Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bionicle Coming to an End

You'd think that, thanks to the announcement that LEGO Atlantis 2010 kits were actually coming out November 24th, new sets would have been the biggest news in the LEGO world yesterday. You'd be wrong. There was Bionicle news big enough to outweigh the line of 6 new canisters on the shelves ("Stars" of the line being reissued in a different new form). Yesterday, the LEGO company announced the end of Bionicle.

Bionicle originally came out in 2001. 9 years is a pretty decent run - long enough to compete with many of the "classic" themes we keep saying LEGO should make more of instead of Bionicle (think about it this way - factions in "Space" only lasted from 12 years, 1987-1998. Pirates only came out in 1989 and was pretty much phased out by the late 1990's. No Wild West or underwater themes lasted more then a few years. For this generation, Bionicle and Town - er, "City", are the only two themes that have reliably been released year after year). Although much of the line was devoted to the all-original storyline and ways to build related action figures, there was a decent share of classic kits in the theme over the years. New, rare, and often exclusive parts and colors frequently popped up in Bionicle kits, and we'll continue finding new uses for those elements in the future. For now, though, I've decided to highlight some of my favorite Bionicle kits from these past 9 years.

8534 Tahu (2001)
: When the Bionicle line originally came out, there were just the 6 "good guys" - the Toa. At this point, they were expected to be yet another flash-in-the-pan action figure line. This wasn't the first time LEGO had tried to make Technic more appealing to kids by adding an action-figure style concept - the late 90's had brought "Tech Play" and "Cyberslam" (that's "Competition" for those of you in Europe), and we had also seen the "Robo-Riders" and "Throwbot"/"Slizer" lines come and go. The simple gearbox torso elements brought into the Bionicle line made these a bit more enjoyable as action figures (OK, fine, the storyline helped too), and also gave additional gearing and simple animation possibilities for those of us more technically inclined. The unusual characters - controversial back then for their use of Malaysian Māori words as names - turned out to be surprisingly popular, but in the end Tahu was everyone's favorite (the fire sword remains one of the "coolest" weapons we've seen, although I'm sure I could make a separate list of interesting weapons we've seen over the years). Pohatu also deserves a few points for being the only one in the original line to use the torso element upside-down (thus showing us how to control leg motion with gears instead of arm motion).

8557 Exo-Toa (2002): In the earlier years of the Bionicle range, the various accessories and factions were all Technic contraptions, usually capable of one or two simple actions - which, frankly, is reasonably respectable for a $10+ toy. Larger, more technically advanced baddies meant that the good guys had to grow in scale to match the threats against the Island of Mata Nui. In later years, we settled for simpler action figures that happened to be taller than the original line of Toa, but in 2002, this beautiful mecha/armor was the way that the smaller heroes could fight the bad guys. Rare and exclusive parts added to the cachet of the kit, but the play features are what made many of us who bought this for parts actually keep this one assembled. Strangely, though, only Tahu seems to completely fit inside this exosuit even though the Bionicle storyline claimed that all 6 Toa had similar armor.

8759 Battle of Metru Nui (2005)
: We all doubted the LEGO company's sanity when they announced that they'd be releasing "System" Bionicle kits. Sure, they'll be "juniorized", they'll have obnoxious fake "minifigs", etc. All those complaints turned out to be fair. These kits also included a number of rare or even exclusive elements, generous amounts of parts in rare colors, and some interesting features. Those of us who like dark red slopes for our town layouts tend to think of Cafe Corner as the first great LEGO kit in the world of dark red parts, but this kit came first and gave you a better variety of dark red parts for considerably less money.

8755 Keetongu (2005): After many of us had given up on Bionicle due to too many straight action-figure kits (gears became increasingly rare in the sets as the years wore on), LEGO gave us this delightful surprise. An incredible parts pack in the rare color of bright light orange, this set gave us an unusual physics lesson as a weapon. Yes, even without gears, Bionicle can still bring serious educational value! Spinning the axle in the middle of the weapon doesn't just engage the knob wheels, it also brings in conservation of angular momentum, which makes the entire weapon spin as a whole even while the knob wheels move the outer parts of the weapon. A review that shows the weapon can be seen on YouTube.

8941 Rockoh T3 (2008)
: I decided to try this set out on a whim, thinking that the dark green round Technic panels could come in handy sometime. I was incredibly surprised by how advanced a construction this wound up being - I still haven't finished figuring out how the unusual geometry lines up (to add to the fun, there's one place where things actually don't quite line up but a beam is "locked" into place by other beams nearby). We also got to see some great uses for knob wheels (I believe this is the only kit to feature them at an obtuse angle), and did I mention that this thing doubles as a giant handgun for Bionicle zamor spheres? Yes, a set can be interesting as a Technic kit, a geometric wonder, and still have play features most kids will love (oh, and this came with some sort of action figure character too).

The Rockoh T3 kit is still available from LEGO Shop at Home - I'm afraid the other sets here are no longer available. One of them (Tahu) will be available in a decidedly less interesting form in 2010, or at a LEGO Brand Retail store location near you in the United States, United Kingdom, or Germany.

An error in this article regarding the language controversy was corrected on September 18th, 2016. We regret the error.

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