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PS2 Review - 'Bionicle'

by The Cookie Snatcher on Jan. 23, 2004 @ 1:14 a.m. PST

Playing as the Toa, Toa Nuva and finally the 7th Toa, you must explore the six elementally-themed regions of Mata Nui - a tropical paradise of high mountains, great lakes and mighty volcanoes – rescue the scattered Matoran and break the spell of darkness sent by the evil Makuta. Read more for the full review ...

Genre: 3D Platformer
Publisher: Lego/EA
Developer: Argonaut
Release Date: October 20, 2003

Lego's Bionicle franchise has been gaining momentum since its original debut early last year. So much so that it has spawned a hugely popular line of action figures, a straight-to-video animated Disney movie, and scads of random merchandise that is being bought up faster than Lego can manufacture them. So it was only a matter of time before a Bionicle videogame came down the pipes and it is only inevitable that the same hordes of bloodthirsty children who convinced their moms to spend hundreds of dollars on the Bionicle franchise to begin with will snatch this game up faster than you can say 20% APR. Unfortunately, we fear that even the most diehard fan of the source material will come away from this game severely disappointed, due in no small part to one of the worst camera systems to taint a simplistic 3D running and jumping game in recent memory.

The developer of Bionicle, Argonaut, has really made quite the train wreck out of this much beloved toy franchise. Once respected for creating the excellent Super Nintendo game Starfox back in 1993, Argonaut now finds itself churning out quickly-made cash-in titles that are aimed not towards gamers but at a desperately susceptible demographic that is far too obsessed with the toy to not buy the game. But this review isn't meant to criticize the developer, just the game that they've created. With that said, Bionicle is an atrocious mess that manages to forsake all the appeal of the franchise while introducing a host of annoying issues that even the younger fans, for which this game was so obviously made, will have no problem recognizing as crap. The structure of the game is derivative, the design uninspired, and players will find it easier to harness the infinite intricacies of space and time than they will comfortably controlling their onscreen character. To add insult to injury, Bionicle only offers one or two unfulfilling hours of gameplay before the experience is mercifully over.

The story in Bionicle is surprisingly fleshed out considering how little thought seemed to go into the rest of the experience. Everything from ancient prophecies to ambivalent spiritual chaos plays a role in the convoluted plot of the game. Bionicle is set on the island of Mata Nui, a robot paradise where the Matoron tribe live peacefully under the protection of six elemental guardians. These guardians, the Tahu, Kopaka, Pohatu, Onua, Lewa, and Gali Nuva make up the powerful force known as the Toa. As interesting as this collection of obscure variables may be, the story just wouldn't be complete without some swarming evil force that threatens to destroy the island's tranquility. This evil force is a spirit called Makuta. Makuta has summoned hordes of robot wasps called the Bohrok and the Bohrok-Kal to demolish everything on Mata Nui. By controlling each of the six elemental guardians, you'll attempt to put an end to Makuta's evil ways and make the island safe for the robot inhabitants once again.

We won't pretend to understand the various nuances of Bionicle's plot, but we will say that the game basically boils down to controlling six unique robots that battle evil robots in an environment very much akin to current day Hawaii. There are a few interesting gameplay dynamics at work here that would have enhanced the experience considerably if not for the title's severe lack of focus and originality. For instance, each of the six guardians that you play as have the ability to draw power for their weapons by siphoning light and dark elemental energy from enemies or their surroundings. Hitting the square button summons a shield that can consume and transform enemy energy blasts. This makes constant dodging unnecessary since you can simply stand in the line of fire and consume enemy attacks. And it's a good thing, too, because moving your character around will inevitably result in an absurdly skewed camera perspective that prohibits the player from seeing anything but their own poorly rendered mug.

The game's inclusion of an overly forgiving auto-aiming system helps to somewhat offset the fact that you rarely get to see the enemies you're shooting at, but since most explosions occur off-screen, little satisfaction is involved. Does an enemy blow up if no one is around to see it? Apparently, yes. Even the boss battles are quickly relegated to alternating between the shield and fire button until they are presumed dead, at which point you can swing the camera around with the R analog stick to confirm your success. And, yes, you can rotate the camera at will, but the heated pace of firefights makes doing so impossible without dying.

There are plenty of platforming obstacles to be found in Bionicle, but do I really need to tell you how frustrating platforms can be when they're in a game with a camera system that simply refuses to let you seem them? And there are occasional puzzle solving sequences that involve switches and doors, but this hasn't been a beneficial gameplay element since the archaic days of Doom. Nevertheless, each guardian you control does come with its own unique abilities; Tahu can surf on streams of lava, Gali can swim, Kopaka can snowboard, etc. The snowboarding sequences are kind of neat, as camera issues are not present and interaction is minimal, but finding fun in Bionicle is akin to finding entertainment in a root canal.

Bionicle doesn't look that great, either. The character animations are smooth, but the actual models used are far from impressive. The various environments you'll find yourself in are generic and derivative, serving only as a boring backdrop to an already unbearably bad gameplay system. The sound presentation is no better, featuring antiquated sounding musical tracks that hearken back to the days of 8-bit gaming. Voice acting is barely tolerable, and the sound effects feel ripped right out of every other 3D platformer we've ever played. It's clear from Bionicle's thoughtless technical design that Argonaut was looking to achieve one thing with the game; to quickly cash in on a as-of-now popular franchise.

In that respect they may have succeeded, but there is little that they or anyone can do to prevent cautionary reviews such as this one from surfacing. If your kids or younger relatives are already in love with the Bionicle franchise, then there isn't a lot that can be done to prevent them from wasting their parent's money on this game. But those who have yet to be ensnared should have the foresight and common sense to avoid this title by any means necessary.

Score: 4.3/10

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