The Inika build is often perceived as some kind of plague that wouldn't go away, but I think of it differently: as the one BIONICLE canister set design that was good enough in terms of quality and versatility to be kept around for more than three years. Then again, it was only used in BIONICLE sets for four years, so it didn't outlast the Toa Mata torso by very long at all. The major difference was that there were more humanoid characters between 2006 and 2009 than there were in any other four-year stretch. If the Bohrok and Bohrok-Kal were meant to be understood as individual characters with personalities instead of mindless interchangeable drones, perhaps they might have used some variation on the Toa Mata build.
The problem is, there's no personality to the same build time and time again. There's practically no difference between Ackar and Inika Hahli, and that's annoying. The problem with the Inika build is PRECISELY that it let LEGO just reuse essentially the same build with little to no variety. I'd have been fine if they had a few different torso pieces they cycled through, but post-2006 was overwhelmingly Inika with a splash of Piraka and a pinch of variety.
It wasn't what I would call "versatile"; it had one function, and that function was "torso". Now, arguably, previous torso pieces had much the same function, but the thing is, we never had one of those in primary use for more than 2 years. The most versatile it ever got was sets like Strakk or Skrall or Mantax, where the main difference was the change of position between the hip and the torso. What the Inika torso did was make every set start to look the same, even the Titans.
But it could be USED for titans, something that other torso pieces generally couldn't. It could be used for things like Strakk and Skrall and Mantax. But when you say the most versatile it ever got was those sets, you forget two other sets: Gadunka and Karzahni.
I agree it was frequently used more or less the same way, but it performed that function and performed it better, and with more variety, than previous torsos had. Sets that used it with standard Inika builds were generally ones for which those builds were more than sufficient — they drew their uniqueness from other parts of the model, like Ackar's shoulders and ankles. So what was it that people wanted to see change?
They didn't want a better
torso design, because there were rarely any concrete suggestions for just what was wrong with the Inika torso. The closest were complaints about it being too wide or too thin for canister sets — things people didn't bat an eye at with the near identically proportioned Toa Metru build, and instead frequently championed the Toa Metru and Toa Hagah as everything that a Toa should be.
They didn't want a new
torso design, obviously, because they got those several times (Phantoka Makuta, Toa Mahri Kongu, Kiina, most of the Barraki) and were never satisfied. There was not much celebration of the new torsos introduced in Hero Factory, either, but perhaps people were too busy weeping over the loss of the precious pins and axles that they probably owned in even more excessive surplus than Inika torsos.
What people apparently wanted was for a very good torso design, arguably the best of its kind, to go away
. And that's not how LEGO is supposed to work. Normally, the entire point of LEGO is to do things with an existing parts palette — new parts are introduced to correct flaws in existing parts or to fill niches that current parts do not adequately fill. Normally, LEGO fans lament when a long-standing part or color goes away, sometimes even if a functionally-superior alternative still exists. But no, the Toa Inika torso had been used TOO long, apparently. It HAD to go, and a lot of fans would accept no less.
Hero Factory does slightly better in that respect; sure, wave after wave was starting to look similar, but at least the ability to produce new armor molds helped. Inika torsos got one new armor piece I can remember after the initial two; the Hero Factory torsos at least have several unique ways to armor them.
Well, the Inika torso could be armored in "several unique ways" too. It had more than enough connection points and there existed plenty of parts that could take advantage of them. And several sets DID armor it differently. Not counting sets that used an entirely different skeleton construction, there was Barraki Carapar, Toa Mahri Jaller, Toa Mahri Matoro, Hydraxon, Phantoka Toa Onua, Takanuva, Tuma, Tarix, Mata Nui, Rotor, Rockoh T3, Gorast, Vorox, and Vastus (the last four of which used the same Inika torso piece but as chest armor rather than as back armor). MOCs offered even more potential for diversity because they weren't limited to parts currently in production, opening up parts like the Metru Nui Matoran torso, Toa Hordika torso, and countless others.
In the post-2011 Hero Factory building system, I don't know if you've noticed, but all the dedicated torso shells have been functionally unique. The torso shell used for the 2.0 sets is the most generic, and as such the one that has lasted the longest. The torso shell used for the Breakout sets can be printed, and has two additional connection points on the waist. The Brain Attack torso shell has four additional connection points around the chest. And of course there are plenty of ways to armor the torso without a dedicated torso shell. These parts were introduced to perform tasks the previous torso shell could not perform on its own. They weren't just a source of superficial variety, which seems to be what a lot of BIONICLE fans learned to mistake for innovation.
As for the topic at hand, I'd say Hero Factory actually continued a trend after Bionicle: simplicity. Connector and axle pins are a rare sight (which is arguably a blessing considering LEGO's apparent plan to produce them in brighter colors each year) and almost everything is snap-together, with few extra connection points available.
I wouldn't confuse snap-together builds with simplicity. They make building easier, it's true, but that complexity is made up elsewhere in the builds, such as with more complex weaponry and more detailed armor constructions. Today's mid-size Hero Factory are more complex than BIONICLE canister sets ever were, and all have higher piece counts to show it. The smallest is 44018 Furno Jet Machine, with 79 pieces. The closest BIONICLE canister set was Toa Mahri Kongu, with 74 pieces, and that was of course inflated by fifteen pins and axles and sixteen Cordak mini-rockets.
In the same vein, BIONICLE sets were becoming more complex even in post-2006 sets. Not only were clone sets eradicated from all canister set series, but the sets typically boasted higher piece counts than sets like Toa Metru, Vahki, Toa Hordika, and Visorak, even if you subtracted some of the extraneous bits like Cordak ammo (there were a few exceptions, of course, like Krika, a set which I felt was celebrated more than it deserved to be). So while a lot of things like pins, axles, and gears have been reduced in their application over time, the overall
complexity of mid-size sets remained the same as or became greater than in the first five years of BIONICLE.
There are fewer extra connection points on some Hero Factory figures, but I don't entirely see how that has to do with complexity. After all, there is plenty of room to do creative things with the existing connection points. Some MOCists even think certain kinds of unused connection points are a flaw in a MOC or set, something that I don't entirely agree with.
On a side note, something I discovered recently is that some small Hero Factory sets like last year's Bulk and Evo figures have higher
piece counts than the Toa Metru. In 2014 dollars, the Toa Metru would actually be slightly more expensive.