Lego Bionicle does a fantastic job of expanding Lego’s new line of Legos in an adventure game by Saffire. But how enjoyable is the playable experience?
Until recently, I had no idea what the new “LEGO: Bionicle” toy line was all about. A couple months ago, I watched Cartoon Network’s premiere of Samurai Jack and Bionicle was the primary sponsor, so I did end up seeing some commercials that made it look like the Bionicles were some kind of Lego-mechs or something.
It turns out that it’s actually much different. Lego Bionicle takes place in a tropical tribal setting. The Bionicles are a crew with special masks, living on an island with various tough creatures. If you’re inclined to learn even more about the world of Lego Bionicle, check out http://www.bionicle.com (and I am quoting the game’s instruction book when I say this!). To my understanding, it’s a fairly popular toy line and is a pretty hot gift this holiday season.
The game doesn’t have as much to do with Legos themselves as it does this brand new world of Bionicle that Lego has created. Lego Interactive has left it up to Saffire to flesh out the realm of Bionicle and it seems they've done a very good job. So there’s not a lot of customization, or Lego themed stuff. You’re a Bionicle dude and you end up going on a quest in the world of Lego Bionicle.
The game takes place on the Island of Mata Nui where several Bionicles live. It is a time of peril, and the lead character, a peaceful wanderer is about to embark on a fantastic adventure to quest for six Toa stones to summon ancient heroes to the land. Along the way, you’ll find lost objects, restore dying trees and throw a bunch of rocks at Lego monsters. The game plays from an overhead view with players controlling a member of the Bionicle people. About the only “Lego-ish” customization in the game comes in the beginning, where the color of body parts is selected.
The game opens with a training level. Initially, while going through the training, Bionicle seemed to be better than average and even pretty good. There’s a nice arsenal of moves and abilities, including jumping and throwing objects, from small pebbles to large stones. When picking up larger objects, the longer you hold down A, the farther you will throw it. After learning the basics, there is a cave town, full of villagers and huts. Like other games with towns, talking to villagers is good way to get clues, you cannot enter the huts.
The dialogue is very well done, with characters and emotion being expressed much better than in other games… Many times, characters will say a lot, and some will also say different things when you talk to them repeatedly. The only problem is that the text scrolls by quickly, and there’s no way to scroll up -- and the variety of messages means you’ll have to chit-chat a lot. After playing awhile I noticed that pretty much everyone in town was repeating the same set of phrases.
Upon chatting with townsfolk and learning what problem needs to be solved, it’s time to brave hostile terrain and combat monsters. It’s just a lot of running around throwing stones, collecting various power-ups and searching for missing key items.
There are six worlds and each is different, and full of various monsters. Not surprisingly, a few of the creatures resemble those I’ve seen in Lego Bionicle toy commercials. Enemies are defeated by throwing rocks at them, done with the L or R button (the shoulder buttons can be set to rocks and/or other inventory items). After hitting foes with a certain number of rocks, they don’t die but are stunned, and remain on the game screen twitching in a very creepy manner.
Lego Bionicle’s graphics are very colorful and quite nicely detailed. There’s some good animation and some well rendered backgrounds. It’s nothing overly special, but it’s certainly impressive and the colors used are not too dark.
There’s a handful of music tracks and they’re quite nice. Some are very tropic and light, such as the track played during the intro and outdoors. Other songs are very urgent and high tempo, like the background music for the cave town and the first mission. It’s all fairly enjoyable and much of it has a Caribbean twist to it. The sound FX are pretty cool too, albeit a little zany. The pick-up noise for items is pretty slick.
The graphics and sound are well done and something Saffire should be proud of; though unfortunately, the quality of gameplay mechanics does not match that of the aesthetics.
Executing all the moves can be a trifle problematic… Jump the wrong way or too far, and you might bounce off a wall and fall backwards. Lining yourself up with enemy creatures to toss stones can also be tricky. There are places where you have to stun a type of turtles, throw ‘em into the water and use them as stepping stones. It’s not all that easy… Let me rephrase that: it’s not all that easy to do right; it is easy to throw too far, or incorrectly. Jumping altogether in certain places is difficult, for there are jumps that must be made at an angle and/or from a certain spot, and there's no room for error at all.
Another problem is that the terrain is often cluttered with rocks, grass or mushrooms or some other kind of object that cannot be transgressed. Such objects may have been meant as obstacles, but they clutter up the screen -- especially because such objects are usually grouped together. Making your way through such terrain, especially when being pursued by enemies, can be very annoying.
Power-ups are awarded as you progress to a new part of levels, but some of these are even more frustrating to operate than the jumping. Items are set to either the L or R button and by reconfiguring the control to use both shoulder buttons, some awkward items (like the grapple) can be used more smoothly.
It’s also occasionally difficult figuring out exactly where to go and what to do next. There are arrows pointing all over the place and guys giving advice are repeating themselves a little too much. Persistence and experimentation with items wins the day but it’d be great if things were a bit more straightforward in some parts. To top it all off, Lego Bionicle game is simply not all that compelling. There are some great ideas here and a good serving of personality, yet it’s not so enjoyable to play and the quest, despite better-than-usual trappings, isn’t all that enticing.
On the bright side, six mini-games are included, and this is where it’s at. Mini-games can be played multiplayer, though everyone has to have a copy of the game. One of the first mini-games is the Usaal Crab Dig, which plays like a mix between Mr. Do, Dig Dug and the Mario Party “Buried Treasure” game. The second mini-game, a boat paddle race, controls horribly and is nowhere near as fun. However, the Ignalu Lava Surf and the Koli Football mini-games are highly enjoyable. I didn’t get a chance to play multiplayer with anyone, but I’d imagine that the mini-games are a bit more fun with multiple players. The fact that each of the six mini-games is unlocked when you complete each world is perhaps the most persuasive reason to play the game through to the end.
Lego Bionicle is a disappointment overall. It fleshes out Lego’s latest toy line, has undeniable personality and potential but is tragically crippled by frustrating platforming and awkward play mechanics. Hardcore Bionicle fans may dig the interactive experience on the island of Mata Nui, but most hardcore gamers certainly will not.