IGN Review of Bionicle Heroes
Earlier this year, Nintendo proved that first-person shooters could be done, and done well, on the Nintendo DS handheld. Metroid Prime: Hunters was the game that made the statement, its impressive mix of precision touch screen control and high production values earning it both critical praise and a sizeable audience of dedicated fans. Now those fans should be ready for more, and they'll find it in Bionicle Heroes. It's the first first-person shooter to hit the DS since Metroid, and it's worthy of a place in every Samus Aran fan's library.
Books and comics, films and a LEGO brand toy line. All work together to tell Bionicle's tale, the story of the conflict between the heroic Toa and the villainous Makuta. The battle takes place on a tropical island called Voya Nui, and in Bionicle Heroes the plot finds the island's regular saviors captured and stripped of their masks. You step into the role of a nameless Matoran – a regular, humble villager – and are tasked with recovering the lost masks, saving the Toa heroes, and bringing down the Makuta once and for all.
This game is smooth. You'll notice right away that everything just flows well, as a constant, silky framerate renders each level without any sign of slowdown. You'll see it all through the eyes of your Matoran man, the classic first-person, gun-toting perspective your window to the island world. It's a world divided, broken into six different areas. Each of the six is ruled by a different boss character, and like the Mega Man games of old you select which of the six to challenge first. But unlike Mega Man, there's more than one level in each individual realm.
And also unlike Mega Man, you'll find on your first pass through each stage that some areas are initially inaccessible. You'll have to revisit early stages later, when you have more powers – powers you gain by gathering masks. The masks lost by the kidnapped Toa heroes can be found and recovered in several stages, and donning them unlocks new elemental weapons and abilities to interact with the environment.
You'll find one mask early on in each area. A second will be placed near the halfway point on your journey to the boss, and a third is found only after the region's final confrontation has been completed. Each succeeding acquisition of heroic headgear increases your arsenal, activating new and more powerful elemental guns. In the beginning, your only method of attack is the Zamor Sphere Launcher. Unlimited ammo, but its shots are weak. But as you recover the masks, you'll gain access to lightning rifles, plasma lasers, spreader guns and more. Each weapon is upgradeable, well designed and satisfying to wield against the Makuta and their minions.
The enemy design is solid. This is 3D on the DS, so you're not going to get a lot of polygons to work with – but Bionicle doesn't need them. This is an entertainment property with characters that are already angular, built from squares and hard-edged blocks. The translation works perfectly here, as LEGO-built scorpions and warriors leap from the shadows to try to break you apart into your component pieces. These bad guys aren't sitting ducks, either. If you try to hang back and play it safe, they'll transform into vehicle mode and charge you at high speed. The action can get intense.
You'll be able to keep a level head with mastery of the game's controls, which will be simple for veteran Metroid hunters. The control options here are essentially the same as Metroid offered, but aren't executed as well. Bionicle's touch screen recognition lacks the precision found in Metroid Prime: Hunters. Slow and meticulous sliding of the stylus is not handled well, which isn't a problem during fast action firefights but becomes an issue when you're trying to line up tight and accurate shots.
Getting a grip on the control means finding a comfortable solution for yourself, which may lead you to the same realization I made: the DS Lite has no thumbstrap. I, like many of you I'm sure, hadn't had any recent need for the original plastic nub that shipped with the first DS systems over two years ago. But Bionicle calls for its return. I cannibalized my original silver DS for its strap, attached it to my summer-purchased new white Lite, and haven't looked back. With the thumbstrap, the lack of slow-sliding accuracy in the touch control is less of an issue and the game becomes much more fun. Just don't let your hands cramp up with too-long sessions of play.
Bionicle Heroes lacks Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection support, meaning no gruesome LEGO carnage over the Internet. But local wireless support is here, requiring multiple game cards for up to four players at a time. There's no Download Play option, so you'll have to convince your friends to buy the game as well. It shouldn't be hard to persuade them, because Bionicle, overall, is very impressive. Its controls aren't perfect, but its graphics are smooth, its sound design is done well and it's just a lot of fun to play.
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