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Bionicle Mistika
by Artemis

Everything I said about Vultraz being a measly little squirt but having a kick-ass ride? It goes double for Mazeka.

Mazeka is one of the greatest of all Matoran warriors. Trained by the Order of Mata Nui as an elite spy, Mazeka rides his heavily armed swamp strider into battle against the Brotherhood of Makuta.

Aptly enough, it seems - according to the little Bionicle comics that come with the Lego Magazine - that Mazeka and Vultraz have a proper arch-enemies thing going on, with them having once been best buddies in Matoran school until Vultraz turned to the dark side of the Force, or thereabouts, and Mazeka vowed to hunt him down and avenge Vultraz's killing of their sensei. Actually I just made that up - it seemed appropriate - but further investigation reveals that Vultraz really did kill Mazeka's master! Well there you go.

Befitting his Matoran status, Mazeka himself isn't much to write home about - from the neck down he's basically Solek with his torso on backwards. The little blue plugs on his hands and feet are to hold him in place on his vehicle, so I guess if you wanted to properly display him on foot, you'd remove them - but no one's ever complained that there were too few Matoran, so that's unlikely to happen. His mask is an odd one, recycled from one of 2007's underwater-themed Toa Mahri, and it still looks like a breather mask, with a tank off to one side of the face.

Not the most impressive sight, but put him in the saddle of his swamp strider and think again. This quadruped behemoth dwarfs its rider, and even the Toa/Makuta-sized warriors - its exact dimensions depend on the position of its legs and the elevation of its cannon, but to put rough figures to it it's about a foot wide and 11" tall, and aside from some ornamental pieces it's far more Technic than Bionicle, a properly complex build that ought to satisfy any serious-minded Lego enthusiast.

Each of the four legs is individually articulated, with a complicated arrangement of pieces which, in the end, amounts to a pair of peg joints. Not much motion to show for all those bits, true, but there's method to the madness: those limbs have to support the entire weight of the vehicle, which is considerable, and thanks to the doubling up of balljoint connections, and the use of a pressure piston spanning the resulting twin swivel joint, it's functionally impossible for the legs to move due to the vehicle's weight upon them. Indeed, considering that they're splayed out to the sides like that, it's surprising how much force you have to apply to the centre of the vehicle before they'll start to sag - but thanks to clever design, the legs are quite easy to position by hand. Unfortunately there's no forward/backward motion, so the strider can't really, well, stride - a shame, but it's a trade-off in favour of not falling over.

Above the "waist," which is a wide-base 360° swivel, there's a double-strut hinge controlling the elevation of the cannon, reinforced with another pressure piston. The range winds up being about minus 5-10 degrees up to plus 50-55, judging by sight alone - I don't know where my protractor is anyway. The rider's seat is behind the cannon's magazine, and there are a pair of handles for controls - they swivel around like a steering wheel, and can be raised or lowered independently. Mazeka's hands plug into the sides of them, while his feet attach to the sides of the cannon's main structural beams.

The weapon itself is referred to as a Midak skyblaster by the sources I consulted (the Bionicle wiki, mainly), but although it shares the same ammunition and basic principle as the handheld Midak blasters, it's not the same mechanism. Instead of the hollow barrel and rotary firing mechanism at the front, this Midak is a three-pronged claw with a rod mounted behind it on a rubber loop. The rod extends all the way out the rear of the construct, behind the rider's seat - push on it and it in turn pushes against the sphere loaded into the claw, which eventually pops free with significant force.

Same principle as the Midak, as I said, and although it requires assembly rather than being a single unit, it's just as elegantly effective. What's really nifty, though, is the magazine, a Y-shaped container capable of holding nine additional spheres, besides the one loaded into the firing claw (the set comes with nine spheres total, so you'll be left with an empty space at the top of one of the magazine arms when it's all loaded up). So long as the weapon is upright the magazine will reliably feed its cargo of spheres into launching position one after another - the tubes being skeletal rather than smooth, there are edges a sphere can get caught on, but the jolt of the weapon firing is enough to dislodge them. So far as play value goes, it's a flawless performance - you can slam out all nine shots in rapid succession, and if your aim's good take out the whole 2008 Makuta range without reloading.

In conclusion, an anecdote. Since it's now 2009 and the Bionicles of Bara Magna are starting to show up, with each 2007/8 review I polish off I've been deciding whether to keep the featured toy on display, or dismantle it to make room for new arrivals. Obviously Gali and Hahli can stay, I'm thinking of keeping the rest of the Phantoka/Mistika Toa around just to have them on display as a set, and the Titans and T-series vehicles are quite cool to look at. I'd been thinking idly that Mazeka and his steed might be sacrificed to free up a bit of space, but having played around with the swamp strider in the course of reviewing it, I've been reminded of what a cool vehicle it is - so it can stay.

-- 04/14/09

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