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Battle Cat

Masters of the Universe
by Poe Ghostal

First a little background: after 20 years, Mattel has decided to bring back their He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (MOTU) line. Despite being headlined by a hero with the cheesiest name of all time, the toyline was one of the most popular lines of the '80s. Part of the success of the original line was due to Mattel's ultra-cheapo production values. As anyone who owned the original figures can attest, each figure was made from a limited number of torso, arm, and leg sculpts. With a few clever color changes, some accessories and a new head, kids had a "new" action figure.

But this wasn't the only way Mattel built equity; it also reused molds from older lines, such as their 1970s "Big Jim" line, to make toys for MOTU. One of the most memorable instances of this was when Mattel took the tiger mold from the Big Jim line, painted it a ginchy green (with yellow stripes) and slapped some armor on it. Voila! "Battle Cat," He-Man's trusty sabre-toothed steed. The thing was as articulated as a rock (that means exactly zero moving parts) and yet that MOTU label meant Mattel could hawk it for $10 (that's $18.50 in today's money) and little kids (like me) would cry when their cousin got Battle Cat for his birthday and I... I mean "they" didn't have one.

The fierce green and yellow companion to He-Man, Battle cat is girded with a saddle and helmet and ready for a fight. This four-footed warrior plays an important role in the war against Eternia's savage enemies, especially Panthor, Skeletor's evil pet. Battle Cat can pick up Panthor's scent across great distances. These two battling creatures despise each other. When they clash, they fight like two crazed dragons, leaping and clawing at each other with thundering roars.

Mattel has opted to skip the super-cheapo routine for this relaunch of the MOTU franchise. They hired four former sculptors from McFarlane Toys, home of some of the finest toy sculptors in America. Dubbing themselves "The Four Horsemen," these sculptors set about redefining He-Man for a new age of action figure standards. Remember how every single He-Man figure had the same stupid furry diaper? The Horsemen took that motif and developed it: thus, He-Man has the classic furry underwear, but Skeletor has more of a Roman skirt, Stratos (the flying monkey) has a feathered loincloth, and Mer-Man has a fishy-looking one. The figure sculpts themselves are stunning, especially when compared to the cookie-cutter work of the originals.

Of course, Battle Cat wasn't left out. He got a makeover that included - gasp! - articulation! Yes, he has articulation at all four shoulders, plus his upper head (more on that in a moment) and his tail, though it's made of solid plastic, can spin around, giving the appearance of different positions.

The sculpt is good. I mean, he's clearly a sabre-toothed tiger, and the sculpt is much better than the original. The paint apps are good as well - basically just some yellow stripes across the body, but they're well-done. His beady little eyes are cut well too. The only disappointment is the inside of the legs; for some reason there are some ugly, fake-looking sharp lines in there. Does it really save that much plastic to put hollows in there?

His action feature's a little lame - press the button on his back and his right paw raises and he opens his mouth. Unfortunately, the right paw smacks him in the face. It's not exactly a fearsome attack.

But the real disappointment, for me, is the red armor and its accompanying weapons. The armor of the original Battle Cat was interesting, and I wish they'd just updated that. The armor consists of a "battle saddle," two pieces of armor for the front claws, and a kind of mask for the face. The original Battle Cat had what was clearly a helmet, and this is clearly a mask; it's disappointing. The helmet on the original Battle Cat made the toy imposing; this just looks like a tiger at a masquerade.

The claw guards fall off constantly (I recommend this trick: boil them [just dip them in boiling water; don't drop them in, or they'll melt] and then squeeze them together [not too tightly], then dip them in cold water. Now, when placed on, they'll hold tight). The "battle saddle" is huge and bulky. It snaps on to the body by a peg on the bottom, but it tends to slide around.

The armor also has what looks like two giant frisbees sticking out from it. These mount the missile launchers, which couldn't look more out of place. The launchers themselves are made of bright silver material, while the missiles are screaming flourescent orange (presumably so kids won't lose them). The missiles fire about a foot or so, if that. Fortunately, the launchers are detachable.

Before I forget, a word on the packaging: Battle Cat comes in a big box. He's placed in horizontally, and the box art covers up half his body, so I wouldn't call this packaging collector-friendly - it can't display very well if you can only see half the body.

In writing these toy reviews I try to walk a line between recommending for kids and for collectors. To collectors, I say this: in my opinion, Battle Cat looks better posed without his armor than with it. Take off those rocket launchers and lose 'em - they're ugly.

To kids, I say, this is a fun, durable toy. The missile launchers work, and if I were younger I'm sure I'd enjoy sticking He-Man into the saddle and riding him into battle.

The price of this item varies, but expect to pay between $12-16 for it at most stores.

Personally, I'm just happy He-Man's back...

-- 08/02/02

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