Dust Off Your Sears Catalog!
Welcome back to another week of Retro-Specs where we are holding strong looking at 1980-1984. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe came on in many of our living rooms when it hit in 1983. It may have only had two seasons, and while many are fans of the show there is something even better that came before the cartoon: the Mattel toys! They are big, bulky and everyone is ridiculously jacked and ripped (steroids of the 80s). The figures are incredible, but to be specific let’s open up our old Sears Catalog, flip to the toy section and check out the highlight of the toyline: the Masters of the Universe epic castle playsets for He-Man and Shera!
Kenner Toys released a multilevel Deathstar playset in 1977, but Mattel would go on to build the way for other toy lines to follow suit with the concept. They already had their foot in the door with their Barbie playsets. Finding success with this concept, Mattel would release Castle Grasyskull, Snake Mountain, Crystal Castle and Eternia, and other toy lines would follow suit. If these castle playsets were not successful then we would not have GI Joe, Thundercats, Ghostbusters and TMNT playsets that we all love! (I am not considering vehicles to be in the playset category. We will discuss the GI Joe Air Craft Carrier in a future column!) Most other playsets for various franchises would find release around the year the final Master’s of the Universe playset was released (1986).
Castle Grayskull (1982)
This bad boy’s release date is with the first wave of toys from 1981. I actually still have three of the four castles mentioned in this article. (The Crystal Castle was my sister’s so back off.) These Masters of the Universe castle playsets are truly epic. Most castles are close to 25 inches tall and 18 inches wide! What I love is that when my mom told me to clean up, I could shove so many toys into the castle, fold it up and snap the clasp to put away. What a way to save time cleaning up!
Castle Grayskull Features
There are so many amazing features such as the drawbridge door I would always post He-Man up in. There is also the trap door in the throne room, an elevator and numerous weapons. This can keep someone busy for hours. In 1981 how much does this set a person back? Between $20-$30! He-Man’s arch nemesis needs his own badass castle, and due to Castle Grayskull’s success, he gets it.
Snake Mountain (1984)
While many kids probably had Castle Grayskull, the most remembered of the Masters of the Universe playsets is Snake Mountain. For $20-30 Skeletor’s Snake Mountain came our way during the third toy wave for the franchise in 1984. Mattel is smart for rolling out a secondary playset. Why? Well, with Castle Grayskull a success, would kids really be able to only have one playset? I mean come on, Skeletor and his evil warriors would always have to go to He-Man’s turf to fight. He-Man and his mighty warriors HAD to take it to Skeletor meaning this is a must to have.
Snake Mountain Features
This thing is the stuff of nightmares. If you can make it past the demon’s face there is the ladder trap door you can drop characters from. The demon face is creepy enough, but the mouth can also move thanks to a mechanism on the inside.The swivel snake head is also great when charters try to enter the front gate. If you ask anyone they will agree that the best part of this castle is clearly the echo microphone! I’m not sure how my mom and dad didn’t throw this out the window for the amount of times I would speak into it. Sure, not annoying at all. The microphone gives all the kids power as if they are encompassing the mountain! All of the parts can easily be stored inside the castle when it is time to pack up!
She-Ra’s Crystal Castle (1984)
She-Ra: Princess of Power is a spinoff of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The hope was to recruit more girls into the audience as He-Man was achieving with boys. The animated show only consists of two seasons, but it did have a toy line as well. With He-Man and Skeletor having their castle playsets, She-Ra got her own in 1984 for again the affordable price of $20-30.
Crystal Castle Features
The castle keeps in line with the throne holding the dominant action in the fact that it rises from the lowest floor to the top. The Princess of Power deserves to ride in style, no? Other features include treasure chests and all sorts of other furniture. Here is another area Mattel excels in. Mattel already had Barbie toys under their belt, so releasing a female hero figure related to He-Man while already reaching the demographic with their Barbie toyline is another win building the way for more companies to invest in the playset concept.
This is the one that unfortunately is not a part of my collection. (No, I’m not bitter.) The fifth wave of the toy line in 1986 brings the culmination of the He-Man universe with the Eternia Playset. This is the largest toy created for the franchise. The set has three towers, connecting rails and vehicles! The central tower alone stands at 31 inches with four floors! Due to its sheer size and a plethora of parts, Eternia cost a large amount for a toy in 1986. Because of this, not many sets were sold.
The central tower is the Guard Lion which has four floors including an elevator. There are four primary pieces that make up the lion head, jaw as well as the left and right arms. Grayskull tower is half the size of the central tower and holds a prison area for Skeltor and his men. The third tower is Viper Tower, representing Snake Mountain, with a gigantic viper and chains that go around his neck. There are thirteen total monorail tracks that connect all of the towers.
So let’s see, if each individual castle playset was around $20-30 then this should run around $80-90, right? This massive playset was close to $85. (Now I see why I do not own it…). That’s close to the cost of a new NES at the time. Parents shying away from the price also probably saw the number of parts that come with it, which also need assembled. Once the other playsets are assembled they can stand on their own and take minimal time. However, the Eternia playset needs to be assembled and disassembled with each use unless it is kept somewhere with a good deal of room. The instructions are quite detailed. A high price plus a good deal of assembly is a sure turn off for parents.
These Masters of the Universe castle playsets are truly epic. They did build the way for many of the other playsets we love to this day. Did you own any of the epic castle playsets? Which is our favorite? Is there one you always wanted? What’s another toy from 1980-84 you would like us to take a look at? Leave your thoughts in the usual spot, and thanks for reading!
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