Bionicle Heroes for the GBA is a run-and-gun shoot-'em-up that rekindles loving memories of such classics as Ikari Warriors or the top-down levels in Contra III. You won't find much here that's specifically patterned after Lego or the Bionicle brand, but what you will find is shooting, shooting, and lots more shooting. There's hardly a moment when the screen isn't jam packed with robots and bullets, which is a good thing, because the slick graphics and hectic situations go a long way toward helping the player disregard how repetitive the gunplay is.
Some of the game's 19 levels are lengthy and have multiple sections and numerous optional paths. Others are contained areas where enemy robots constantly spill out of underground tunnels. Regardless of the level type, the gist is that you need to shoot everything that moves. To accomplish that task, your own robot has a blaster weapon that's capable of two different attacks. There's the weaker rapid fire, which you can unleash all you want by holding the A button, and a much stronger, albeit more limited, concentrated-fire option that's unleashed by tapping the B button. You can run and shoot in eight different directions, as well as lock your aim in a specific direction by holding the right shoulder button. When your health is above 90 percent, you'll also be accompanied by a helper orb that will shoot at enemies. This helper orb can be outfitted with different shot upgrades that you pick up throughout the game. Health and scoring are tied to Lego bricks, which you can pick up by trashing enemies and portions of the scenery. Enemies also sometimes leave behind runes that you can collect to unlock useful cheats.
For the most part, the gunplay is satisfying. Shooting the same half-dozen enemies over and over again does feel repetitive on occasion, but it's hard to be bothered by that when enemy robots are always appearing from multiple directions and the screen is constantly filling with bullets and Lego toy pieces. This game must set some kind of GBA record for the number of characters and bullets that are visible at any given moment. On top of that, everything just looks and sounds great. The environments and robots are colorful and detailed, the bullet and laser effects are slick, and the animation is generally smooth. There aren't a whole lot of different sound effects in the game, but all of the various laser blasts and explosions jive perfectly with the mayhem on the screen. What's really striking is the game's soundtrack. The music is intricate and moody, while the overall quality defies the typical scratchy and tonal tunes that the GBA is known for. Sometimes, great graphics and audio can bolster the gameplay experience. That's definitely true here.
Your first run through the game will probably take anywhere between two and three hours. That's short in comparison to a lot of games, but double the typical length of similar shoot-'em-ups. Once you complete a level, you can go back and play it again anytime. Some levels are enjoyable enough that you'll want to go back and tear through them a second or third time. You'll also need to replay levels if you intend to unlock all of the orb upgrades, cheats, and rewards in the game. Cheats and rewards require you to collect all of the runes in a level, which isn't possible on just a single attempt. Cheats are primarily amusements like big heads and invincibility. Rewards, meanwhile, are additional mini-games, such as an arena survival mode, Lego pong, and Lego breakout.
Bionicle fans may be disappointed that the connection between the game and the toy line is tenuous and mostly cosmetic. All of the robots in the game look just like the Bionicle toys that you can buy from store shelves, and they break apart into and leave behind Lego bricks when they explode. That type of fan service is welcome, but the developer didn't put much effort toward incorporating the toys' customization potential or the magical abilities discussed in the instruction booklets and related comic books into the game. Your own character is a generic Inika with stock parts that you can't change. When you complete all of the levels in a zone, you acquire a new Toa mask that alters the color of your robot and the visual depiction of its shots. Those cosmetic changes don't change how weapons work, however, and you can't even swap weapons on the fly unless you're replaying a level a second time. The only hands-on aspect that truly incorporates the Lego concept is that you can, very rarely, transform a pile of toy bricks into a gun turret or an elevator platform. Apart from those trivial details, the gameplay and scenery are similar to what you'd see in any other top-view shoot-'em-up. If you didn't already know from the box and title screen that the game is called Bionicle Heroes, you'd never know it was based on a popular toy line.
So long as you're not looking for a game that faithfully emulates the Bionicle brand, there's a good chance you'll have a lot of fun with the GBA version of Bionicle Heroes. Slick run-and-gun shoot-'em-ups like this don't come around often these days, especially on handheld systems.