As you all probably know by now, I like a good story. I think a major part of my interest in stories comes from the toys I used to play with when I was a kid. Few toy lines have had stories as involved or lore as deep as the Bionicle franchise. The nine-year tale of good versus evil spanned books, movies, online stories, Flash animations, a Netflix show, and of course, games. It’s the games that I wanted to focus on for this article, because the games let you be part of the world more than any of the other Bionicle media properties, but I wanted to list some of them to give you an impression of just how far this franchise reached beyond just the toys. I won’t be talking about literally all of the games in this article, partially because it would be a very long article, but also because I wanted to focus on the ones I remember playing when I was younger. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to write a bunch of small reviews for the Bionicle games I can remember playing and seeing what I can learn about the franchise from them.
I also want to send a thank you to Biomedia Project and BIONICLEsector01. They were vital resources in putting together these mini-reviews and refreshing my memory on these games. They’re wonderfully comprehensive resources for anyone looking for any and all Bionicle media that has ever been released. Their dedication to preserving all of it a lot better than LEGO ever did is astounding.
But one more thing before we start. The lore for Bionicle is deep, with a lot of capitalized proper nouns that mean very specific things in the world. As such, I’m going to list a number of them here so that you, the reader, who might be seeing these terms for the first time, aren’t totally lost.
Mata Nui: An island that is the setting for the first few arcs of the Bionicle storyline. It was named after the giant space exploring robot that is revered as a god to the Matoran.
Metru Nui: A massive city that is located directly below Mata Nui.
Toa: The heroes of the stories. There are many different iterations of Toa, mostly in teams of six, with one member each representing the elements of fire, water, earth, stone, air, and ice.
Matoran: The ordinary citizens of the Bionicle world. They usually live in villages or cities representing each of the elements which are protected by their corresponding Toa. Originally called “Tohunga” until a lawsuit from the understandably upset Māori people for appropriating their language.
Turaga: The leaders of the Matoran communities. They’re frequently former Toa who gave up their powers. This is the case for the Turaga of Mata Nui, who are the former Toa of Metru Nui.
Rahi: The endemic life of the Bionicle world. This refers to anything from small insects to large mammals.
Makuta: One of the main recurring antagonists of the story. It is later revealed that it is also the name for an entire species of evil creatures, and that the one we had mostly seen was actually named Teridax. This was also confusing to us as fans at the time, don’t worry.
The Maze of Shadows: The tunnel network connecting the island of Mata Nui to the city of Metru Nui.
With those terms covered, let’s talk about the games.
Quest For The Toa
This is the first ever retail game released in the Bionicle franchise and it is also a prequel to the first storyline of the main canon, and directly leads into the first Mata Nui Online Game. It follows a Matoran, named Takua, as he travels around the island of Mata Nui rescuing the Turaga from infected Rahi and collecting the six Toa stones to awaken the Toa so they can begin to fulfill their destiny of defeating Makuta and awakening the Great Spirit Mata Nui. As far as I’ve been able to tell, this is Takua’s first adventure in the Bionicle universe, and doesn’t contradict the official story in any way, so this is a good start for people looking for an introduction to the world and story of Bionicle. It’s also a fun time to play through. It’s an isometric action adventure game with a lot of exploration, a decent amount of combat, and some light puzzle solving. It also has some really fun minigames in it, with Haui Snowball Sling being a personal favorite of mine. The gameplay sees you running around Mata Nui, solving problems for other Matoran, avoiding or fighting Rahi, and solving environmental puzzles to complete your quest. It’s a bit finicky to play, especially because the GBA has a D-Pad, meaning you have to be very specific with lining up jumps or shots at enemies, but thankfully the hitboxes on the enemies are fairly generous to compensate. I did find myself failing a lot of jumps, which occasionally made it a frustrating experience. But there’s enough good in this game, with its decent amount of variety and lush environments to keep you going. I recommend it if you can track down a copy.
Not going to lie, I didn’t like this one very much. It’s a pretty standard platformer that commits one of the biggest sins in platform game design: falling damage. Other than that, I didn’t find it particularly fun to play. The platforming feels sticky, the camera jumps around wildly whenever you either jump or fall, and it’s not pulled back far enough to see most of the platforms you need to jump onto coming. It also has a lives system, forcing you to start from the beginning once you run out. I’m not as annoyed at that as I am the falling damage, as lives systems were still fairly common in games back when this game came out in 2003. But combining the lives system with the imprecise controls makes for a frustrating gameplay experience that I unfortunately can’t really recommend. The story is pretty bare-bones as well. It takes place during the Bohrok War arc of 2002-2003 as you play as Matoran Kongu, who has to avoid the Bohrok while accomplishing tasks around the island and eventually defeating the queens of the Bohrok swarm as a final boss to the game. Once you’ve beaten the game and collected all of the mask pieces in each level, you have the option of playing through it again as five other Matoran. But I didn’t have a lot of fun playing through the game the first time, so I didn’t really feel the need to do it five more times. As an artifact of Bionicle’s history, it’s an interesting enough example of a franchise still trying some different things to see what works, but I didn’t find it a fun enough game to spend a lot of time on. Its story also directly contradicts events from the Bionicle canon, so it’s not a very good introduction to the franchise’s lore.
Maze of Shadows
This is probably the most interesting game of the retail releases. Set after the Toa of Metru Nui defeat Makuta by trapping him in a prison of solid Protodermis, they find themselves in the Maze of Shadows on Mata Nui, trying to find a way back to their home to awaken the Matoran. They must also accomplish an important task for the plant monster Karzahni so it can heal their teammate Nokama of her poison. The gameplay is a fairly standard turn-based RPG where you control all six Toa of Metru Nui as they navigate the Maze of Shadows, switching between them to use their powers for traversal and fighting monsters. For instance, Vakama can use his mask to become invisible and Nokama can translate ancient writing to find solutions to puzzles. The most interesting thing about this game is its emphasis on resource management. Your attacks are based on disks with special attributes that you find in the environment and the Toa’s elemental and mask powers, but they have a limited number of uses. To restock uses, you have to find special roots in the environment. It’s an interesting approach to RPG design which forces you to really think strategically about which attacks to use and when. That being said, I didn’t actually enjoy this aspect of the game very much. It’s too similar to weapon degradation, which is one of my all-time least favorite mechanics. Other than that you do random battles to gain XP and learn new attacks and solve environmental puzzles using the Toa’s unique powers to progress in the story. You’ll find yourself fighting Rahi, Bohrok, Rahkshi, and more as you make your way through the maze. There’s enough variety in the enemies to keep the combat interesting, and it looks great for a GBA game. There’s a lot to like about this game, especially for fans of Bionicle lore, if you can get over the resource management aspect.
I played the Xbox 360 version of this game, and I had an absolute blast. I must have played it at least three times all the way through. It’s a rollicking good time if you’re looking for something easy to tear through over a weekend. You play as the Toa Inika as they fight their way through Voya Nui and try to stop the Piraka’s plan to use the Mask of Life to turn all of the wildlife on the island into aggressive monsters. It wasn’t an amazingly good game by any stretch of the imagination, but I had a lot of fun with it. It was a third-person shooter developed by Traveller’s Tales, and had a number of hallmarks of their design, like environmental objects made out of LEGO pieces. You were also constantly picking up LEGO studs to fill up your Hero Meter and enter Hero Mode to gain invincibility and a boost to your offensive power, but also to spend in the upgrades shop to buy better gear for your Toa. It was a simple gameplay loop but it was fun enough to play through, if a bit easy. It also had a surprisingly good soundtrack, with the Hero Mode theme being a standout that I never got tired of despite hearing it numerous times throughout the game. I also really liked the Piraka Playground, where you could see defeated Piraka wandering around and interacting with objects you place there. It was some good levity in an otherwise relatively serious game. If I had to level one criticism, it’s that the story is very basic and not amazingly interesting, but it was simple enough to hold the game together.
Mata Nui Online Game
This may have been the first point-and-click adventure I’ve ever played. I have fond memories of playing this all the way back in 2001. It was a first-person adventure game that saw you exploring the island of Mata Nui as Takua the Chronicler and trying to gather the Toa Mata and solve the mystery of the infected Kanohi masks. It was a little buggy, and the visuals haven’t held up super well, but it’s 19 years old now so I’m not going to hold that against it. It’s a simple game of talking to Matoran, doing basic inventory puzzles, and the occasional minigame. But the absolute standout was the atmosphere that the game created with its music and visuals. The franchise was still new when I played this game, so exploring the island really felt like I was discovering the mysteries of a strange land. As an introduction to the franchise, I found it to be an excellent time. It’s not always clear where you have to go next, so I recommend using a walkthrough when you get stuck. But if you can look past some of the nitpicks that come with its age, this Myst-lite adventure set in the early days of the Bionicle universe can be a great time.
Mata Nui Online Game 2
The sequel to the previous game saw significant upgrades and some light RPG elements. With Takua having become a Toa, a Matoran named Hahli has taken up the mantle of Chronicler and must travel across the island of Mata Nui to collect charms representing the Matoran Principles, Kohli skills, and the Three Virtues. On top of this, she had to help out locals in all of the different villages she comes across and train for the island-wide Kohli championships. This one is a lot less focused than the first one. You often find yourself doing fairly menial tasks for the local populace before you can progress in the story, but I didn’t mind that so much because it made the world feel more realistic. You can’t be saving the world all the time, and sometimes people just need help retrieving some items or something. This one was also a lot harder, as I frequently found myself getting lost or losing the Kohli matches if I hadn’t extensively prepared for them. Many fans find the one in Onu-Koro to be particularly challenging, often recommending editing your save file to boost your stats artificially to not have to grind. In general, I recommend using a walkthrough for this game, as it is pretty expansive in scope and there’s a lot you could miss if you go into it blindly. But it’s another great time that gets you very familiar with the world of early Bionicle, so if you want to learn a lot about that world, I highly recommend this one.
Voya Nui Online Game
This one is a curious one. Based on the title, one would perhaps expect it to be another point-and-click adventure like the previous two games, but it is in fact an isometric tactical RPG. I think this is my favorite of the three online games I covered here, simply because of the highly engaging Fire Emblem-style combat. Similarly to Bionicle Heroes, you play as one of the Toa Inika as they explore the island of Voya Nui and try to stop the Piraka from controlling the Matoran population of the island with their Antidermis. This is the most conventionally fun of the three online games, as it most resembles a retail game in terms of polish and gameplay. The isometric tactical combat keeps you on your toes and forces you to really think about your future turns. The story was also an absolute blast. Exploring the island was admittedly a bit slow but fun enough, and the Piraka are appropriately sinister and entertaining villains. Do be aware that some aspects of the story have been declared non-canon by the writers of the official Bionicle lore, so if you’re really invested in the grander story you might occasionally be confused by some aspects of the plot that don’t line up with the rest of the stories. But it’s a very good time that I would highly recommend giving a go.
So what have I learned from reviewing all seven of these games? I obviously didn’t get to every Bionicle game that was ever made. Bionicle The Game and The Legend of Mata Nui are some pretty major omissions from this list, but I never played Bionicle The Game growing up, and The Legend of Mata Nui only really became playable last year. But I still learned a lot. Many of the games were made fairly early into the franchise’s life, when it was arguably at its peak. LEGO had a lot of faith in Bionicle for a good nine years, as it gave them high sales numbers and massive fan engagement. But the biggest thing I learned from researching and replaying these games is the sheer dedication to an essentially dead franchise that still exists to this day. Multiple large fansites, like BIONICLEsector01, Biomedia Project, and Bionicle: Wall of History are still out there keeping the lore and story alive and accessible for anyone to read and experience. Sure, the toys were a big part of the love for this franchise, but I honestly believe it was the compelling and deep stories that kept people coming back for the nine years it ran for. Lastly, I relearned my own personal love for Bionicle. It was a massive part of a lot of my childhood, and while I did lose interest somewhere around 2008, I still had a lot of good times with it. I only hope I’ve managed to do the same for other people out there. The Bionicle fandom is still strong in its own corners of the internet, with people regularly updating wikis with new information and even finishing an unfinished beta of The Legend of Mata Nui and making it available for anyone to play. I haven’t seen this level of dedicated non-toxic love for a property in a long time, and doing the research for this article gave me the warm fuzzies because of it. So go out and read some Bionicle stories if you’re interested. The Wall of History is an excellent place to start.