Ah, Bionicle, LEGO’s improbably successful multi-year experiment in mecha. At first glance the theme doesn’t seem very LEGO-like. It uses a bevy of unique parts not found in other lines, and there are no studs or minifigs — the robot models are the characters. Furthermore, Bionicle has been accused of being overly simplistic, with only a dozen or so parts per figure, not including connectors. (Though, in defense of Bionicle, they are Technic compatible so you can connect the line’s unique parts to your other models.) Also differentiating Bionicle from System models, it has a complex storyline chronicled in comics, video games and novels, which has grown so convoluted that it’s spawned a encyclopedia explaining its ins and outs.
For good or ill, it seems that Bionicle is designed to appeal to a different set of needs than traditional LEGO products.
But now, with the release of a swarm of new vehicles, challenging models are now available to fans of traditional LEGO. I recently built Skopio, a fantastic new vehicle from LEGO that radically ups the challenge offered to Bionicle fans. The Skopio is a four-legged spider, whose legs are tipped with tank treads. These limbs either fold in half, allowing the model to roll like a tank, or they can be moved around like the machine was some sort of mechanical scorpion.
Like all Bionicle products, the Skopio is heavily armed, with two ball launchers, nasty movable pincers, as well as a third launcher that slings a Thornax, a weapon that looks like a spiked ball. There really aren’t many uniquely Bionicle parts to this model. The bulk of the elements are Technic and include the usual beams and pins, as well as a large number of pieces designed to look like linear actuators. There are also a huge number of caterpillar treads, great for tank projects!
As with Technic and Bionicle models, the Skopio offers awesome playability — these models simply stay together better than LEGO’s System products do. If that weren’t enough, there’s a new aspect to the line that bears looking into. Called the Bionicle Action Figure Game, this adds a wargaming sensibility to playing with LEGO. Basically, you use the weapons accompanying Bionicle figures to shoot other figures, keeping score with counter wheels built into the models. For the Skopio, both the vehicle and its driver pack these counters. I’m surprised this concept isn’t more universal among action figures.
But the Skopio isn’t the only awesome Bionicle vehicle. The Baranus is a chariot pulled by a cool-looking mechanical beast. The Thornatus is essentially a car with a driver-protecting cage and multiple ball launchers. Kaxium is a motorcycle with sidecar and the Cendox is a snowmobile.
While all of these are cooler vehicles than I’m used to seeing out of the Bionicle line, the Skopio is the king of the lot: A sophisticated and challenging build with tons of interesting parts that can be used for other models.