Reviewed: January 11, 2007
Released: November 14, 2006
When Nintendo’s DS first hit the market back in 2004, the units came packaged with nifty little demo for a handheld version of Nintendo’s first-person Metroid series titles Metroid Prime: Hunters. This surprisingly deep demo showcased a unique stylus-aiming control scheme, single player story and multiplayer deathmatch modes, and some of the best 3D graphics ever to be seen on a handheld.
Nintendo promised a speedy release for the final version of Hunters, but development delays pushed the title out nearly two years beyond the predicted release date. When we finally got our first crack at the retail version of Hunters in mid 2006, the reception was generally positive, especially with regard to the 3D graphics and the amazing WiFi multiplayer modes. Hunters may not have had the most engaging storyline, but the technological aspects alone proved to the world that first person shooting could be done – and done well – on a handheld.
So let’s cut to a half a year later to the present day; with the folks over at Lego and Traveler’s Tales still riding high on the wave of their immensely popular and astonishingly elegant Lego Star Wars titles, they release an assault of titles across all gaming platforms, this time based on the license of their popular Bionicle series of figurines.
And with this title, Bionicle Heroes, gamers received the same sloppy third-person shooting game regardless of what gaming console they use – except for the version intended for the Nintendo DS that is, which comes as a remarkably capable 3D first-person shooter that just so happens to be suspiciously similar to Nintendo’s Metroid Prime: Hunters. Believe me, we were not expecting this.
The Bionicle series follows the never-ending battle between the Toa (good) and the Makuta (bad) in a land called Voya Nui – and in Heroes, the Toa leaders have been captured by the Makuta. In an effort to free the Toa leaders, the gamer takes on the role of a common robot soldier who treks across the land of Voya Nui – blasting everything that gets in his way.
Along the way, our hero comes across a scattered series of Toa masks – each of which has the ability to reconfigure character attributes, powers, and weapons.
For those gamers who have already played Hunters on the DS, there is little explanation needed for the gameplay aspects of Bionicle Heroes, as it is a veritable carbon copy of Nintendo’s game. Everything from the level design, to the gameplay mechanics, to the space-age touch screen control scheme is nearly identical, and any Hunters expert should have no problem picking up and playing through Heroes.
For the uninitiated, the controls of Hunters and Heroes are a fairly simple translation of mouse-and-key controls onto the touch pad – basically, the D-pad (or face buttons for lefties) control the character’s movement (forward, back, strafe), while the stylus controls the character’s visual orientation (up, down, right, left). By combining these two inputs together, gamers can achieve a fairly fluid first person perspective –adding bumper-based weapons firing based on a centrally-located targeting reticule makes the whole thing very, very deadly.
Enemies range from toy-sized pests to giant bosses, and each shatters into the trademark Bionicle building blocks which can be collected to fund later character-building and weapons upgrades. The enemy models are very true to the lanky Bionicle designs, and look absolutely wonderful on the DS’s small screen.
Bionicle Heroes keeps a good clip on the action as the gamer traverses through the six different areas of Voya Nui in search of the imprisoned Toa leaders. Enemies appear at a fairly constant pace and their attack patterns are more intelligent than you would expect for a handheld game – we aren’t talking Rainbow Six quality AI mind you, but the AI does at least try to make evasive maneuvers.
Really, Heroes only falters in a few areas – the problem is, these few areas are important enough to make a significant impact on the gameplay.
The first issue has to do with the inconsistent sensitivity of the touchpad recognition – for some actions it is too sensitive, yet way too loose for others. And though there is an option to dial the sensitivity up or down to suit, trying to minimize one problem usually results in emphasizing another. For instance, if it bugs you that the game only allows you a slow 10:00 to 2:00 rotation with the stylus, you can add a dash or two of sensitivity to achieve an even faster 9:00 to 3:00 rotation – but in turn, the twitchy and off-center aiming becomes even more fidgety and imprecise. Metroid Prime: Hunters nailed the correct balance between speed and precision with the default setting, Bionicle Heroes’s controls come off as a step backward in comparison.
The second issue has to do with Bionicle Heroes’ lack of WiFi multiplayer, or even any wireless download play. With Metroid Prime: Hunters, gamers could take part in heated online matches wirelessly via the Internet, or a group of four friends could also play ad-hoc by downloading off of a single cartridge. Bionicle: Heroes lacks either of these features, with the only multiplayer option being multi-card ad-hoc play. Considering that Metroid Prime: Hunters sells for roughly $20 now, getting three other friends to drop the $30 it costs for Bionicle might be a difficult sell.
Bionicle Heroes looks awesome on the DS – even trumping Hunters in a number of locations. Sure, it’s nothing like we are seeing these days on the consoles, but for an old fogey like myself, having this quality of material in the palm of my hand is absolutely mind-blowing.
The game features both claustrophobic indoor corridors and beautiful outdoor vistas, and all are surprisingly detailed. The enemies are a bit blocky – but they are made of Lego building blocks, so more would you expect?
The quality of the sound might not be as amazing as the visuals, but they get the job done nonetheless. The weapons effects are a bit generic overall, but there is enough difference to maintain a sense of individuality amongst the weapons. The levels have decent enough ambiance, and the explosions are duly impressive.
The fact that the gameplay requires a lot of backtracking (another Metroid staple) adds a decent amount of replay value to the game – collecting certain masks in the main storyline unlocks new portions of completed levels that need to be explored to progress the game. While backtracking missions are generally thought of as a cheap way to extend gameplay, they do work well in Heroes.
Still, the biggest downfall with Heroes is the lack of the multiplayer options that Metroid Prime Hunters delivers readily at its new bargain bin pricing.
Fans of first person shooters can’t go wrong with Bionicle Heroes. Save for the missing multiplayer options, and the glitchy control, Heroes is right there in the ranks with Metroid Prime: Hunters. Those who are interested in multiplayer gaming might want to stick with Nintendo’s first-party offering, but those gamers who simply want a solid single-player experience are bound to have a ton of fun.