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Growing up I always thought “how great would it be to own a castle”. Owning a nearly 2 foot tall $300 Castle Grayskull wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I’ll take it as a win.

*Note: this just as much as review as it is a nostalgia trip. I hope you enjoy the journey, I know I sure did.

As a kid I owned several toy castles actually (excuse my boasting, it serves as a set-up). I had the Thundercats lair (that’s a castle, right?) the Castle of Lions from Voltron, Little People Castle from Fisher Price (hey I was 3 years old once) and the original Castle Grayskull from Masters of the Universe. Much like a lot of the now valuable comic books I had, my parents decided one day I was too old for plastic playthings and forfeited the majority of my treasures to the local dump or charity center. Sons of bitches! It’s been years, but I still feel the angst bubble up periodically. I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life reclaiming my childhood.

My walls are adorned with memorials to the things I loved most as a kid (oddly enough I don’t have one photo of my parents hung) – from Star Wars, TMNT, Transformers, Marvel/DC and a whole variety of other 80s & 90s nostalgia. The bulk of my new found collection are new and old-school merch from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I can’t imagine what Sigmund Freud would say about my obsession with a blonde haired muscle bound hero in a loin cloth who has a “fabulous secret”, but maybe I just don’t want to.

He-Man was the first toy I can remember going out shopping with my father and being bitten by the toy collecting bug. There was just something about that line that caught my eye; perhaps it was the variety of characters, their unique action features, the colorful packaging or all of the above. I had to have them all and the play sets that went with them. Holidays, birthdays, or whatever the special occasion was, I would get a number of toys but Masters of Universe were the absolute best to open. Especially the vehicles and play sets. They were these big, vibrant boxes with gorgeous Frank Frazetta-esque artwork. Wide eyed wonder on my face every time I ripped open a new one. That NEW toy feel, and smell (nothing like taking in that semi-toxic plastic scent), the promise of countless hours of imagination.

My trip down nostalgia lane serves as the foundation/reasoning for the collecting nature in my adult life. It’s not about the money spent, or the ever increasing lack of shelf space, it’s about recapturing that feeling of youth; those days long remembered. Now, with Mattel’s current modern-retro line of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe collectibles, there’s been a lot of feels.

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Masters of the Universe Classics Figure Check List

Started in 2008, Mattel revitalized the He-Man franchise – referred to as Masters of the Universe Classics – with new monthly figures exclusive to their online merchant website www.mattycollector.com made in homage to the original 1982 line. Expensive ($27+ each) and often hard to come by (figures often sell out in seconds!) this line of Masters of The Universe – some 100+ figures deep at this point – are a hot commodity. I, of course, have every one.

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I HAVE THE POWER to spend way more money on toys than I probably should.

They sit up on the shelves looking down on me with slightly unsettling stares, but if they could talk they’d say “thanks for remembering us”. The piece de resistance is a new addition to the Eternian family… Castle “friggin” Grayskull! I know, I’m finally getting around to talking about the darn castle!

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Grayskull Concept

Fan demanded, but initially refused by Mattel to ever being realized (per cost issues and what not), Castle Grayskull – He-Man’s source of power and home away from home – was a pipe dream since the inception of the relaunch. I’m not entirely sure what changed (perhaps the booming popularity of the line), but last year Mattel proposed to make it a reality. With nothing but a card board cut-out to show as concept (pictured above), Castle Grayskull would be made only if X number of people reserved it. I guess Mattel didn’t want to front the absorbent cost of making a big play set in the thousands to a limited collector market unless they were for sure certain fans were gonna buy it. There was some fan out cry over price (close to $300) and the sheer idea of committing to something unseen, but throughout the uncertainty, the reserve was easily met. After a year consisting of a number of design changes, cost fluctuations and fan commentary ranging from glad to mad (the He-man fan base has got to be some of the most vocal I’ve ever seen), the castle has finally seen the light of day. And I just got mine!

Being awoken from a deep sleep is never good, unless it’s by a FedEx driver ringing your door bell. Driver having left by the time I stumbled out of bed, I open my front door to a big 3×3 foot box sitting on my stoop. Oh joy, I knew exactly what it was. My tiredness washed away with adrenaline fueled excitement, I rushed inside hauling this beast of a box inside. A knife at the ready, I gingerly tore into it and shook lose the box within a box. I was suddenly 8 years old again, my eyes widen and my jaw agape. It was like Christmas! Laid before me a package featuring that oh so eye popping artwork (by Rudy Obrero, the genius artist who created the original box art) I once remembered; a stunning illustration of Castle Grayskull with He-Man, Skeletor and other masters fighting over the lay of the land. Wow!

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Front and backside of the box

The backside of box was another blast from the past, with a retro display of the lines assortment of figurines illustrated with red sketches on a white background. “Oh man, this is so cool” I thought. While starring at the castles box for what seemed an eternity, judging on whether or not I wanted to open it, I succumbed to temptation. Actually, I had my wife open it, I couldn’t be the one held responsible for decreasing it’s re-sale value. Together we pulled out the fairly intact castle.

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Castle comparison from new (left) original (back middle) 2002 version (right) and mini statue from AFX (front center)

Much like the figures in the line, the castle is a throw back to it’s original counterpart – a green clam-shell (folds together) playset in the shape of a castle (duh!) with a skull face center and a number of accessories. Similar to the original castle (and modern 2002 version), but so much bigger and better.

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Front and Side View

Approximately 23″ to top of pier, 18″ wide, and 11.5” deep when closed, this thing is massive! I mean you see it pictured online, but you have no idea until you see this hulking thing laid before you. You’re left wondering “Now where the hell am I going to display this?”. The face of the castle is its most striking part. The skull and the side towers are rich with detail. Colored green with a black wash, the stone exterior and skull face really pop; looking dark and foreboding. Even the thatched roofing, trim and ornate jaw bridge are a colorful contrast to the fearful stone facade.

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He-Mans sword opens the drawbridge via the castles naughty spot

Oh, and this is really neat. To the right of the castle mouth is a little slit for He-Man’s sword. Once inserted the drawbridge falls open. Something the original never did, but it’s a welcomed addition.

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Castle interior (Jet Sled, Weapons Rack and Figures Not Included)

Flipping the piece around is the gut of the castle, the multi-level play area. Everything you remembered from the original 80’s castle is here and then some, just done with a little more flair. From the hand powered elevator, computer/command station, dungeon, to the throne which activates the trap door when twisted. Speaking of the dungeon, that is my only big gripe. The original castle had the dungeon positioned beneath the trap door, so that you could drop the bad guys in the pit of despair. Not only is the dungeon in this castle small (you really gotta wrestle your figures into the tight space) but it’s off to the side. The trap door drops figures where the mouth/door of the castle is, as if to say “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here”. So that’s unfortunate production planning.

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Another complaint would be the obnoxious hole in the center of the interior floor. It’s there to house the Wind Raider vehicle (sold separately), which is kind of neat in theory but really silly when you realize “why would the Wind Raider be inside the castle?” Ultimately, the vehicle is just too big and doesn’t look right. You can swap it out for the Jet Sled vehicle  (sold separately) which is more reasonable sized, but I would have preferred the designers done with out the hole for cleaner display purposes.

Rounding out the castle is all the accessories: The tower turret (which figures can actually hold this time) flag pole, ladder, batwing jet pack (an accessory that was promoted with the original castle but was never produced), training dummy, real metal chains for the dungeon and even that weird spaceman dude (looks like a figure, but it’s hollowed in the back. Would it have killed Mattel to make him an actual figure?) guarding the throne room.

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Scareglows key to unlocking Castle Grayskull’s secret entrance

There’s all sorts of other neat accents as well. There’s nubs on the interiors to hold shields and swords (there one specific spot in throne room for He-Man and She Ra’s swords of power to rest), there’s a storage area in the head of the skull to house the cosmic orb of power (not included) and there’s even a hidden entrance on the side of the castle in which only a tiny key can open. A key that’s paired with a figure (Scareglow) that was released a few years back. Makes you wonder if Mattel had a castle planned all along or if it was just a neat afterthought.

Everything together brings life to the playset. It’s really a site to behold. The nods to the original features and new gimmicks give it a high playability factor. There’s enough going on here that I’m having way too much fun with this than I probably should. Mattel did a fantastic job honoring past and giving it modern flair.

The castle now sits as a centerpiece to my nerd cave. I can’t stop marveling at it. It’s a big as it needs to be and as awesome as it should be. Is it the castle I pictured in my head when Mattel first announced making it? Not exactly (I had hoped for a 4 walled castle or at least some light and sound features). Is the price too damn high for what is really a plastic clamshell? A part of me is like “damn, did I really spend $300 on that!?” but my inner child says “you’re damn right you did! Now shut up and let’s have some fun”. Hard to argue with myself. Bottom line: If you’re a die hard He-Man fan or are someone who has an affinity for 8os toys (and have deep pockets) then this is an essential, must-own item. It’s an artifact that harkens back to a simpler time, a time of youth, imagination and daring adventures with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

*Photo credits courtesy of Pixel Dan and Mattel, who have far better pictures than I could have ever taken.

Category: Cool Stuff, Featured, Nerd Culture, reviews

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