|Toa Vakama Review Capsule|
|After two sets of very similar Toa kits, LEGO decided to go a new route with an all-new construction and (almost) all-new characters. Toa Vakama is far more posable and taller than his forerunners, plus he includes more pieces and costs about the same. Snag one if you see one.|
The Toa came to the market as a real surprise. LEGO's first attempt at action figures came in plastic reusable canisters instead of disposable cardboard-and-plastic packaging, and a fairly complex back story was developed for fans to discover online and in comic books. After a few years of similar heroes and few new characters, LEGO opted to make heroes out of six smaller figures from year one, with the Turaga now getting the Toa treatment. Today, we look at Toa Vakama.
This is a toy far more posable than previous Bionicle heroes and as good as or better than the Rakshi. It includes a disc firing weapon and is made of 48 pieces. No CD-ROM was included, despite reports of some international kits including one.
Since 2001, some fans have been saying "hey, how about some more articulation?" or have expressed an interest in new colors and characters. If you're one of these people, today's your day, because these are a definite improvement from previous efforts. The naming structure, though, is just as complicated and, if you're above 12, convoluted as before.
Not needing to break from tradition, the set results in a nicely sized pseudo-Polynesian heroic robot thing. The story has it that before the story given to Bionicle for 2001-2003, all these characters came from a much bigger city where the Toa Metru had some sort of superhero role before reducing their roles and sizes later on. As the story isn't on TV in easily digested 22-minute installments five days a week, we aren't exactly up on it and will leave that to the experts.
One of the most distinctive elements of the early Bionicle sets were their masks. Interchangeable, and available in packs of two, these gave the toys a different look and allowed some fans to design their own characters. With the new series, the collectible mask has been dropped in favor of the collectible disc. The discs, called Kanoka, are the same molds originally used with the 2001 McDonald's Bionicle toys from September of 2001, if you have a memory that extends that far back. The new discs have numbers which designate which city they came from, and come with a variety of designs on them. Of all the Toa, only Toa Vakama includes a disc and launcher, but additional discs and launchers can be purchased in small packs if one is so inclined. The new launchers come with all of the new Matorans (a term for all non-Toa masked denizens of the toy line.)
Toa Vakama and his five cohorts share many of the same parts, but most if not all of the unique parts are new to this series. The colors are, for the most part, tweaked slightly as well. While Tahu was a bright red Toa a few years ago, Vakama is a dark red color that, with the gunmetal grey parts under his armor, looks quite striking.
His mask, which as far as we know doesn't have a name, but LEGO refers to it as a "Great Mask of Concealment." Whatever, I guess. It looks very striking, like a cross between a scuba mask, a Stormtrooper from Star Wars, and Gali's Kaukau mask from the first series of these toys. The bright green eyes shine nicely from behind the creature's face, and as a nice added bonus, the toys have been upgraded to feature a neck joint so they can look around for a change. Good job, LEGO, as I know I can't have been the only one trying to make it so my older toys were capable of such movement.
The best thing about these new kits are that they're super-posable compared to previous efforts. Every figure has a much greater range of movement in all parts except for the arms. The first two generations of Toa had two joints at each shoulder, and now they have been reduced to but a single joint that's controlled by the gears of the arm-slashing action. This is a little disappointing if you're the type to put your toys on a shelf and pose them in some sort of battle stance, but as you can take the toy apart and assemble it as you see fit, this can be compensated for.
Accessories & Gimmicks
This time around, most of the Toa have grey weapons like we were given with the Toa Nuva, but slightly better all around. In the case of Toa Vakama, he has a unique disc launcher that also can be stowed on his back. As an added bonus, it looks like a jetpack.
The Kanoka launcher can send the disc a fair distance, but it really doesn't seem any better than that of earlier, smaller, McDonald's-y figures. It is neat to give it a squeeze and see how far it goes, and it's definitely more entertaining than just a sword that looks like it's on fire, as we've seen twice previously. The best thing about it, though, is that it also looks like it gives the character the ability to fly.
Neat, isn't it? A good, clever design from LEGO allowed this piece to have more than one function, and I'm always impressed when someone like Takara makes a gun that can also be made to look like an axe just by changing which side is up. Of the new Bionicle we've seen as of writing this review, Vakama's accessory seems to be at the top of the heap.
Most if not all $7-$10 toys in this line come in a plastic canister, and this one is no different.
The canister has a large amount of art as well as maps of the new Bionicle world, which is a little odd but a nice change of pace. The top of the can has a lid that allows you to plug a Kanoka to the top, and you can also combine two lids together to form a ball. Why do you want to do this, you ask? We have yet to find out. But it's an option listed in the manual.
Vakama was originally released in 2001 as a small, $3 Turaga kit. Previous Toa of Fire kits were Tahu (2001) and Tahu Nuva (2002.)
Image #1 from left to right: Tahu, Tahu Nuva, Toa Vakama, Vakama. Image #2: Toa Vakama, Nuhrii. Image #3: Toa Matau, Toa Vakama, Toa Nokama, Toa Onewa, Toa Nuju, Toa Whenua.
The toys and packaging have changed a lot over the years, with the Toa kits having gone from no knee joints to false knee joints, and now having working knee joints. The weapons can now be mounted on the figures' backs, and for a nice change, we're seeing some color and character changes here.
The new Vakama is a significant change over the old one, with next to no real resemblance short of the name and elemental affiliation. As such, it's nice to see a character have a bigger, neater form that makes for a better toy.
Packaging also went through a nice evolution, as you can see here. The move from Kanohi-compatible packaging to Kanoka is an interesting one, namely because you can't put all the discs on the lid at once. As such, it's hard to tell exactly why the disc can plug into the lid.
Have the urge to buy a toy you have to build? Do you have a burning need for more Bionicle? Than this is a worthy purchase. While the Toa Nuva series seemed like "more of the same with new armor," these are totally new figures with completely new parts. Of course, within the series, these new figures are quite similar. If you only buy one or two, though, it's a great unique toy that lends itself to a great computer accessory at the home or office or an even better gift for a youngster. (Oh yeah, that's who these are for, right?)
Reviewed and photographed by Adam Pawlus
Sample purchased from a Mesa Wal-Mart on January 23, 2004
Reviewed on January 27, 2004.