Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release Date: November 15, 2006
It's said that pride comes before a fall, but in the video game world, bearing a few distinct differences, it's quite the opposite. That is to say, if previous games in a license or franchise have been lacking, you expect the newest release to be a steaming pile of bad coding as well. Unfortunately, given that the other games bearing the Bionicle name are abysmal, one does not exactly have high hopes upon loading up Bionicle Heroes. It's also difficult to get those hopes up when you're thrust into the game with little more than a rousing speech of, "There are bad guys here. Go kill them." Sadly, that's pretty much the entire plot of the game for you.
There are bad guys here. Go kill them.
The rest of the game follows that self-same mindless, repetitive, childlike fashion as well. You're plopped down as The Hero in the land of Voya Nui, a Bionicle warrior with the power to take off his face mask and put on the masks of other warriors, adapting your powers to that of different elements.
Sadly, all of the elements (Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, Ice, Rock, and possibly Heart) play pretty much the same — point and fire, repeat. Different Toas (as they're called) have slightly different powers, such as lighting fires, climbing cliffs, or building items out of spare Lego parts in a fashion similar to that of Lego Star Wars.
In fact, a lot of what manages to be tolerable in Bionicle Heroes draws from exactly that source — Lego Star Wars, or more recently and appropriately, LSW 2: The Original Trilogy. The graphics have that same refined, shiny plastic quality that would fail miserably if it were meant to represent anything but Lego pieces. The construction of bridges, gates, and doorways with spare blocks feels easily like using The Force, and even the way you blast things into their component molecules blocks and then collect them brings back visions of the far more successful Star Wars titles.
Aside from the wonderfully Lego-like quality of the graphics, the world into which your Bionicle man is thrust is surprisingly dull, bland, and rather uninspired. Yes, there's a variety of settings, but from ice fields to sand dunes to jungles, everything just looks drab. Likewise, weapon effects reek of sameness, looking like they were scrounged up from the bargain bin or from Metroid Prime's reject pile. Whether you're shooting glowing blue beams, glowing red light bursts, glowing green beams, the obvious feeling is of "glowing" and "beamy." While there is some attempt made to make each element's weapon look like its respective element, there truly could have been a lot more work put into the originality.
Unlike Lego Star Wars, however, the game plays at a constant over-the-shoulder, third-person view, giving you a fantastic sight of the back of your Toa's head and his right arm, and very little else. As such, the game controls much like a first-person shooter. Wait, let me correct myself — the game controls like the textbook example of why first-person shooters so rarely work on consoles. Aiming — though thankfully aided by an auto-aim feature that more often than not is all you need — is frustrating to work out, involving the classic "reversed vertical axis" deal that really works much better on a flight simulator than anything remotely action-based. There's a "jump" button, a "shoot" button, an "action" button, and a "switch elements" button. The problem there is that jumping and switching Toas are largely irrelevant actions, and shooting and actions are all faced with a lag of annoying proportions.
Not that it matters. Like in Lego Star Wars, you collect scattered Lego pieces to use as currency. However, in Bionicle Heroes, these pieces also charge up a "Hero Meter," which, when full, turns you a pleasant shade of gold and puts you into, natch, Hero Mode. The very inclusion of Hero Mode is the single most destructive flaw in the game, for one simple reason: While in Hero Mode, you are entirely invincible. This wouldn't be a problem if it were temporary, or difficult to achieve. However, there are certain sets of blocks that require a Toa in Hero Mode to rebuild. This serves to both make the mode mandatory, and to make it last indefinitely, until you activate said blocks. Thus, gameplay becomes a simple task of "collect a mess of blocks, enter Hero Mode, clear area, advance, repeat."
It doesn't help that the game isn't particularly difficult to begin with. Sure, you have only four hearts of life to work with, but when you run out of health, you simply lose your current Toa mask (element) and have to switch to another one. One would expect such a kid-slanted difficulty in a cheerful, bright platformer, not a bland, gritty shoot-'em-up. A game this easy will hardly engage most game-players, and even the 10- to 15-year-old audience of which the Bionicle fandom is comprised will find themselves easily bored.
Oh, sure, there are unlockables on which to spend those ludicrous amounts of Lego blocks you've collected, but they're just as uninteresting as the rest of Bionicle Heroes. Since the game gives you little to no story, much of the unlockable content is snippets of story from the Bionicle world, but if you've played far enough to buy these snippets, chances are you're already such a diehard fan of the license that you don't need to read up on it. You can also purchase extra abilities for each elemental mask and little cut scenes showing the boss creatures after being hastily beaten up by your character. They're cute, but much like the rest of the game, they're not really all that engaging.
Thankfully, if you're forced to listen to someone playing the game, it's not quite so painful, despite many licensed games having that ear-splitting quality. In fact, the soundtrack sounds like something that came to Danny Elfman in a fever dream — just not in a good way. The tunes are oddly surreal, and perhaps not so fitting for a game such as this one. However, the designers took the obviously smart choice — if you can't hire good voice actors, why settle for bad ones? There's no voice acting at all in Bionicle Heroes, short of the opening speech of, "There are bad guys here. Go kill them," and the occasional grunt of pain from your character or enemies.
It actually pains me to think about, but Bionicle Heroes has a lot of potential. It maintains a lot of the compelling elements that made Lego Star Wars a hit, and the game is a nice enough package to look at. Clunky controls and nonexistent difficulty, however, reduce the game into bargain bin status. If you're truly a fan of the Bionicle series, you're bound to love this game. Otherwise, you're better off looking elsewhere.
More articles about Bionicle Heroes