Reviewed: December 19, 2006
Released: November 15, 2006
I have to admit I had some fairly low expectations going into my review for Bionicle Heroes. I've never seen the cartoons or movies, never played with the toys or previous video games, but when I heard this game had a similar play-style as LEGO Star Wars (also made by Traveler's Tales) I just had to check it out.
What I discovered was a fantastic action title with cool robots, gorgeous visuals, and that same humorous wit and charm we've come to expect from the LEGO franchise. This could easily be the sleeper hit of the holiday season.
Bionicle Heroes is one of those games that is obviously targeted towards a younger audience and fans of the franchise, but the intuitive gameplay combined with a rewarding RPG element and a totally original interactive bonus system will make this an instant hit with anyone who plays a single level.
The game is quite simple by design. You control various robots - actually just one robot, but by putting on any of numerous TOA masks that you will find in each of the massive levels you can change the look and functionality of your robot.
For instance, if you wear the red mask you will switch to a fire-based attack, whereas the white mask switches to ice attacks, blue water, green air, etc. There are many masks to locate during each level, each granting unique weapons and special abilities.
One such ability is reserved for the gold mask that not only comes with a powerful explosive projectile but also has the ability to construct new items from random debris.
You see, everything in Bionicle Heroes is created from LEGO's, so when you blow up an object, a plant, or even other robots you can run around and collect hundreds and eventually millions of LEGO pieces. These come in several colors ranging from gold, silver, and the rare and valuable blue.
When noted by the onscreen icon your gold robot can construct new objects or manipulate existing items such as placing gears into a machine or creating a bridge. This not only gives the game a very LEGO feel, it make the environment totally interactive on multiple levels. You can blast an ugly green stalk and use those pieces to assemble some red flowers, granting you bonus pieces, then you can blast the flower for even more LEGO's.
One of the ongoing objectives throughout the game is to collect as many LEGO bits as possible, not only for high scores and the rewards that come with it, but also to power-up your robot into Hero Mode.
Once in Hero Mode your robot is indestructible regardless of the TOA mask you are wearing. You can literally lay waste to the land and all enemies in it until you exit this super-charged state by creating a special golden construction.
These are special builds that appear on the map and act as transitions to new areas of the level. Sometimes these golden creatures will clear a path or open a gate. One golden robot waded into the surf and tossed a pile of LEGO debris onto the shore that I was able to reassemble into a boat and ride into a new area.
There are over a dozen massive and complex levels that are divided into zones, each with a specific theme like jungle, desert, snow, and mountains. Completing a level unlocks the next until you reach the boss fight, which ultimately unlocks a new zone.
By design the game almost demands you play each level at least twice if not three times. There are certain interactive points within each level that require an enhanced version of any one of your possible TOA masks. There are also special areas in many levels that can only be accessed by creating a special LEGO build with a TOA mask you won't earn until you finish the game and defeat the final boss.
Upgrading your TOA masks is an expensive process that can take 5-8 levels and millions of LEGO credits before you can max the stats of all your masks, but you can replay previously completed levels and keep adding to your LEGO bank account.
In addition to powering up your primary weapon so you access special areas within each level, you can also increase each TOA's armor and special weapon. As long as you save up and purchase the 50% discount item first you should have all your TOA masks maxxed out by the end of Zone 1.
In addition to TOA upgrades you can also purchase 20 hints, which range from "totally obvious" to "didn't need to know". There is also a bonus area called Piraka Beach. At first this area consists of several empty roped-off sections, but as you purchase bonus items from the store like the DJ booth, dance floor, diving board, etc. you can revisit this beach and enjoy some hilarious LEGO-style animation.
Visually Bionicle Heroes is right up there with any current A-list title. The levels are huge and nicely detailed with awesome textures, rippling water, brilliant special effects, and totally interactive (and destructible) environments.
The camera does take some getting used to. It's an odd mix of FPS and third-person where your robot sticks to the bottom-left of the screen and the camera swings around. You have some limited camera panning with the right stick, but mostly the camera pivots as you turn your robot.
The HUD is minimal with a LEGO meter at the top of the screen, a radar map in one corner and a selection bar for cycling through your TOA masks. It's very functional and non-invasive.
The highlight of the visuals has to be the mind-blowing special effects for the wide assortment of weapons. You can see subtle changes as you make your way up each weapons upgrade meter, and once you max a weapon...look out! One of the most powerful weapons results in an atomic blast that erupts in a spherical explosion sending out a shockwave ring damaging or destroying anything in its wake.
The music is your typical action fare, and while I did notice some repetition the blend of techno/jazz/rock never got annoying, probably because it was being overwhelmed by weapons' fire and explosions.
Sound effects range from the subtle sounds of LEGO's being disassembled and reassembled or merely being tallied into the top meter like coins in a change counter to the more powerful aforementioned weapon effects.
There is no speech or dialogue in Bionicle Heroes but the designers do a fantastic job bringing both the Piraka and your robot to life in some charming pantomime cutscenes.
Bionicle Heroes is a fairly lengthy game, especially if you plan on completing it and earning all the Achievements. But even if you are looking to make a single casual pass through the adventure you can still expect a good 20+ hour game.
As previously mentioned, the game design encourages you to revisit many of the levels at least twice, some even a third time. If you ever see an icon noting an area that requires an upgraded TOA or a Piraka head you haven't acquired yet you'll know you need to come back later.
Even the Shop where you purchase your upgrades and hints encourages extended replay. Some of those Piraka beach upgrades are worth the effort.
Sadly, there is no multiplayer, and I can definitely see some lost potential there. What better way to challenge your friends than with your own custom Bionicle robot.
I have to admit, I am totally captivated by Bionicle Heroes. What I was going to dismiss as "just another kiddie game" has turned into a visually stunning and highly entertaining video game for young and old alike.
I probably don't have any more interest in the Bionicle franchise than I did going into this review, but I know what I like...big robots and even bigger explosions. Bionicle Heroes delivers both in serious next-gen style.