Based on the popular LEGO toy series, which blends action figures and a detailed storyline along with traditional building, Bionicle casts players in the role of one of six armored Toa characters in their ongoing fight against the dark followers of the evil Makuta. Viewed from a third-person perspective, the game has players navigating the six themed regions of the Mata Nui island, including jungles, mountains, and lakes, while solving puzzles, interacting with local inhabitants, and defeating members of Makuta's tribe. Each Toa character possesses special elemental energy that can be used to combat enemies and enhanced by collecting power-ups. Depending on the selected character, players can harness the elements of air, water, fire, or earth using a special mask of power and custom weapon. Action sequences include crossing molten lava on a surfboard, gliding across trees, swimming, and snowboarding down a mountain. True to the toy line, players can also build machines to help them navigate their world after finding the required parts.
There's turmoil in the island of Mata Nui. The dark spirit Makuta has infected the Rahi throughout the island -- using his control of the Bohrok, Bohrok-Kal, and Rahkshi to kidnap the Matoran villagers throughout the various Wahi. It's up to the guardians of each Wahi, the Toa warriors Tahi, Lewa, Kopaka, Gali, Pohatu, and Onua, to rescue the Matorans and find the Toa of Light, who is the only one strong enough to stop Makuta.
If this sounds like a foreign language, then you probably want to turn away now -- things aren't going to get any better. For all the eleven-year-olds whose lives revolve around the popular LEGO franchise, a dark tale of good versus evil has been carefully crafted just for you -- completely true to the Bionicle mythos. If you aren't eleven, and are daring enough to look past the LEGO, then you'll unearth quite the interesting title.
Bionicle starts out simply enough, unfortunately it never really gets complicated -- besides for the odd lingo. In an effort to appease fans and keep kids interested in the game, Bionicle never settles on one character or gameplay style for any extent of time. Instead, you're constantly switching environments, characters, and actions -- a delight for children with ADD or heroin addicts. While the variety is supposed to keep you from getting bored, it instead makes for a disjointed experience.
After the initial story telling scene, you'll find yourself in the guise of the Toa Tahu in Ta-Wahi (or the fire elemental in a volcanic region). You're confronted with the problem of navigating a very basic platform filled level -- the most difficult segment is when you have to jump across a lava flow on decently sized rocks. Your jumping is occasionally hindered by pockets of bad guys that shoot "dark elements" at you. Luckily, these can all be toasted using "good elements" (the fire Toa happens to use fire).
By pressing the attack button, and flailing your wand/staff, you can unleash a fiery blast of elemental energy. Although these shots automatically home in on the nearest dark energy, you can't just fire without discretion. Each shot uses a certain amount of elemental energy, which depletes your elemental energy meter. Without energy, you can't shoot. Fortunately, you can recharge your elemental energy in one of three ways. The first is the simplest, which is to not fire for a while since the meter will slowly refill on its own. If you're in a bit of rush, you can use your Toa's shield (it lasts for about two seconds) to absorb the dark energy shot at you and transform it into useful elemental power. As a last resort, your Toa can suck in elemental power from the surrounding area -- but this requires him to remain still for an extended period of time (not something to do around enemies).
The concept is a good one -- that you need to absorb your enemy's evil energy to do good. It's a ying and yang theme (although that might be reaching a bit). What fails to be good is that you usually don't have to use this theme. Since the camera angles are so horrid (you have no control), you usually aren't able to see what you're shooting at (or the blasts that are about to hit you), which makes it difficult to absorb them. Running around in circles, both to avoid fire and to charge your meter, works wonders and is really all you need to do throughout the platforming portions.
Once you reach the end of the lava flows, fire boy will hand off the adventure, marathon style, to the next Toa in line. Ice man is ready to take you snowboarding down some powdery slopes while fighting an enemy before he reaches a nearby village. Once this quick jaunt to the peaks ends, it's time for a swim with the water Toa. She takes you on another platforming venture similar to the fire Toa's, except you'll spend the majority of your time swimming. Throughout these levels you'll also have to find and rescue Matorans so that they can operate various machines for you. Since they're usually in plain sight and the levels are so brief, searching for guys screaming, "Help me!" doesn't really add any difficulty or enjoyment.
Bionicle continues showing you vignettes of gameplay. You'll encounter "grinding" on tree limbs and soaring through the air with the air Toa, riding in a mine cart with the earth Toa, a boss fight with the stone Toa, lava surfing with our fire guy, and then the final boss battle with the Toa of Light. Each segment is so short that they can hardly be called levels, but if they were any longer than you wouldn't be able to stand playing through them.
Even the boss fights are uninspiring. There are technically only four to begin with, and two of them are the same enemy but take place in a different environment. None are particularly challenging and can be defeated by a quick analysis of the patterns. One of the more interesting fights requires you to roll blocks unto vents so that they'll be catapulted into a boss -- your Toa can't grab these blocks so you have to run your Bionicle into them and hope the stones go in the right direction (quite frustrating).
Full of good intentions (for the kid gamer), Bionicle falls flat on its LEGO constructed legs thanks to Argonaut's attempt to include too much in too short a game. Clunky controls and an unfriendly camera make fighting difficult and hinder what little platforming there is. This situation is pretty bad, especially because Bionicle forces you to use a keyboard (there is no mouse or controller support). Luckily, the entire adventure can be beaten in less than two hours, which will at least put you out of your LEGO induced misery.
The visuals are about as stellar as the gameplay. Backgrounds are relatively blurry and texture work is very basic. Environmental effects like flowing lava are at times hardly recognizable as steaming piles of liquid rock. The rest of the backgrounds are fairly plain -- like forest level has random trees here and there, but you're mostly seeing empty space.
To Argonauts credit, the Toas are animated well. They amble about on wobbly legs -- just the way their LEGO construction would permit. You also can see their individual pieces that they're composed of (although blurry) that really connects the Toas to their LEGO origin.
The score is full of platform trademark tunes that alter with environment and mood of the gameplay -- it can change from frantic boss music to airy ballads of the forest. However, the score isn't all that remarkable in its composition -- and simply serves as a way to drown out the sound effects. While you will hear a blast from your elemental staff and appropriate effects when your shield absorbs energy or you're hit by a blast, nothing stands out and fortunately you usually can't hear the repetitive sounds of attack and defense.
Bionicle: The Game can hardly be called a game. The gameplay is such a hodgepodge of styles -- an attempt to keep kids entertained -- that you never get into the title. You're thrown from one seemingly random instance to another strung along by a thin storyline. This is simply a case of trying to stuff too many gameplay ideas into a game and dumbing it down way too much for a kid's audience.
The slew of prepubescents that are obsessed with Bionicle will probably get a kick out of the storyline, mine cart riding, snowboarding, etc., but the clunky controls and poor camera angles are a hindrance to the game's accessibility and enjoyment. The adventure is also far too short and easy -- you can complete the entire game (100%) in less than two hours -- even while struggling with some counterintuitive (because of control) levels.
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Batman: Justice Unbalanced, BioForge, American McGee's Alice, Blade of Darkness, Bermuda Syndrome, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Blood Omen 2, Blair Witch Volume 1: Rustin Parr
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