15 November 2014

BIONICLE 2015: masks & weapons

Posted by Admin

Continuing our fiesta of constraction, Scott Barnick (Aanchir) furthers his examination of new BIONICLE parts by discussing the Toa’s weapons, masks, and a little bit about the enemies they’ll be facing in 2015.

As creative director Cerim Manovi said at the BIONICLE panel at New York Comic Con, “A Toa without weapons is not a Toa”. BIONICLE has always featured lots of ornate mechanical weaponry, and this year’s sets are no different. Also, taking cues from the weapons of the Toa Nuva sets from 2002 and some of the Toa sets from 2004, most of the characters’ weapons perform a dual function, which sometimes involves combining two weapons into one or separating one weapon into two. Typically, one of these modes will be combat-oriented and another movement-oriented. In the new sets, the designers call these “battle mode” and “adrenalin mode”.

As an example, these blade pieces (Design ID 19992) are used in Tahu Master of Fire in Silver Metallic [TLG]/Flat Silver [BL] and in Kopaka Master of Ice in White. In battle mode, Tahu’s elemental fire blades are separate and held in his hands like swords, and Kopaka’s blades are combined into a large frost shield. To switch into adrenalin mode, Tahu combines his two blades into a lava surfboard (the blades’ scalloped edges are designed to interlock perfectly), while Kopaka separates his shield into two avalanche skis. The designers took care to ensure that even in adrenalin mode, the characters are armed, so Tahu has two smaller swords mounted on his back, which can be moved to his hands, and Kopaka has an ice spear that I reckon also serves as a ski pole.

These axe pieces (Design ID 19089) are used in Lewa Master of Jungle in Titanium Metallic [TLG]/Pearl Dark Gray [BL] and in Gali Master of Water in Silver Metallic. In battle mode, Gali uses them at the end of her elemental trident (I’m using the official names here, but it’s really more of a double-bladed axe) and Lewa uses them on a pair of battle-axes. To switch into adrenalin mode, Lewa’s axe blades snap to his forearms to become his X-Glider, while the handles become a pair of swords. Gali switches to adrenalin mode by snapping her trident’s blades to her feet as shark fins, while the handle becomes a power harpoon.

These wing-shaped pieces (Design ID 19090) are used exclusively in Titanium Metallic for Pohatu Master of Stone, who uses four of them. Connecting them in the center with a Technic friction pin, they become a pair of Stormerangs for battle mode. By using the same pin to attach them to his feet, they become a pair of Jeterangs for adrenalin mode (you are welcome to laugh at the absurdity of the names).

Oddly, in the set’s official photos, neither mode makes use of an interesting function built into the piece: the friction pin acts as a hinge, allowing it 180 degrees of rotation (from fully closed to fully opened). All the official pics show them at the same 135° angle.

When riding the Jeterangs, Pohatu wields a small Silver Metallic dagger (Design ID 44817) that he carries on his back. If that design ID seems out of place, the reason is that this is not a new part — it is actually a classic BIONICLE weapon design from 2003 that the designers were able to bring back into production! The piece is also used for the tip of Kopaka’s Elemental Ice Spear.

These Silver Metallic pieces are used exclusively in Onua Master of Earth. Two are used for his shoulder armor in both modes, while the other two are used for his weapons. In battle mode, they are attached to a handle to become an earthquake hammer (like the blades used for Tahu and Kopaka, they are designed with scalloped edges that interlock perfectly). In adrenalin mode, he holds the pieces individually and they become a pair of turbo shovelers. The earthquake hammer also uses a foot piece from the Ben 10 Alien Force sets (Design ID 87841) in Silver Metallic for the first time.

Interestingly, the turbo shoveler pieces include two 3.2mm handles, which allow a clip to attach. Since neither of the set’s two modes uses these handles to attach pieces with clips, that might be an indication that this part will serve yet another function in a future set.

Even more important to the BIONICLE theme’s identity than its weapons are the Masks of Power. Traditionally, these were called Kanohi, and they granted the Toa new superpowers in addition to their innate elemental powers. In the new story, the Masks of Power enhance the Toa’s elemental powers of Fire, Water, Jungle, Stone, Ice, and Earth.

Each Toa includes two masks inspired by their various mask designs from the previous generation of BIONICLE: a brightly-colored mask that they arrive with, and a more powerful Warm Gold [TLG]/Pearl Gold [BL] mask that represents the treasure the Toa are seeking. Tahu’s default mask is Bright Red [TLG]/Red [BL], Gali’s is Dark Azur [TLG]/Dark Azure [BL], Lewa’s is Bright Green, Pohatu’s is Dark Orange, Kopaka’s is White, and Onua’s is Black. My brother and I were only able to work three of the Toa’s masks into our MOCs: the golden masks of Gali (Design ID 19062), Pohatu (Design ID 19082), and Kopaka (Design ID 19064).

Outside of our MOCs, Andrew and I did get one other mask design. 200 of these Transparent [TLG]/Trans-Clear [BL] versions of Tahu’s new Mask of Fire (Design ID 19052) were given away each day at the BIONICLE booth on the show floor. 100 with special packaging were also produced for the invite-only LEGO® store event. And the rest will presumably be distributed by other means (Patrick Biggs, a prominent BIONICLE builder, was given a whole bag of them, several dozen of which will be distributed through BZPower and BIONILUG).

All six of the Toa masks, as well as the legendary Mask of Creation that features prominently in the marketing materials but has yet to appear in a set, were also shown in a 14-karat gold version at New York Comic-Con. The LEGO Group has yet to announce how these seven masks will be made available to fans, but needless to say they will be very rare and special. Ironically, the first 14-karat gold mask to be released will be one that wasn’t shown at the event (more on that in a bit). Masks and other collectibles made from precious metals were frequently used as sweepstakes prizes in the early years of BIONICLE, and are easily some of the most valuable single LEGO elements in the world. You probably won’t want to use them for MOCs, though!

The Kanohi masks of the original BIONICLE sets were more than just collectibles or a fashion statement. They were inherently tied to the sets’ action features to allow for competitive play. Attached to the figures’ mouths by just a single stud, players could use the action features of the 2001 sets to make them do battle, with the goal being to knock off the foe’s mask. According to the story, this would weaken the heroes severely and force them to surrender, but also free their enemies from the evil Makuta’s mind control. However, many buyers considered the ease of accidentally knocking off a character’s mask a design flaw, so starting in 2003, all new mask designs were attached by a Technic cross axle rather than a stud. This made the masks more secure, but also eliminated the competitive play function.

The 2015 BIONICLE sets return to this spirit of competitive play while at the same time abandoning the mouth-mounted attachment point altogether. The key to both is in the design of the new head. The new heads consist of three pieces: a Silver Metallic base (Design ID 19049), a 2M Technic cross axle, and a Transparent Fluorescent Green [TLG]/Trans-Neon Green [BL] or Transparent Light Blue [TLG]/Trans-Light Blue [BL] “eye stalk” (Design ID 19050).

The base of the head has an elegant design, with a pointed chin and a molded mouth with a neutral expression (much more relatable than the alien-looking heads of earlier BIONICLE heroes). The “eye stalk” is reminiscent of the ones from the 2004 Toa Metru heads, but unlike those, the new heads and eyes are designed with a function. By striking the back of the “eye stalk”, a character’s mask will pop off, signifying defeat.

The masks themselves attach somewhat similarly to a minifigure visor: two bumps on the sides of the mask’s inner surface connect to circular holes on either side of the head. When this was first spotted in a teaser video on Facebook, many BIONICLE fans were worried that this would make them like the helmets of the 2004–2005 Knights’ Kingdom constraction sets: unable to attach securely to anything other than the intended head piece. I’m happy to report this is not the case.

The new masks can attach to anything two modules wide with Technic cross axle holes or small circular holes on either side, including a 2M Technic pin or friction pin, a “Y-joint”, a CCBS fist piece, a CCBS foot piece, a Hero Factory Brain Attack head piece, etc. On some of these parts, it tends to wobble or rotate freely. On a CCBS fist piece, they don’t wobble at all, because the fingers have a very straight edge. Since all of the Toa and Protectors use this kind of fist, any of these characters can “hold” a mask securely in their hand.

I am not really qualified to comment at length on the new masks and weapons of the Protector sets at this time. This is because most of these sets were not on display at NYCC, let alone available for guests to handle, so I can’t be too specific about colors or functionality. But they are still worth mentioning. Each Protector features a generic mask in a unique two-color blend, as well as a new two-piece rotating blaster that fires six 1x1 round plates in sequence. Cerim Manovi demonstrated one of these blasters at the NYCC BIONICLE panel, and it appeared to be very effective, not to mention nice and compact compared to many earlier BIONICLE blasters.

The Protectors’ equipment is otherwise all built from existing designs, though there are some recolors worth mentioning. The Protector of Stone wields an Elemental Sandstorm Blaster that features a flame piece from the 2013 Hero Factory lineup (Design ID 11302) in a new two-color blend. The Protector of Earth wields a Crystal Star Drill built from a half spike ball (Design ID 98578) in Transparent Bright Bluish Violet [TLG]/Trans-Purple [BL]. And the Protector of Water has two turbines driven by what appear to be Transparent Light Blue [TLG]/Trans-Light Blue [BL] rotors (Design ID 46667).

There’s one other thing I have yet to mention… a mask that is not really a mask. All of the Protector and Toa sets include a small creature called a Skull Spider. Built from a body (Design ID 20251) and four legs (Design ID 20252), these are the foes that the Toa and Protectors face. The Titanium Metallic leg pieces are very similar to an earlier claw design featured in Hero Factory sets, but with a more vicious shape for the claw itself. A fifth leg piece is clipped to the back of the Skull Spiders that come with Pohatu and the Protector of Stone, giving them scorpion-like tails. The Skull Spider bodies are either Earth Blue [TLG]/Dark Blue [BL], Spring Yellowish Green [TLG]/Yellowish Green [BL], or Silver Metallic, depending on the set.

The Skull Spiders are led by the new wave’s only dedicated villain set, Lord of Skull Spiders, which comes with a Warm Gold Skull Spider body representing a mask of undisclosed significance. If Warm Gold is not shiny enough for you, the first 14-karat gold mask to be distributed is itself actually a Skull Spider body. It will be given to the grand prize winner of the Battle for the Gold Mask Competition, a multi-site building contest organized by the LEGO Group.

It might seem like the heroes have the villains severely outmatched, if not outnumbered. But remember when I mentioned mind-control earlier? That’s right, the Skull Spiders’ modus operandi is stealing characters’ masks and latching onto their faces, turning them into hapless servants. This definitely helps create more evenly matched good vs. evil play scenarios — any Toa or Protector can be turned into a foe for the other Toa and Protectors to face just by swapping their mask for a Skull Spider.

Overall, the new BIONICLE theme has a lot of new elements for constraction fans of all stripes to be fond of. Moreover, with its compelling mythology and exciting set designs filled with personality, it will probably be many new fans’ first exposure to the constraction category, and many old-school BIONICLE fans’ first experience building with the CCBS.


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  2. This stuff is one of the worst offenders of a problem that plagues science fiction designs, that is, the designs use impractical and nonsensical forms covered in greebling for the sake of it. I really can't stand it. It's not good design, it's utter nonsense and it gives kids the wrong idea about technology. I've still seen some amazing large scale creature MOCs made out of Bionicle/Hero Factory stuff which I can enjoy, but I'll be staying clear of this product line until it can integrate better with regular system parts, both in style and ease of connectivity.

    1. I'd say that the theme is much better than it used to be about not having so much nonsensical greebling. Classic BIONICLE was often cluttered with mechanical detail from head to toe, whereas this new BIONICLE has a much smoother aesthetic based on a system of basic shells and beams.

      As far as weapons are concerned, those are as greebly as ever, but I don't think it's nonsensical as you make it out to be. For instance, the turbines on the boomerangs and axe blades provide propulsion for Pohatu, Lewa, and Gali in their respective Adrenalin Modes.

      I can understand if you don't like BIONICLE, but I think you may be selling it a bit short. It doesn't have to integrate seamlessly with System to have value as its own building system.

    2. That would be a problem if Bionicle were hardcore science fiction but, after 10 years, it's clear that it wasn't. It was kind of just genre neutral; It did whatever the writers wanted it to do. Might still be a problem in of itself, but not one that totally lends itself to design. Besides, it couldn't possibly hurt to suspend your disbelief at the idea of an island full of sentient robots living like a tribe of natives - I think you can spare the brainpower to focus less on the designs and more on the actual story.

  3. (PicnicBasketSam)

    Just as a little note, Gali's "shark fins" actually join together as a mermaid tail. VBBN pointed this out on Eurobricks.

    1. Yep! Didn't mention that here because I think it's more a quality of the set than of these parts specifically — you need additional connectors to join them in that fashion, and they don't interlock the way Onua's shovels or Tahu's swords do. Proper set reviews are coming (the LEGO Group was kind enough to donate early review copies of six sets), and those will go into more detail about those sorts of build-related features.

    2. (PicnicBasketSam)
      Wait... six sets? VBBN has all thirteen... still, I'd love a breakdown like you did for Laval's Fire Lion.

      Oh. I didn't realize you just did the interconnecting weapons.

    3. Yep, I just got six: three Toa and three Protectors. It would have been cool to get all thirteen, but six is more than enough for me to go into detail on a lot of the parts and building techniques. Plus, I'm sure that if I had gotten all the sets, a lot of New Elementary readers would be sick and tired of BIONICLE by the time I got done reviewing them, and that's not what I want at all!

    4. (PicnicBasketSam)
      "Sick and tired of Bionicle."

      Well, impossible and ridiculous statement aside, you could do three Protector reviews in one post, three in another, two Toa in one, two in another, two plus Lord of Skull Spiders in another... yeah, I see your point. Wouldn't be any more annoying than having nothing but Chima all summer long.

    5. Yeah, I'm planning to do the reviews of the sets I got in three posts, sort of broken up by price point. This works out fairly nicely — the lower the price point, the more sets there are at that price point, and the fewer parts each one has to talk about. So the smaller the sets, the more I can group together without skimping on detail.

      If I had to review all 13 sets like that, it might not be so convenient, since New Elementary's focus tends to be on new elements (hence the name), and no matter how I broke things up, by the time I got to the end there wouldn't be a whole lot that I hadn't already talked about in previous reviews.

      Chima was a bit of a different case, I think, since it tended to have so many interesting parts and recolors. BIONICLE sets in general tend to be smaller and have fewer pieces than System themes. A better comparison might have been if all of the Chima set reviews this past summer had focused entirely on the smaller Speedorz sets, which have few parts between them and share many of the same parts and play features. Now THAT might have really worn on people's nerves!

  4. How can I join a Lego company?

    I was planing on new bionicle products.

    1. I'm not entirely sure what this question means. Are you asking how I got these parts? I explained that in my first BIONICLE post: http://www.newelementary.com/2014/11/lego-bionicle-2015-exclusive-new-parts-elements.html They were perks for being invited to the LEGO Group's special BIONICLE announcement event at New York Comic-Con.