IGN Review of Bionicle Heroes
Ever since the emergence of LEGO Star Wars last year, the bar for licensed titles has been raised substantially. Oddly enough, it comes from a game that shies away from complex visuals, and instead brings two-button gameplay, no voice acting, and almost no signs of a commonplace high-budget game. Instead, LEGO Star Wars embraces the idea that videogames have one true goal in order to rise in the ranks; they need to be fun. LEGO Star Wars changed many people's perception of what could be done with a license, and LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy secured that perception again this year with another killer showing.
Along comes developer Traveller's Tales again. This time the Star Wars license has been dropped, but the world of LEGO remains, as does many of the familiar elements to the previous games. Once again, the team showed that licensed games have a fighting chance in this insanely robust industry, as Bionicle Heroes managed to again tap the bar up just a little higher for everyone else in the business; at least it did, that is.
Rather than taking the same route with design as the popular LEGO Star Wars franchise, Bionicle is pushed in an entirely different direction. The game is entirely one player throughout, makes use of nearly every button on the controller, and takes inspiration not from classic quarter-jerking games like its predecessor, but in a fully robust and visually stimulating adventure game. The top-view camera has been dropped for a shoulder-mounted third-person perspective similar to Resident Evil 4 (though the main character is shoved almost entirely to the left side of the screen), and the game is swarming with bloom effects, motion blur, decent textures and surprisingly captivating scenery for a game geared towards the youngins.
The story for Bionicle Heroes focuses - obviously - around the LEGO Bionicle product line. As the toys themselves are geared towards the pre-teen/teen age range, the game follows suit. Players take control of a legendary hero - known as the TOA Inika - that is sent to obliterate a few thousand baddies. At the top of the food chain- an evil Bionicle that has stolen the legendary Mask of Life. Basically it all comes down to you as the player running through level after level, kicking the crap out of robo-villians and beating the beastly bosses at the end of each level. The game offers six different elemental areas to check out, each with multiple sub-levels to jump into. In the style of Mario 64 or Banjo Kazooie, the levels will actually open up in sections of the wall after the preceding level has been completed, allowing the Bionicle to literally dive into the next chunk of the world. From the main HUB of the game players can also partake in the age-old LEGO tradition of cashing in pieces as money, purchasing a ton of upgrades, secrets, and extra content goodies along the way. Not too shabby.
Where the game really shows Traveller's Tale's commitment to the product is in the main gameplay, which has players jumping into a world made up of the Resident Evil 4 perspective, and weapons inspired from the Unreal Tournament universe. Obviously those comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt, as each one is more or less a template for design, but it at least shows the strongly rooted gameplay - not to mention the ambition of the team - for Bionicle Heroes. Players will enter with one main armor mode that has a specific gun, and from there will find the Bionicle masks hidden throughout the level.
Each mask brings about different special abilities such as the power to lift objects a la the "force" in LEGO Star Wars (blue aura and all), the ability to walk up walls, or over bubbling lava and rushing water. The idea is that each mask is essentially a new character you can work with, switching on the fly between their weapon types, powers, and attributes while sharing the same main health. The combination works extremely well, letting players work as a one-man team by blasting enemies with a rocket launcher, changing quickly to the shotgun, and then sniping away at emerging foes from a distance with the ice-like sniper rifle. These masks (or mode types) can be switched to on the fly with the C button, and can be used even when previous mode types would still be reloading, making fast-switch gameplay a must when in hectic battles.
Though the game has an extremely strong-rooted core, there are still a few areas that could have been improved on to give the experience more of a user-friendly feel. For starters, the game uses an auto-target lock-on to determine who you're blasting at. Basically the player's line of sight is magnetized to the intended enemy, and once that baddie is blasted away it auto-locks to the next. While the player determines where he's looking - thus deciding who is locked on - the game can get a bit disorienting when the screen is flooded with enemies, as the lock-on won't always keep up with which character is truly the intended target.
Secondly, the auto-targeting only works at certain distances, so if enemies are too close or too far from the action the lock-on won't work. This isn't a huge problem when enemies are too far away, as most games have a certain distance cap as well, but it does become a problem when smaller creatures sneak in too close for the targeting to work. Oftentimes we had to pull away from a fight, turn around and re-orient ourselves, or simply ignore the character as they nipped at our ankles.
Bringing it to Wii
Unfortunately for the Wii version, one huge (and extremely defining) mistake was made. On the other console versions, players would control the view of the character with the right analog stick, giving line of sight to usher the auto-lock function in the general direction. Action was fast and simple, and the game seemed to know where you were aiming (at least for the most part). For Wii, there's no analog system, and while we were praying for IR cursor control - and got it, actually - the Wii controls in no way work to the game's advantage. The originals were all about auto-lock, but with IR there'd be the ability to actually point at targets. Instead, the IR is used only for camera control - almost as an on-screen analog stick - and rather than shoot where the cursor is, your character still only fires straight. What this means is that you'll be taking a ton of time to push the cursor to the edges of the screen just to turn your character, and actually have to steer over your targets until they line up in the middle of the screen. To make matters worse, the cursor turns the screen fastest when actually pushed entirely off the screen, so rather than having a more centralized IR control (taking place only in the middle of the screen), you'll literally be pushing the cursor from corner to corner of your screen just to move at the default speed. It's slow, and attempts to mimic a different control scheme rather than actually embracing Wii's potential advantages. If IR was incorporated, why on earth not have it actually be your cursor? It's truly baffling.
In fact, IR control is the single failing point in the game, as the original title has been kept entirely intact. The level design is especially strong not only in the main environments, but also in the boss battles. While we were worried that the initial appeal of fighting a larger, clunkier boss enemy would wear off in the opening chapters of the game we were soon ushered into more epic battles that focused on running up walls with the black Bionicle mask Nuparu, sniping from a distance with the white Bionicle mask Matoro, or powering up to use the all-powerful Hero mode to use gold LEGO blocks to your advantage. When in the main mode of the game Hero mode is used to open up new sections of a level once enough enemies have been blasted, allowing the gold fighter to use the familiar "force" power again to lift up gold blocks that form gigantic robots. These robots smash walls, create bridges, or simply get out of the way (if their mass of pieces were previously blocking a path), but in boss fights they are often used for offense as well, requiring the player to blast away at smaller enemies before powering up his gargantuan friend to lend a hand.
Visually speaking, the Wii version stands up to every other SKU nicely (aside from the HD look of 360), incorporating 480p and 16:9. There are a ton of strong visuals backed by motion blur and bloom lighting, and the overall game looks far too impressive to be geared towards the younger crowd to be totally honest. Even still, a ton of the visual effects cover up some more jaggy character models and more basic animation, and while the game is definitely beautiful in motion there's still a certain restrained feel to it all. The motion blur - something you'll either love or hate right off the bat - can be tweaked to the user's liking, something that non-A.D.D. players will want to do straight away. The game has a visually stimulating feel, so while it's sure to keep younger gamers entertained simply on a visual level some players may want to take breaks after an hour or so of straight play.
On the audio side, Bionicle brings a decently composed score spanning a ton of different genres. While it's cool to hear a more epic score followed by a guitar riff after jumping from one area to the next it's a bit on the generic side, though still above average for a licensed product. As for recorded VO, Bionicle goes without, focusing instead on the same pantomime cut-scenes as LEGO Star Wars has grown so famous for. Still, the sound effects and musical score hold their own nicely throughout the game, and even make use of surround sound nicely. There's room to grow on the audio level, but Bionicle Heroes is definitely a step in the right direction.
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