Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bionicle Heroes (PS2)

As I mentioned in my review of The LEGO Movie, LEGO was a big part of my life growing up. What I did not mention, however, was that, within that time, I was a big fan of LEGO’s Bionicle franchise, about a group of heroes called Toa who fight evil while wearing masks that grant the wearer superpowers, throughout most of its lifespan. My interest in Bionicle began when I first learned of its existence during a trip to LEGOLAND, which also happened to be when the franchise was just getting off the ground. Through getting the original toys and reading the DC comic book (which happened to be the first comic book I ever really got into) via LEGO Club Magazine subscriptions, I eventually amassed a large collection of toys and various media, which included the aforementioned comics, novels, mini-comics (through McDonald’s and Lunchables), a card game, board games, video games, trading cards (I ate a lot of Mighty Kids meals to get those), Happy Meal toys, DVD movies, clothes, Halloween costumes, and shoes (yes, shoes, with interchangeable masks; though sandals also existed, I never worn those). For a while, I was somewhat of an expert in Bionicle, even knowing bits of lore and the fictional Matoran written language by heart. I even ended up attending a few Bionicle meetings at the now-defunct Imaginarium, the first of which I coincidentally happened to be there for and the last of which happened to fall on my birthday (I attended anyway). However, as I grew older, my interest in the franchise began to wane over time, which happened to be during the final stretch of the series’ 9 ½-year lifespan, and one of the last pieces of merchandise I got before stopping completely was the fourth and final DVD feature, The Legend Reborn. Since then, my knowledge of the series lore faded over time, but I never forgot how much the Bionicle franchise meant to me growing up.

Around the release of The LEGO Movie, since I knew there was a tie-in game to said movie, I had the sudden urge to play a LEGO game, particularly one by Traveller’s Tales, who made the acclaimed LEGO Star Wars series of games and said movie tie-in. Of the games I had on hand, between Bionicle Heroes and LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga, I decided to go with the former, since I had played that one before and I wanted to give into said urge in a shorter time frame. As I played it, my Bionicle knowledge rather quickly came rushing back to me, even if it was just bits and pieces of the story here and there. While Bionicle Heroes does not adhere to said story at all, I still got a kick out of playing it, though admittedly it’s not without problems.

The story, as it goes, is that you take the role of the Toa Inika, having washed ashore on the island of Voya Nui, and must defeat the evil Piraka, who have taken control of the island. This is all there is to the story until you finish the game, and even then you must not only 100% the game, but also unlock every collectible (more on that later). While the main story itself is rather paper-thin, some semblance of a narrative plays out in cutscenes before and after levels, but overall it isn’t very gripping (though the cutscenes can be somewhat amusing at times, so it’s not a total loss).

The Toa Inika (from left): Hahli, Kongu (back), Nuparu, Matoro, Hewkii (back), Jaller.

In relation to the overall Bionicle franchise, however, I feel I should bring up how the story of this game does not really adhere very much to the larger mythos, although it does prominently feature the Piraka and Toa Inika, who were the main toys at the time of release. Still, while playing for the first time, I did notice that some characters that appear in the game, particularly as bosses and normal enemies, seemed rather out of place for what the game was trying to represent; for instance, two of the game’s bosses, Roodaka and Sidorak, were only present chronologically for when the Toa Metru/Hordika were previously prominent in the toyline, while regular enemies like the Bohrok hadn’t been seen on shelves since the very first set of Toa, retroactively called the Toa Mata, were the main focus (not to mention the Rahkshi, a group of bosses in the game, which were also from the same Bionicle era as the Bohrok). This is just a few things that don’t line up with the established fiction, not getting into the canon mask powers of the Toa Inika (which, to be honest, I had to look up for reference due to lack of memory). However, taken on its own, this unique interpretation of the series canon helps make it more of a stand-alone title, although I can definitely see how the departure from the fiction would upset a more die-hard Bionicle fan.

Gameplay is similar in many ways to LEGO Star Wars, one of them being that each playable character has a unique power. Hewkii, for instance, is able to make/activate constractions (sic) where applicable and Matoro is able to zoom in to attack from a distance or activate switches. The Toa Inika also gain more abilities when you fully upgrade them, such as Kongu being able to jump at designated areas and Jaller being able to burn down plants blocking your path. Once you defeat a Piraka boss, you also gain the ability to play as them during their respective levels and unlock special areas; defeating the final boss, Vezon, also allows you to play as him and interact with black LEGO pieces to make special constractions (sic), though being able to play as him overrides every playable Piraka (fortunately, he can also unlock Piraka-based areas, but it’s still somewhat of a letdown). You can also gather LEGO pieces in a level; getting enough of them puts you into Hero Mode, during which you are invincible until you create a gold constraction (sic). You can also use any LEGO pieces you have gathered to upgrade your Toa, as well as unlock special bonus areas and content, including stuff for the Piraka Playground area (which can lead to some rather humorous cutscenes).

Scattered throughout each level are Silver and Gold Canisters, some of which can only be accessed via Piraka powers or Toa upgrades; gathering all of the Silver Canisters unlocks an enemy that can be viewed in certain areas of the hub world and finding Gold Canisters in each level unlocks a Bionicle item that can be viewed in the Trophy Room, each of which has a small bio to go along with it that fills you in on the mythos of Bionicle (though basic knowledge of its lore allows you to spot a couple of errors, they are otherwise very accurate). There are also a number of in-game achievements you can acquire throughout the game, for which the ones tied to level completion have different completion levels depending on how much of the level you explored, which offers a little bit of replay value once you upgrade the Toa or defeat more Piraka.

The Piraka (from left): Avak, Zaktan, Hakann, Vezok, Thok, Reidak.

One major difference to the LEGO Star Wars formula though is that, rather than being a third-person platformer, Bionicle Heroes is more of an over-the-shoulder third-person shooter, which gives it a different feel than your average Traveller’s Tales LEGO game. While this is an interesting change of pace for the developer’s LEGO games, the level design is often very linear, forcing you more or less to go along a set path to the exit. Though it can take a little while, the game is also very easy to get through, in part due to the aforementioned Hero Mode, but also having to do with how easy it can be to restore health. Each playable character has a number of hearts that go down when attacked, though upgrades can add armor for increased resistance, and getting hearts from enemies restores part of your health (sometimes you can get a golden heart that restores all of your health). You can also gather Kanohi masks, which not only gives access to more Toa (which can be switched at will), but also restores all of your health. There is some difficulty added, however, in that losing a mask, which occurs when a Toa loses every heart, can be fatal since you can only gain certain masks at certain locations, and you can’t get most of them back during boss fights. However, this is somewhat counterbalanced by having particular masks available at sections where said masks are required to get through, which only moves the game back to being mostly easy.

Another thing about the gameplay that I find to be more of a complaint is this: the inability to scroll through menus in more than one direction when using certain inputs. When scrolling through Toa/Piraka during levels to play as, you have a choice of using the L1 and R1 buttons or using the Triangle button (I played the PS2 version), the latter of which you may end up using more since, when using the mentioned shoulder buttons, only R1 seems to actually work. Something similar occurs when using the D-Pad to scroll through other menus, in that only the Right and Down buttons seemed to ever work, prompting me to mainly use the Left Analog Stick as an alternate method to navigate those menus (much thumb pain was caused as a result, on top of said Stick being required to move around levels). I wasn’t sure if it was the controller at first, but I remember being able to play other games like the PS2 God of War entries without any problem, so I have to assume it came down to faulty programming.

The graphics are decent for a game released in 2006, being part of the gradual progression in graphical capabilities of Traveller’s Tales’ LEGO games over time. The character designs are actually fairly accurate representations of Bionicle toys released up to the Voya Nui saga, with some minor liberties taken such as giving applicable characters hands. Weapons that characters hold are also accurate representations of the toys’ weapons, though again with some minor liberties taken in their general appearances. The environments of each level are actually pretty nice to look at, distracting somewhat from the linear layouts of each area.

Hero Mode in action.

The music in the game is actually pretty good, with level sets standing out by featuring a different genre of music that fits the setting. The boss battle music is actually pretty epic, with normal encounters in a level changing the background music to indicate danger, and each bit of background music is able to loop without becoming distracting. However, all of that is usually overridden when you go into Hero Mode, which has its own (good) blanket theme, though if you’re in a tight spot it can actually be just what you want to hear in that moment. The Matoran Enclave (the hub world) and Piraka Playground each have their own themes that stand out as well, though, admittedly, one of my favorite bits of music from the game is what plays during the end-of-level screen (where everything you collect is counted up), since it’s actually pretty catchy.

As for voice acting, or lack thereof, characters for the most part, including Toa, speak primarily in grunts, with every Toa sharing one dialogue pool during cutscenes (including Hahli, a female Toa, who sounds masculine when you see the grunts applied to her). There only appears to be one character with actual spoken dialogue, namely a Matoran who speaks to you in the beginning and ending cutscenes (the latter of which you must get 100% completion and collect everything in every level to see), but I haven’t seen a proper voice acting credit for the Matoran in either the manual or the game itself. In any case, the performance was decent for what it was.

Bionicle Heroes is a rather interesting LEGO game. It takes the LEGO Star Wars formula and makes changes to suit the Bionicle theme, though the level design is rather linear and it’s not exactly an accurate representation of Bionicle lore. Still, the music is good and there’s some replay value present in the various collectibles. However, much like a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood, once you do everything you want to do, there isn’t really anything left to do. Fans of LEGO games even after LEGO Star Wars would get some enjoyment out of this game, and this game provides some differences to appeal to fans of Traveller’s Tales’ LEGO games that want something different. However, this is not exactly a game for the die-hard Bionicle fan, particularly since the game ignores the lore altogether while crafting a new stand-alone story from the mythos. In either case, playing this game may make the player want to, depending on the situation, seek out or revisit their Bionicle toys and fiction.

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