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Phantoka Matoran

Bionicle
by Artemis

Bionicle's back! Back at OAFEnet, that is - they never went away from Lego. For those who don't know what Bionicle is, the name is a contraction of "biological chronicle," and there's a whole big sprawling backstory to the line, which basically amounts to a bunch of alien Maori warriors beating the bejeezus out of each other. Why? Who cares, you don't ask why alien warriors are fighting - you just pick a faction and wade in guns a-blazing.

In this world (or galaxy, or whatever) of perpetual warfare, the Matoran are the poor sods who're mostly just trying to eke out a living while giant armoured battle creatures twice their size and five times as insane as them go thundering about opening fire at anything that moves. In practical terms, they're your entry level Bionicles (until someone can tell me a species name for these things, that's what I'll call them) - they're simple, straight-forward, and cheap enough that you can pretty much buy one on a whim, just to see what this Bionicle malarky's all about. There are six of the critters in the 2008 series, and since they're pretty similar, we'll review them all at once.

First, an anatomical overview. Being the lowest level of Bionicles, the Matoran have the simplest construction, of fourteen pieces: torso, backpack, head, mask, and two each of arms, legs, hands, feet and weapons. What you wind up with is a duel-weapon-wielding robotic critter, balljointed at the neck, shoulders, wrists, hips and ankles, nothing out of the ordinary in the spectacularly articulated modern Bionicle world. There are three each of good Matoran and bad Matoran - you can tell the difference easily, because the good guys have swords and jetpacks, and the bad guys prefer claws and wings. That's your basic Matoran - a nifty little fighter, but nothing flashy.

The only member of his village to survive a shadow leech attack, Tanma is out for revenge on the Brotherhood of Makuta. With his twin power blades and rocket booster, he has what it takes to fight and win.

Tanma's claim to fame, such as it is, are narrow arm pieces (relative to his legs), which make him look a bit slimmer than the norm. His mask has vent-like units built into its cheeks, giving him an amphibious kind of look, and he's got pretty standard cleaver-like swords. His other perculiarity, at least among the good Matoran, is that his arm pieces besides being slim have a full 90° bend at the elbows, rather than the more shallow bends on the others - it makes him look a bit more butch.

An expert on the ancient legends of the Toa, Solek has always wanted to be a hero like them. Now he has the chance to fight alongside his idols! Fights with dual power blades and rocket booster.

Solek's just about the prototype for the Matoran, if you were to pick one - his arms and legs are the same pieces (flipped over for the arms), giving him a balanced look physically. His white mask and limbs stand out in stark contrast to the grey used on the rest of him, and the mask lets the translucent yellow-green of his "head" show through better than most. His weapons are curved, scimitar-like blades.

Taking crazy risks, Photok uses his twin power blades and rocket booster to prove he's as good as any Toa.

Photok's a stocky little bugger - despite being a good guy he's got the evil Matoran torso piece, which has the neck sunk down beneath raised shoulders, making him shorter and wider than his compatriots, added to by the use of short, permanently bent legs which give him a perpetual crouch. Unlike the evil guys, though, his torso has the armoured panels facing forward, and thus the shoulders angled slightly back, whereas the bad guys are all with the forward hunch. Photok looks a bit darker as well, with the normal colour scheme reversed on his legs, giving him orange feet and grey legs, rather than the other way around. His weapons are short twin-bladed swords, stubby compared to the longer swords of the other good guys, but also heavier-looking.

Once Kirop was the leader of the Matoran in Karda Nui - now he rules the evil Matoran who threaten their lives! Large claw blades and wings are his most formidable weapons.

Like all the evil Matoran, Kirop looks like Hammer Horror has had a go at turning him into a vampire bat, what with the wings and fanged mask, and his animalistic angled claws. He's the darkest of the bunch, with only dark grey arms and foot-claws, silver hand-claws, and silver fangs on his mask against the pure black of the majority of his body. The gradiated silver on the mask extends as far as the eye sockets, letting the red underneath them show through vividly.

Once a great Matoran hero, Radiak now fights his former friends with wings, fangs and four wickedly sharp blades.

Radiak's the oddity of the pack - possibly in exchange with Photok, Radiak uses the more upright torso piece, without the sunken neck, but more dramatically he's got blades instead of feet; fine if you're an aerial creature, but since Lego can't defy gravity it means you'll need to have at least one of his hand-claws on the ground to keep him standing. The odd feet also give him two more pieces in his construction than all the other Matoran, since the "ankle" and foot are separate bits. His predominantly red mask makes it difficult to pick out his eyes, unless the translucent head is benefiting from a strong backlight.

The first Matoran of Light to be corrupted by the Makuta, Gavla is out to avenge years of being shunned by his own people.

Gavla's gone for midnight blue as his colour, making him almost as dark-looking as Kirop, although the silver-white forehead of his mask undoes that a bit. All four of his limbs are the slender 90°-angle kind, which gives him a vicious, angular look, more like an animal than a humanoid. He scores for having the nastiest-looking weapons out of all the Matroan though, big curved blades with serrated inner edges, which look equally good raised as swords or pointing down like claws.

Each of the Matoran has an equivalent in the Phantoka line, basically a bigger buddy with the same colour scheme and mask design, to which they can connect using a bi-directional link piece included with the Phantoka sets. The good Matoran get worn kind of like backpacks by their hero Phantoka comrades, while the evil Matoran fare better, getting to ride their partners around like a rodeo horse. Kinky. The same holds true for the Mistika sets, although in their cases the pairings are more or less arbitrary, since the Mistika aren't structured and coloured to match their Matoran partners. In both cases... well to be honest it's a bit silly-looking, especially the good guys, since there isn't really enough room behind them for a Matoran to ride along without getting in the way.

Being such small, simple sets there isn't really a lot of room for gross structural redesigning with the Matoran - what you see is what you get, and unless you add in parts from other larger sets, you're basically limited to swapping bits back and forth between them if you feel like being different. However, since their limbs have a ball at one and a socket at the other, if you're feeling adventurous you can just smoosh the whole lot of them into a giant (and highly unstable) technicolour monster, with enough bits left over for a few cute little Super-Deformed Matoran victims for it. It ain't Custom Of The Year, but it's good for a laugh, and it shows that even these little guys can fulfil the basic Lego requirement: that you can pull them apart and do something different.

That's the Matoran for you - they're not bad toys on their own, and their neat design and good articulation means they're sure to delight any youngster in the mood for battle robots, especially since their low price per head means he or she will likely be able to get a few of them to knock around without running dry of pocket money. But their real purpose is to be a gateway drug to bigger and more elaborate Bionicle sets, which we'll be covering shortly.

-- 01/08/09


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