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First Look: BIONICLE For Game Boy Advance
Posted by Mark on September 12, 2003 at 12:30 AM CST:
From the opening menu, it is clear that BIONICLE™ for the Game Boy Advance has been given a great deal of thought and hard work. Three stone tokens float in space and just beg you to choose between them: Play, Options, and Password.

Selecting "Play" presents you with a short slide-show introducing you to the island, MAKUTA, and what you need to do. (Press and hold the "A" key if you want to speed up this presentation). Once that is over, it is on to the game.

Praise be to the designers, the game is not strictly linear — you can select any of the six TOA to start playing. Each of the TOA has to seek out and free captive MATORAN and collect lightstones within their own region. In addition to the physical obstacles to be overcome and the puzzles to be solved, they face RAHI and BOHROK determined to stop them along the way. Collect enough lightstones and you can open "the mysterious dark cages". Save enough MATORAN and they'll help construct a key (with your symbol upon it) for you to access an enemy lair.

Find success as a TOA and you get to do it all over again as a TOA NUVA, only bigger and better. That goes for the baddies as well, since the RAHKSHI now take the place of the BOHROK. Defeat the RAHKSHI and you are given a "secret character" (yeah, right — he's featured on the box!) with which to battle MAKUTA.

Options include setting the brightness level, setting the music level, and setting the sound effects level. The TOA here grunt when picking up rocks, moan when attacked, and die audibly as well. TAKUA talks to you too (in what must be his native tongue) whenever he pops up on screen. The music is an enjoyable backdrop to the action with a familiar BIONICLE-game sound.

Like many other GBA titles, BIONICLE offers you passwords at various levels in the game. You enter the password to resume play where you left off. This saves money in manufacturing the game, compared to offering you the opportunity to save your game on the cartridge (which I prefer as long as I have the option of deleting saved games).

The game screen is usually unencumbered, but indicators and message screens do pop up as needed. The above excerpt from the game manual shows a composite image of all of the various status indicators. TAKUA pops up at the beginning of each level and whenever he can add a useful hint.

The manual itself is mostly straightforward and to the point, but you will want to read it to learn each TOA's special abilities. There is a little exposition at the beginning about "the story so far" and the game itself. Each black-and-white page has a familiar TOA NUVA image in the background.

Controlling the TOA is a little difficult for the uninitiated, although seasoned gamers probably won't have any trouble. The isometric display makes me wish I could rotate my control pad 45 degrees clockwise. Because the "A" button is used both for blasts of elemental energy and for TOA-specific activities such as picking up rocks, breaking rocks, or digging through earth, it is necessary to get the timing just right to do what you want. The "B" button is used for jumping, double-jumping (for the more lively TOA), and also for gliding (as LEWA/LEWA NUVA). A nice touch, the "R" button lets you scroll the display around and look for danger without moving your TOA.

The graphics are quite advanced here. Although the TOA are quite tiny on the screen, you can easily make out just exactly what they are doing at all times. And they are usually doing quite a bit, since most jumps are accompanied by acrobatic twists and somersaults that have to be seen to be fully appreciated.

The shadows are a little cheesy, but at least there are shadows. There are many places where your TOA has to go behind something, and this is handled quite well so you know where you are and what you are doing at all times. You never know where a MATORAN might be hiding, so do go look behind things for them.

My only complaint is the disconnected nature of the individual screens on each level. As you move from one area to another, the screen blanks and the new area pops on screen rather than a smooth scroll. Most places where you can't go down-left or down-right, the graphics look as though the floor and everything else has just been ripped away. You get the feeling you are in a series of rooms rather than the vast expanses of Mata Nui.

Overall, the gameplay appears to be quite fun — challenging without being impossible. All in all, a very pleasant package and perhaps the best BIONICLE game for the Game Boy Advance yet.

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