Thursday, December 12, 2013

Action Figure Review: Castle Grayskull from Masters of the Universe Classics by Mattel

    
As Skeletor said in the 1987 film Masters of the Universe, "Everything comes to he who waits, and I have waited so very long for this moment." Yes, after one year of preorders, waiting, concepts and preproduction pieces, constant changes, small victories, crushing defeats, and sheer anticipation, Castle Grayskull has finally arrived to my home. Earlier this afternoon my wife texted me a picture of the enormous box sitting in our kitchen and I've been jazzed ever since. Heck, I've been singing the Castle Grayskull song all week now to help myself pass the time. Before I even open the box, I have to say that while there have been plenty of ups and downs on the journey from having Castle Grayskull exist simply as a sketch on paper to existing as an actual product delivered to my door, I think there are some folks that need to be commended. First, regardless of all other issues I don't think anyone can say that Scott Neitlich ("ToyGuru") and the Four Horsemen are not passionate about Masters of the Universe. Whether or not you agree with design decisions, style decisions, or business decisions, it really is impressive and I'd say quite unprecedented to bring a product of this size and scale to fruition. If you can show me another 6 -7 inch line with this large of a playset, I'll be shocked. Secondly, I think all Masters of the Universe fans need to be given a hearty round of thanks. I'm a pretty hardcore fan of a number of properties but I really don't know of any fandom that seems to get stuff done quite like He-fans and She-Ravers. We did it my friends!

     Now, are you ready? Is this going to truly be the greatest playset of all time or is it going to be a disappointment and subject to overhyping? Is it going to be a simple oversized piece of plastic or will it be a toy that magically transports us back to our childhoods; to a time when that ancient and mysterious fortress of power boggled our minds and captivated us with a spirit of adventure and enchantment unlike any other toy possibly could? I don't think I've ever written an introduction to a review prior to having the opportunity to open and fully experience the product, but that's what I'm doing here. When I say join me as we delve into that ancient, moss covered fortress together to uncover it's secrets, that's precisely what I'm about to do. Join me in learning Grayskull's secrets via this handy FAQ/ Review for the Masters of the Universe Classics Castle Grayskull, after the break....




Castle Grayskull FAQ 1.0

Please, please- no more introduction! Get right to the questions!

That wasn't a question, nor has it been frequently asked.






OK.. Ummm...  How big is it?

     Let me say that while some people initially complained about the diminished size when Grayskull was shown earlier this year at the New York Toy Fair, I think the structure is quite large and should impress almost anyone. From the highest point (the minaret on top of the skull) to the bottom, Castle Grayskull is 24 1/2 inches tall. The front is about 20 inches across and about 15 1/2 inches deep when the base is accounted for as it juts out a bit from the main structure. Of course the castle opens up via a hinge which changes the width and length size. Unlike the vintage Castle Grayskull you can not display this version with the two halves side by side. They will always fold out at a 90 degree angle. The hinge is quite sturdy though and there are two swiveling clasps on the opening side that allow you to safely open and lock the castle when carrying it. These rely on a swivel, not a flexible piece of plastic or tabs like previous castles, so no need to worry about them breaking over time.

How large is it compared to the previous Castle Grayskull playsets?

     The vintage Castle Grayskull measures in at 17 1/2 inches tall, 12 inches wide, and 9 inches deep while the 200x Castle Grayskull is 20 inches tall, 16 1/2 inches long, and 6 inches wide.  While I'm not convinced that the castle is as tall as is should be compared to the previous releases, it certainly is much wider and deeper. Upon doing some calculations that involved measuring the previous Grayskulls against the previous basic He-Man figures, though, I calculated that while the vintage and 200x Grayskulls are just a little over 3 times as tall as the standard He-Man figures from their respective lines, the MOTUC Grayskull is 3 1/2 times as tall as the MOTUC He-Man. I think a lot of that has to do with the addition of the minaret on top, but without the minaret it's still larger (coming in at over 3.1 times taller than the standard He-Man). There's a lot more play room/ display room in the castle, particularly due to the additional floor panels and an added third floor walkway, which is a huge benefit.


How big is the packaging? And what is it like? Is it really cool?

     The box is 23 1/2 inches tall, 22 inches wide, and 16 inches deep, so buy lots of wrapping paper. If you can track down enough of the vintage He-Man wrapping paper to wrap this thing, you'll be my new hero and I'll feature you on this blog. I promise. Anyways, while I typically pitch boxes I think I'm keeping this one. Besides having a very vintage flavor to it and a cool new bio for Castle Grayskull, the front is a painting by original Castle Grayskull box artist Rudy Obrero. It shows a battle in front of Grayskull featuring 10 characters chosen by fans. It's gorgeous and I wish the pre-order bonus poster was a picture of that artwork rather than a lineup of the figures released in the line so far. I like the poster, but the Grayskull artwork is something I would have framed and hung in my hall or living room. There's a smaller copy of the artwork on the side of the box that does show off the artwork without any text. I might try to frame that.



How much room will I need to display it properly?

     That's a darn fine question. It depends on how you want to display it. If you want to keep it closed and simply display the front of the castle, you'll need a display space big enough to accommodate the measurements I gave above (24 1/2 inches tall, 20 inches wide, and about 15 1/2 inches deep). The two halves of the castle do not intentionally separate, although if you check around you'll find some fans are finding ways to make that happen. That could cut down on the depth of the storage space you need.







Please, dude. I'm having battles in that 'burg. How much room do I need to display it open? 

     Some people really were only interested in the front of the castle as a facade for their displays, but my guess is most folks want to utilize the inside too. If you plan to display it opened, you'll need quite a bit more space. I'd recommend a display space of 27 x 30 inches at the bare minimum. If you want to display figures outside of the castle, you'll need a bit more space.





Shut the front door! That"s huge! What all comes in the box?

Bricks, mortar, moss, and a list of reputable contractors.

.........!!!

Just kidding. Inside you'll get the castle itself, four floor pieces that expand the interior base, two laser pistols, the orb holder for the Grayskull Power Orb (orb sold separately), the minaret, a ladder, a Power Sword, two metal shackles, a jetpack, the combat trainer, the laser cannon and base, an axe, the flag, a suit of space armor, a mace, a shield, and the handle.



Is any assembly acquired?

Not really. Most of those pieces are additional accessories and there are no labels to apply. All you really have to do is attach the minaret (if you want to- the vintage Grayskull didn't have this), the handle (it is a permanent piece unless you unscrew it), the laser cannon, and the floor tiles for the inside that are easily removed. Other things like the shackles and the robot just attach noncommittally to places in the castle. While the minaret can be removed (be careful) the handle is not intended to be removed. If you're unsure about attaching the handle, check out this thread at He-Man.org with some tips about attaching it and removing it.

Does Castle Grayskull do anything?

Like turn Adam and Adora into He-Man and She-Ra? Household chores? Frighten small children and the neighbor's cat? I guess I don't understand your question.

Play features, man! Play features! Does it have any?

Oh heck yeah! This thing is full of stuff to do. Want me to walk you through this beast?








Do I? And how!

OK. Well let's start with the front of Castle Grayskull. The jaw-bridge opens a bit differently from the vintage Grayskull. Instead of putting the power sword (or anything, really) into a latch on the door, you slide the power sword into a little slot in the stone next to the door. Like magic, the door drops down and allows entrance into the castle....










Like magic! By Sean Connery's luxurious chest hair! How is Mattel able to sell actual magical products?

You're an idiot. It's a simple mechanism, not real magic. This thing doesn't even use batteries (otherwise, they probably couldn't ship it to Europe). Anyways, there is also a side entrance into Grayskull. There's now a ledge on the front left of the castle (it appeared on the vintage prototype) that leads around to a simple hinged panel in the brick....









This thing is made of brick?

Seriously? It's plastic. 97% of this castle is made of plastic. It's a very sturdy plastic that doesn't feel at all brittle or fragile, but it's plastic nonetheless.

So it's 3% brick?

No. The other 2 %  would probably be metal due to the screws and metal shackles in the dungeon. Can I please go on?

What's the other 1%?

Magic and dreams. Please, can I go on?




Yes, I'm sorry.

Good. You should be. Anyways, inside the castle immediately to the right is the dungeon. It's walled in, and while I thought this was a throwback to the 200x dungeon, MOTU superfan Emiliano Santalucia points out that it also pays homage to the "Dungeon" mini playset that existed as a concept sketch (in can be seen in the Power & Honor foundation art book or here at Emilianio's site). There's one shackle that attaches to the wall inside and an extra pair of shackles that can be used to capture figures. The chains are metal (with plastic clasps). The dungeon door also opens and closes. In three places around the bottom floor there are some bars that can hold various shields displayed on the wall. While the set comes with one shield (it's a simple silver remold of He-Man's shield) this is a nice place to display various weapons pack shields.

What's on the second floor and how do I get up there? I'm scared of heights.

You have two options. You could always use the included ladder. It's quite a nice piece with a great paint job. This was a part of the vintage castle and was often used on both the inside and the outside.









You could also use the elevator. The elevator actually is a bit smaller than the vintage elevator and no longer uses a pull string to raise and lower it. It simply is attached on two bars and manages to stay in place when you raise and lower it. While the vintage Castle Grayskull featured a cool little bat piece that served as the pull cord for the string that operated the elevator, that guy is missing from the new one. There is a little bat paying homage to his predecessor perched in one of the castle windows.




Can the Shadow Beast ride the elevator?

No. He exceeds the maximum weight limit set by the Eternos Board of Safety.

How about Sea Hawk. Can he ride it?

That's just cold. Really cold.










So what's on the second floor?

The biggest feature hhere is the throne room that features the throne. It looks great but it's tough to get figures to sit in it. I guess I've just never realized it but MOTUC figures just really don't sit all that well. They kind of have to slouch on the throne. Lots of fans obviously wanted the Sorceress to sit in the throne, but because her wings are so weird, Mattel put a slot in so you could slide the rear wings through it and allow her to sit on the throne. There's also the really cool rug that's reminescent of the vintage castle rug decal. It's attached to a floor panel and when you turn the throne a little to the right the floor panel drops away, leaving the poor sap standing on it back at the entrance.


You mean in the dungeon, right? It drops them back in the dungeon.

Nope. Just back at the entrance. For some reason, the trap door wasn't placed above the dungeon. Probably because Mattel couldn't fit the dropping floor panel in above the dungeon walls.

Wait...so what happens? Do the villains dropped through the floor just get back up, ride back up the elevator, and try to overtake the throne room again?

Yup. I guess. I suppose you just keep dropping them down until they break an ankle or a hip. That'll take the fight right out of 'em.




Is there anything else on the second floor? Like a lavatory? Or a privy?

Umm... there's a place to store the Power Swords in the throne room. And the Grayskull robot and/or suit of space armor. I don't know exactly what is, but it's standing around up there. And I think it's self aware.





How about on the top floor? Is there a slide?

No, there's no slide. Something really cool you'll notice, though, is that there are two gold skulls on top of the elevator housing. Not only do these pay homage to the vintage prototype castle but they are removable and can function as alternate heads for any MOTUC figure.











Wow! That's sure something. So I assume you can place any other figure's head on top of the elevator housing too, huh?

You know, you sure are one sick piece of work; do you know that?













So have you tried it and does it work?

Yes. Yes it works. And it's highly disturbing.











Moving on, there's also an opening door within the Grayskull dome. It's a small wooden door that opens and can store the included holder for the Power Orb. While an Orb holder came with the Temple of Darkness Sorceress figure, it ended up being too tall for the small room so Mattel included another one with this set. It's a cool piece, but not as cool as the original orb holder. Over at He-Man.org, forum member Kobra Khan showed off his castle by putting the Star Seed in here and the Power Orb on the previous orb stand in the throne room. It's an idea I'm definitely going to steal as I love the idea of having a variety of artifacts hanging around all over Castle Grayskull.



That's cool that the castle interacts with some previously released accessories. Are their any others it interacts with?

    Well yes, there are a few besides the Power Orb that came with King Grayskull. First, on the back/ side of the castle is a little keyhole. This is made to fit the tiny key that came in Scareglow's Grayskull reliquary. Scareglow was released back in 2009, so he might be tough to track down, but it's a cool feature because it opens a secret door into Castle Grayskull. Put the key in and pull- the secret door opens into a vault inside of Grayskull. Obviously, you can open the door without the key as well, but the keyhole is a neat feature.


     There's also a place to store the stand that came with the Windraider. This might have been one of the most controversial decisions that occurred in the design of Grayskull. On the interior floor panels, there's a random hole which can hold the Windraider stand if the base is removed from it. Now why in the world the Windraider would be parked inside of Castle Grayskull is beyond me, but it's an additional feature. It does not really fit inside, though, without being tilted at an unusual angle.




So there's a giant hole in the floor?

Yeah, kind of. I've seen people put shields and other stuff there, but I prefer this super cool sewer cover I bought from BadVermin design. Check out my review of it and the details here.









Well, it certainly sounds like Castle Grayskull is a busy place. How is the sculpt? Does it look impressive?

     Specifically addressing the exterior, yes. It's flippin' gorgeous and one of the most impressive toy sculpts I've ever seen. The bricks, the wooden elements, the teeth and skull- they're just unreal. I think pictures speak louder than words here as Grayskull is nothing short of amazing. The interior is great, too. There are lots of neat little elements such as sculpted window ledges, the wooden upper level floors, and the ancient ground level floor which has a wonderful texture and a superb paint wash. Despite anything else, just seeing the front of the castle by itself is a wondrous site. I do wish more attention had been paid to adding a few other minor paint apps (such as the bat in the window ledge) but overall I'm very happy with Grayskull.





Any other cool accessories from the original set or the vintage prototype?

Yes, the combat trainer and the jet pack are two additional items that are both really great. The combat trainer came with the vintage castle and was a little doodad that could spin around and help the Heroic Warriors learn to fight better. It had a very medieval flare to it and fit right in with the castle. It looks better than it ever has here with a great wood grain and metal texture. Not only does it spin but the head and claw on it can swivel.


     The jetpack is a simple piece that was slated to be included with the vintage Grayskull in the prototype phase but that was dropped before production. It's here and it can strap on to almost any figure to aid them in aerial combat. It's a cool accessory and for some reason reminds me of the yellowish-orange weapon that came with Max Ray in Centurions.






What are the biggest improvements over previous Grayskulls?

     There are plenty of improvements and besides the obvious elements like better sculpting and the new, larger size, I'm going to give you my top three:

1. Stuff works better- the opening front door, the pivoting laser cannon on the turret, the elevator, and even the hinges all work better than previous versions of Castle Grayskull. The way the door opens is magnificent and really has an "oomph" to it. The elevator is tight and definitely doesn't feel like it's going to break (I've owned two vintage Grayskulls and those darn elevators always seem ready to break at a moment's notice). Same with the trap door feature. It works consistently and smoothly, even if it does just drop guys back off at the front door. There's a nice quality here and some really good engineering.

2. Elements that were previously just cardboard display pieces are now fully sculpted elements- My original vintage Grayskull (which I sadly no longer have) came from a yard sale. While it was fairly complete, it didn't have any of the cardboard pieces such as the robot/ space suit, small weapons rack, or the computer console. Actually, my current vintage Grayskull doesn't have them either. I didn't even know those pieces existed until around 8-10 years ago. It's really exciting that now the robot is a fully sculpted and painted piece that can stand on two pegs on the second floor throne room, the energy unit and the computer console are also reliefs attached to the second floor walls, and most of the weapons from the small weapons rack are included.








While the thinner laser pistol, axe, and shield are reused from previous figures (Man at Arms, Vikor, and He-Man, respectively) the flail and the chubbier pistol are new. I've seen some talk that the flail seems to resemble the flail used by Lodar- could this be a pre-paint of an upcoming accessory for a MOTUC Lodar figure?








3. It's built for play and display- While it has plenty of fun features, Mattel realized that most fans would be displaying this so they made sure to give plenty of room for figures to hang around in and on the castle. Extra ledges, three floors, more ground floor space, and deep walls really make this a nice piece to display a good number of figures (I've seen people pushing 20 figures on their Grayskull display and it looked awesome.

What about it disappoints you? It can't be all rainbows and butterflies.

     Yes, I do indeed have a few disappointments. First, I'm just not happy with the dungeon. I appreciate the effort to turn it into a walled dungeon rather than just the sticker of the original (although the sticker is still there) but it's cramped. Not "dungeon cramped" but "I can't get my hands in here to attach the chains" cramped. I think Mattel should have either made a hinge so the walls of the dungeon opened out or made it a detachable piece. Otherwise, it's really tough to get figures in there and to admire the beautiful sticker of the various creatures, mutants, and monsters reaching up through the grate.


     Secondly, I wish the playset had the opportunity to be displayed fully open with the front and the back side to side. That's how I tended to display my vintage castle and I'm not sure why Mattel didn't design it to do such. I think it would have given more people more options for display. Heck, making the two halves split apart probably would have been a good idea too. With something this big, the more versatile it can be the better.

I also wish it had the punching bag and torture rack from the vintage prototype, but that's a nitpick. I'm hoping Mattel releases one or two accessory packs for the castle in the future.







Any advice when assembling this? Should I wear safety goggles and a protective codpiece?

     Nope, completely unnecessary. There's not much except that you should be careful when installing the turret for the laser cannon. There are two little tabs that actually slide into the floor along with the peg. The turret rotates on the shaft, not at the base, so turning the base can break those tabs. I didn't notice it at first and wound up bending my tabs.


Is Castle Grayskull pretty sturdy?

     Yes. From everything I've experienced it's incredibly sturdy. The plastic feels solid but not brittle. The only thing that concerned me was attaching the laser cannon. I think kids would be able to play with this thing and have few to no problems. It's well made and the action pieces like the opening doors, trap door, and elevator show no signs of wearing out. 








Is it portable?

Yes. Most everything can be crammed inside the castle and it can fold up. It takes a minute or two to get the floors and such detached, but you could definitely carry this around easily to different rooms of your house. Te next time I travel on an airline, I'm actually planning on using Castle Grayskull as my carry on bag. I'll store my toiletries in the dungeon and fold up my change of clothes in the throne room. If you don't want to detach the floor pieces, I found that I could easily carry the castle with the floor panels attached. I don't see myself dissassembling them often, either, so I appreciate this.



What's the verdict? Is the MOTUC Castle Grayskull the greatest playset ever made?

     At this point I'm going to abstain from making any such claims because I just haven't spent enough time with it. It's fantastic, though, and really channels the sense of wonder and mystery of the earliest MOTU products and media. It's quite well designed with only a few questionable decisions (the dungeon and the lack of unfolding/ detaching sides) and comes with lots of nice, useful accessories. There's nothing better to display your MOTUC figures with or to use as a centerpiece for an awesome display of any kind. It's huge, it's sturdy, and it's fun. I'm really having a hard time coming up with a rating (yes, I know they're ultimately meaningless) but I think I'm going with a Great and a 1/2. The only reason this thing isn't getting an Epic rating is that there are things I can see which could be problematic. I could see a real problem for someone who was intending to display the castle long ways (both front and back side to side) being disappointed that this isn't possible without some serious dis-assembly. I also feel like the dungeon is a huge waste of prime space that could have been better thought out.


     Still, as I opened the box this afternoon I couldn't help but hide my excitement. Me and my daughter (she's only three months old) laid on the rug in her room and played with the castle. She didn't play too much (she only just rolled over for the first time this past week) but she did seem to be engaged by me and by Leopold, her bright red Duplo bunny. As I has Leopold enter through the door of Castle Grayskull, attempt to sit on the throne, and carry He-Man into battle, my daughter just watched and babbled away. She seemed amused (she loves to smile and laugh), as was I. I really think there's something special about the toys we play with, especially those that we grew up with or that are reminiscent of those we grew up with. There's something magical about them that reconnects us to to our younger selves. I know that when I talk about or (dis)play my collections, I often think about my family, friends, and other relatives, memories of whom are jogged by these pieces of ultimately insignificant plastic. I also get reconnected to a time when life seemed simpler and yet still held the promise of mystery and magic. Stories, dreams, hopes, fears, fantasies, frustrations; all of these things were explored by us with our toys. They helped to cultivate our imaginations and also prepare us for life. As my daughter watched on as I had a muscled barbarian ride a red bunny rabbit through the doors of a giant green castle while his empowered warrior sister battled a skeletal menace while standing atop the ancient fortress, I silently prayed that in her little mind, she would begin to believe that anything is possible too.




If you're interested in obtaining a Castle Grayskull of your own, you currently have a few options. One is to hit up Mattycollector.com on December 16th and try your luck or you can head over to Big Bad Toy Store and preorder one right now!







7 comments:

  1. It is just awesome seeing a Grayskull again after all of these years and i wish i could afford to have one myself because i would break my rule of no playsets to own to beast!

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    1. That's my goal John: to make you break your one rule!

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    2. Your doing a good job at it mister! : )

      Delete
  2. Wow, what a great playset, and a great review of it, too! Kinda makes me wish I collected MOTUC. Although I suppose my bank account thanks me for not.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, MOTUC is not just a line to collect- it's a commitment. Mattel makes sure of that.

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  3. Review: "How about Sea Hawk. Can he ride it?

    That's just cold. Really cold."

    There's an inside joke there that I'm not getting. Care to explain?

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    1. Hey Alan,

      One of the more recent issues with the line has been that some of the figures have looked a little too bulky due to poorly designed removable armor pieces. One of the unfortunate victims was Sea Hawk. Many fans think that his removable "shirt" looks far too bulky and overweight, thus there have been a lot of jokes made about his weight. At the time I wrote this review, the bulky Sea Hawk was a pretty hot topic in the MOTU fan community.

      Delete