couldn't get anyone else. Stores couldn't order in more toys because their shelves were clogged with He-Man figures.

Mattel attempted to inject some life into the line with the introduction of the Snake Men, but by now it was too late and it was all over. The US never even got the much-demanded Snake Armour He-Man, much to their annoyance.

Things, bizarrely were a little different here in the UK. Here the show found an audience. Woolworths (ask your parents, kids) actually imported a load of figures from the US to keep up with demand. Snake Armour He-Man was released here, which was great from my point of view as I bought up a bunch to trade with US fans.

The line was dead. NECA released a number of 'staction' figures of 'missing' characters (6" statues designed to fit in with the other toys), but they soon fizzled out.

These days there seems to be a lot of dislike for the 200x series. Whilst popular with some, many have decided that the 'hyper detail' was too much. Personally, I think it still is a really well made line and (almost) all the toys look fantastic. My only complaint is with the vehicles. Back in the 80s, since every figure was based around the same body, everyone fit in every vehicle. Unfortunately with 200x, due to the unique sculpt of each figure, the only figures who'd fit in the vehicles were He-Man and Skeletor - a big problem when it comes to playing with the toys.

It took a good while before Masters returned to plastic form. The Classics line - figures aimed at collectors, and based a lot more on their 80s look than 200x - started well and built up a huge following. But even that is now in trouble. Is Classics about to follow 200x into history? The rumoured film has never made an appearance and action figures in general aren't doing too well as the cost of plastic rises and children turn to video games more and more. Is this the final curtain for He-Man?

Only time will tell.

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