Could’ve sworn I’d already posted here. Oh well, prepare for a giant essay!
TLDR; it’s cool and was mismanaged
Hero Factory was, as many others have said, a theme which was misused, improperly managed, and never reached even a fraction of its full potential. I have a deep, personal investment in the theme as I spent years defending it from critics and following its progression with rapt attention, as I was curious to see what kind of legacy BIONICLE’s successor would carve out for itself.
In the end, however, Hero Factory’s legacy hasn’t really amounted to much more than CCBS and plenty of hilarious jokes (IT’S ROTOR!). I’ll do a year by year breakdown since that seems to be plenty popular here.
Storyline: HF pioneered the concept of a somewhat good quality, multi-episode Lego TV series, and did so with a decent amount of success. The show wasn’t awful by any means; a story DID exist, barebones as it was, characters were established, and seeds were planted for future storylines. It wasn’t great, but it left me optimistic for the future.
Sets: They were alright. It was the transition year, so they were basically a new wave of BIONICLE sets. I think the Heroes were a natural evolution from the Av-Matoran build and made some definite improvements, and the villains were all unique, interesting, and well built.
Media: Arguably HF’s best year of media, this year featured two defining traits of Hero Factory that should have remained in the years to come; the Call Center and Hero Factory FM. The Call Center was a fantastic way for kids to interact with the theme, and Hero Factory FM was a wonderfully self aware, hilarious, and absolutely fantastic piece of media that went away far too soon.
Storyline: Ordeal of Fire was far too short, but not inherently bad; it took itself more seriously than the initial four episodes did and it was alright, if very rushed. Savage Planet was fantastic, and told a very nice story with an interesting cast of characters, and a pretty cool villain.
Sets: This year pioneered CCBS, and with it came a lot of growing pains. The 2.0 series was average at best, but the 3.0 series brought some nice innovations to the formula, including several non-humanoid sets with varying degrees of complexity, and the single greatest and most complex set HF ever received, Witch Doctor.
Media: Fairly uneventful other than the shows. Hero Recon Team was introduced, which is another one of Hero Factory’s greatest attempts to originate, and it went away far too soon.
Storyline: Without a doubt Hero Factory’s best year story-wise, Breakout delivered on every front. Strides towards more serious, plot-driven storylines that featured continuity and legitimate stakes, character growth, plot twists, and the promise of greater things to come, 2012 was the pinnacle of what Hero Factory was able to achieve story-wise in its main media. Unfortunately, everything after it was downhill. To further complement this excellent year, it marked the beginning of Greg Farshtey’s Hero Factory book series, which are the best pieces of story content HF ever had the luck of receiving.
Sets: Also fantastic. Great strides were made to advance CCBS, every Hero character from the theme’s lifespan was present in one year, creative villains with actual names and motivations were prominent… it was excellent.
Media: To further add to the excellence of this year, Breakout, Hero Factory’s latest online game, rose to prominence. Featuring ingenious tie-ins with the sets, a plethora of levels, collectibles, replayability, and a surprising degree of character customization, Breakout was a giant leap forward despite its flaws.
Storyline: In a stunning display of ineptitude following the excellence of Breakout, Hero Factory decided to completely ignore the prior year’s cliffhanger and move forward to an entirely different plot thread, featuring a mysterious (and very random) villain unleashing a Brain Invasion upon Makuhero City. Small hints were made towards Surge’s character arc which was set up all the way back in 2010, but the payoff was unsatisfactory. The one saving grave for this year’s story were the books, written by Greg Farshtey, but those were swiftly canceled, and Greg was robbed of his opportunity to salvage HF’s storyline and the books were left with an unresolved cliffhanger and hints towards greater things to come.
Sets: 2013 brought some alright sets, but it was a very mixed bag. Some of the design choices for the Hero characters were very questionable, and the villains, while cool, featured very limiting Brains which restricted posability much like the Piraka spines of old. There was plenty of good to be had, but also plenty of bad.
Media: Atrocious. Aside from the show, which, to my knowledge, never even aired on TV and only saw a limited release on the internet, the theme featured a very lackluster follow-up to Breakout in the form of the Brain Attack game, which took away many of the interesting things that were present in Breakout.
Storyline: An incredibly awful finale. The storytelling quality went down in an unbelievable awful way, ignoring the prior two year’s established cliffhangers (and ending the series with a third) in favor of yet another subplot with an underground invasion of “Beasts.” Due to Ghost producing the special instead of Tinseltown Toons, all the voice actors were changed, and the personalities and character traits established over the years vanished with them. The characters did not even resemble their former selves.
Sets: The one saving grace to this year, 2014 had some outstanding sets due to the inclusion of minifigures. Unique builds were plentiful, and some of HF’s greatest sets came from this year.
Media: Virtually nothing except a lackluster online game, but at least it was better than Brain Attack. Similar to 2013, the entire storyline of the year was told within the first month, leaving the theme’s relevancy to slowly decline as the year went on.
The handling of Hero Factory was a complete travesty and will hopefully serve as a lesson to Lego in the years to come on how to properly handle a constraction theme. My personal belief is that the greatest mistakes they made are as follows:
Taking away what made the theme unique: The Call Center, Hero Factory FM, Recon Team… all of these things brought personality to the theme and gave it an identity.
Handicapping the storyline: While initially intended to be episodic in nature and feature self-contained story arcs, the theme tried to advance the quality of its storyline in 2012 and was halted at every turn. The books were canceled, cliffhangers weren’t followed up on, and the storyline was never allowed to progress. 2012 remains the year where the theme reached its highest point of quality.
Not enough promotion: The theme was virtually absent from Lego magazines and catalogs, as well as advertising in general, during the last two years of its run. The specials were halved in length, the quality of the games degraded, the books were canceled, and the theme was barely advertised… it’s no wonder it didn’t do that well.
Hero Factory is a theme that I’m deeply invested in, and while I’m incredibly glad that BIONICLE’s back, I can’t help but feel sorrow for HF. It was a theme that had to claw through the masses of enraged BIONICLE fans, who falsely believed that HF was to blame for its untimely demise. It had such potential to be a theme that was of interest to the masses, but was never allowed to be. It was cut short both as a theme which featured tongue-in-cheek and self referntial humor, as well as a theme which tried to tell a serious storyline with continuity and plot twists. In the end, it had an incredibly lackluster finale, and faded silently into obscurity.
It’s a shame. Let’s hope BIONICLE never shares a similar fate.