8 November 2014

BIONICLE 2015: new parts

Regardless of how you feel about the LEGO® Group's constraction themes there's no denying the appeal and success of BIONICLE, which ran from 2001-2010. To mark its return we have a series of articles from mega-fan Scott Barnick (Aanchir). Today is the first of two parts that share the exclusive insight he recently gained into the new elements coming in 2015, and explains LEGO's interesting Character and Creature Building System.

It’s easy to overlook in certain corners of the online LEGO community, but lately there has been a LOT of hubbub surrounding the impending return of one of my all-time favorite LEGO themes: BIONICLE. The new LEGO BIONICLE theme is a reboot of the classic storyline, so many things have been changed, but some of the theme’s most timeless story elements and design principles have been retained or re-imagined for a new generation of fans.

So far, thirteen BIONICLE sets have been announced for release in January 2015. These include six Protectors (village leaders in the new BIONICLE storyline) at a $9.99 USD price point, six Toa (the heroes of the BIONICLE universe) divided between $14.99 and $19.99 USD price points, and the Lord of Skull Spiders at a $14.99 USD price point. A full press release can be found at the Brickjournal website.

I was lucky enough to win two invitations to New York Comic Con (one for myself, one for my twin brother Andrew) from a raffle on Eurobricks. The invitations included not only one-day admission to the show itself, where LEGO had set up a beautiful booth promoting the new BIONICLE sets and story, but also admission to two special invite-only events. The first of these was the LEGO BIONICLE panel at 1:00pm, at which the theme’s creative director, art director, marketing director, and U.S. brand manager talked about the process of creating the sets and media for the new theme and showed off some of the sets. Those wanting to see this panel in video form can see it here on BZPower (slight language warning), and those just wanting to see the presentation slides in clearer image form can see them here on the LEGO BIONICLE Facebook page.

As amazing as this was for a die-hard BIONICLE fan like me, it was just an appetizer. The main course came at the second event, which was held at the new LEGO store in the Flatiron District (which didn’t officially open until the next day). Upon entering the store, not only were the sets and 14-karat gold masks shown at the panel on display, but the bins that LEGO stores normally fill with basic System and Duplo bricks for kids to play with were instead filled with parts from the six new Toa sets. For an hour and a half (an hour, in my case, since I arrived late despite my best efforts), we were free to play with the parts to our heart’s content. To top things off, we were able to keep whatever we built! Andrew and I came home with two custom BIONICLE heroes containing a bounty of new and rare elements.


This presents me with a unique opportunity to review some of next year’s BIONICLE elements, over two months before they are officially released! In this first post, I’ll go over some of the basics of the constraction category, since it is a bit different from traditional LEGO building, and the Character and Creature Building System (CCBS) which all constraction sets since the start of 2011 have used as their foundation. I’ll also describe some of the play features that set these new sets apart from previous CCBS-based sets.

CCBS


The CCBS belongs to the Technic category, which it shares with traditional Technic and Mindstorms bricks. The CCBS is optimized for action figure building, using the Ø10.2mm Technic ball as its core connection method. In the most basic type of CCBS creation, beam pieces are connected together using balls and C-shaped ball cups, which provide plenty of friction and a wide range of movement. Shell pieces that provide shaping and volume are then attached to the balls at the end or center of a beam using a ball snap on the back. Finally, detail pieces that provide additional volume or more detailed decoration are attached to the shells with Ø3.2mm bars (the same type of bar that can fit into a hollow stud or the hand of a minifigure).

You can see this basic building process (and a range of basic CCBS elements) illustrated in this image from the creative portfolio of one of its inventors, Christoph Röttjer. This 26-piece creation is just the bare minimum for a CCBS creation, though. Most sets additionally use Technic pins and beams to add functions, create additional connection points for armor shells, or enhance their armor shells. This is possible since most of the larger CCBS beams include plenty of Technic pinholes. The new BIONICLE sets take full advantage of this.

New parts


The biggest thing separating the new BIONICLE sets from previous sets based on the CCBS is that gear functions, a staple of the classic BIONICLE sets of 2001–2005, have returned in a big way. Just as in the original Toa sets from 2001, spinning the gear on the back of one of the new Toa makes them swing one or both of their arms. The LEGO designers call this function a “battle arm” on the new sets. Rather than using a chunky, specialized gearbox, though, the new Toa sets use this slender Dark Stone Grey [TLG]/Dark Bluish Gray [BL] 5x6x2 beam (Design ID 19086). It would not be surprising to see this part show up in basic Technic sets as well due to its simple form factor.

The functions of most of the sets use knob gears (Design ID 32072) to drive the arm movement, but basic 8-tooth gears (Design ID 10928) are also used for many of the sets to add friction so the figures will still be able to hold poses where the arms are raised. The entire construction is then snapped to the back of a basic 7x9 or 9x9 CCBS torso beam. You can see a typical example of how the new gear function is constructed here. Thanks to the ball with through hole (Design ID 53585), which was introduced in 2006 for the original BIONICLE theme, and the 4M cross axle with end stop (Design ID 87083), which was not introduced until the old BIONICLE theme’s final year, the shoulders are extremely secure and still have full articulation and plenty of connection points for additional armor.

The smoothness of CCBS shells has been off-putting for some old-school BIONICLE fans because it is a far cry from classic BIONICLE’s design language, in which nearly every centimeter of the heroes was covered in intricately molded mechanical details such as bolts, vents, and pistons. The designers have taken steps to modernize this design language by introducing a new armor detail piece (Design ID 19087) featuring two pistons, a circular bolt, and an accordion joint connecting three armor plates. The part will be available in Warm Gold [TLG]/Pearl Gold [BL], Silver Metallic [TLG]/Flat Silver [BL], and White in various sets.

This part is consistent with the smooth, clean look of the CCBS, but also adds the BIONICLE theme’s characteristic mechanical detail. What’s more, by using this part somewhat sparingly, it helps give emphasis to certain parts of the model, instead of devolving into high-detail clutter that competes for the viewer’s attention as classic BIONICLE parts sometimes tended to do. The part is not custom-tailored to any one part of a model — the various Toa use it on their arms, legs, and shoulders, while many of the smaller Protectors use it to armor their torsos.

To add even further detail, the graphic designers have given each Toa’s chest plate a printed pattern (stickered, in Onua’s case) with motifs such as silver vents, brightly colored paint stripes, and colorful metallic zigzags. The overall design feels both very tribal and very mechanical, which suits the conceptual dichotomy of the BIONICLE universe. I especially like the chest pattern from Kopaka Master of Ice, which uses a metallic blue ink for the zigzags. This ink color first appeared in the 2012 Ninjago sets, and I always find it extremely enticing, even though it does not correspond to any plastic colors on the current LEGO color palette.

Recolors


There are also lots of recolors of existing CCBS parts in the new BIONICLE sets. My brother and I weren’t able to pick up every new recolor at the LEGO store event, but I was able to put together images of them on LEGO Digital Designer.

In terms of beams, Pohatu Master of Stone and the Protector of Stone introduce 5M “A” beams (Design ID 90609) in Transparent Fluorescent Green [TLG]/Trans-Neon Green [BL]. Onua Master of Earth and the Protector of Earth also introduce 5M “B” beams (Design ID 90617) in Transparent Bright Bluish Violet [TLG]/Trans-Purple [BL]. These are the first Tr. Bright Bluish Violet parts in ANY constraction set!

Gali Master of Water, Kopaka Master of Ice, and the Protectors of Water and Ice all use Transparent Light Blue [TLG]/Trans-Light Blue [BL] beams, and technically speaking none of them are new — they all came out this year. However, the Transparent Light Blue 5M and 7M “A” beams (Design IDs 90609 and 90607) will still be new to many American buyers, since this year’s Legends of Chima constraction sets (which introduced those parts) were not released in North America. Finally, the Protector of Jungle introduces 4M “A” beams (Design ID 90611) in Flame Yellowish Orange [TLG]/Bright Light Orange [BL].

On to shells! 4M shells (Design ID 14533) are used in Lewa Master of Jungle in Bright Green, in Lewa and the Protector of Jungle in Flame Yellowish Orange, in Pohatu and the Protector of Stone in Dark Orange, and in Onua in Medium Lilac [TLG]/Dark Purple [BL]. Meanwhile, Gali’s 5M shells (Design ID 90639) are the very first constraction parts in Dark Azur [TLG]/Dark Azure [BL]. All of these colors are beautiful, and fairly rare in previous constraction sets, though some fans of classic BIONICLE have had mixed feelings about them since they’re a departure from these characters’ classic color schemes. Dark Orange was used in classic BIONICLE in a handful of sets from 2001 and 2003, and Flame Yellowish Orange was used much more frequently in sets released from 2005 to 2010.

Some larger shells with more elaborate shapes also appear in new colors in these sets. Lewa uses a 5x8 torso shell (Design ID 90652) in Bright Green, Tahu Master of Fire features three 5x8 torso shells in Bright Red, Kopaka uses two 4x6 shells (Design ID 90650) in White, and Onua features a 4x6 shell in Silver Metallic and a giant chest plate (Design ID 98604) in Black. Kopaka’s 4x6 shells and Onua’s giant chest plate are both stickered in the final set (the only stickers in the new BIONICLE lineup), but of course builders get to decide for themselves whether or not they want to apply those stickers. The parts are probably a lot more versatile without them, but I feel like the ornate metallic details really do enhance the sets themselves.

In terms of hands and feet, three of the Protectors (Jungle, Stone, and Ice) have 3x5x2 creature feet (Design ID 15976) in Silver Metallic for the first time. This is a very useful piece with two handles that allow you to attach articulated toes. Lewa also uses Silver Metallic talons (Design ID 15362) as armor on his shoulders and lower back. Kopaka and the Protector of Ice have 2x3x2 hands (Design ID 93575) in Transparent Light Blue, and the Protector of Fire has them in Transparent Fluorescent Reddish-Orange [TLG]/Trans-Neon Orange [BL]. But like the Transparent Light Blue beams mentioned above, both of these hand colors have already been available outside of North America in the Legends of Chima constraction sets for a few months.


Finally we come to recolored detail elements. The basic chest plate used for most of the Toa, (Design ID 98603), originally introduced in the LEGO Super Heroes constraction sets from 2012, appears in three new colors: Silver Metallic in the Lewa set, Warm Gold in the Tahu and Kopaka sets, and Dark Orange in the Pohatu set. Of course, this part is printed in all of these examples, so that may somewhat limit its versatility, especially in non-BIONICLE creations. Gali’s Titanium Metallic [TLG]/Dark Grey Metallic [BL] chest plate is not a recolor, but like the others, it features a new decoration. Finally, the Protector of Earth also features a rocky detail piece (Design ID 11268) that first appeared in the 2013 Hero Factory sets, but now appears in Silver Metallic for the first time.

Stay tuned for part two of this report, in which I will be discussing some of the new BIONICLE theme’s most distinctive elements — the Toa’s elemental weapons and Masks of Power, and the enemies they will be facing on their new quest.



BIONICLE will be released in January 2015 with 13 sets priced between $14.99 and $19.99 USD.

3 comments:

  1. Nice review, as usual. It is interesting to see metallic highlights on the chest pieces... Are they shiny like other chrome Lego elements or more of a duller shade?

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    1. They're about as shiny as metallic printing on LEGO minifigures usually is. I wouldn't say as shiny as chrome parts — you can't see your reflection in them or anything — but about as metallic as the colors Bricklink calls "metallic silver" and "metallic gold".

      The Razar turnaround on www.minifiguniverse.com showcases this pretty well: http://www.minifiguniverse.com/minifig/gd0ic6hdjasjdF/Razar-Light-Armor---Flat-Silver His beak has metallic silver printing and his faceplate has metallic red printing. And you can see lots of Metallic Gold printing on their turnaround of the Lagravis minifigure: http://www.minifiguniverse.com/minifig/gd0ic6hdiciejeZ/Lagravis-Heavy-Armor---Pearl-Gold-and-Cape

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  2. I have always enjoyed mixing system with a little bionicle/ CCBS so I found this particularly interesting, especially the background information. Thanks for the great article.

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