Europe's top selling line of action figures has already made a big impression on the U.S.  The Danish-based LEGO Company has created a line of action figures that comes complete with an elaborate backstory.  Set on a tropical island, the storyline features six heroic figures (Toa) that battle against a shadowy evil that holds the paradise-like island of Mata-Nui in thrall.  Launched last year in Europe, the Bionicles figures have become big sellers without the benefit of a supporting animated television series.  The elaborate legend of the Bionicles is told via CD rom disks sold with the action figures -- and is also explained in some detail in the Bionicles Collectible Card Game, which Upper Deck has just released. Other elements will be revealed in a Bionicle Game Boy as well as in a PC-based Bionicles video game.  The Bionicles saga is actually explained most completely in the three-issue mini-series from DC Comics -- another factor that should make Bionicles of interest to pop culture retailers.


Based loosely on Polynesian legend and lore, the Bionicles saga is basically a quest by six elemental heroes, who represent water, fire, stone, earth, air, and ice.  Each of them must collect six Great Masks of Mata Nui in order to overcome the evil Makuta, who holds the island in thrall.  The evil henchmen of Makuta are larger, more elaborate figures with SRPs that range from $14.99 to $89.99, while the six good guy heroes (Toa) sell for a more standard $6.99.  Each Toa figure comes with its own CD-Rom that explains the 'Quest for the Masks.'  A third line of figures, the friendly islanders (Teraga), who help the Toa in their quest, are smaller and retail for $2.99 each.


The CCG includes many
details of the story.

The elaborate quest that the heroic Toa must engage in to free the island from the spell of the Makuta makes for action-packed gameplay in the Upper Deck Bionicles CCG.  Each starter deck ($14.99 retail) features 80 cards including 20 cards that are unique to that themed deck.  Each of the three themed decks features two of the Toa as well as a rule book, a 'Legend of Mata Nui' booklet, a map of Mata Nui (which serves as a playing surface), and two great mask markers, which are used like game pieces to mark the character's progress around the island of Mata Nui.  The elaborate setting on the island of Mata Nui allows the Upper Deck CCG to include elements of a board game (the map/board) to enliven the gameplay, and cleverly crosses over with the toy line in that the 'great mask markers' from the CCG actually function as masks on the Lego Toa action figures.


The Booster Packs for Upper Deck's Bionicles game retail for $2.99 and contain 9 cards, 5 commons, 3 rare, and one ultra-rare card.  The Booster Packs introduce 120 new cards and allow for new strategies and more elaborate game play.  Boosters are slated to hit retailers' shelves this week.  A second series of Boosters is slated for November and will introduce the 'Rahi,' a group of infected creatures who pose yet another set of problems for the heroic Toa.  Clearly once the Bionicles 'universe' is established in the marketplace, Lego will be able to introduce new lines of figures at will to prolong the phenomenon.


Although successful in Europe it is a little early to gauge the results of the Bionicles' invasion of the U.S.  Preliminary sales results have been strong, but this series needs to keep growing in order to justify its positioning in mainstream toy stores.  The Bionicles action figures and CCGs will be found in Walmart, K-Mart, Toys R Us, and Zany Brainy.  This coming holiday season should determine if the Bionicles action figures and CCG will take over key niches in the U.S. toy market and game markets.