LEGO is big business, both in the real world and in interactive space. That’s exactly why Nintendo decided to go ahead and make a deal with the brand and its trusted developer, TT Games, in order to create an exclusive video game franchise known as LEGO City Undercover. If you own a Wii U or a Nintendo 3DS then you’ve probably heard of it, as the series’ much talked-about next generation console debut occurred merely a month ago. However, if you’ve yet to learn about Chase McCain and his attempt to stop escaped super criminal Rex Fury, then it may be in your best interest to do some catching up. That is, if you’ve ever enjoyed a LEGO video game.
Although the aforementioned joint venture has seemingly gone over well for the Big N and its fledgling Wii U, there’s no question that the technology giant has a lot of confidence in it. After all, its executives went ahead and ordered two LEGO City Undercover titles before seeing how well one would do on the retail market. The second result of that decision is LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins, a 3DS prequel that fills in the blanks regarding what happened before Chase McCain’s return to his adopted hometown in March’s LEGO City Undercover.
Since we’ve already discussed the pros and cons of the big brother console sequel (if you want to call it that), it’s time to go into detail regarding its portable, plus canon, predecessor. Does the handheld version live up to its high reaching peer? Or, is it held back by technical limitations and design issues?
Needless to say, Nintendo’s two currently supported systems are very different from each other in terms of technical power and visual capability. That’s to be expected, of course, given that one is a handheld, while the other is a full-fledged HD console. As such, one would normally expect that a city created on one would look much different on the other – either for better or worse. Surprisingly, though, while LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins does feature a chopped up version of its namesake, the look and size of its city isn’t much different from what Wii U owners have become accustomed to. In fact, it seemed to be almost identical, which is a definite plus, although the loading times were a bit longer this time around. When you consider that they were far from short last time, it’s something worth noting. Then again, this is the 3DS we’re talking about, and developer TT Fusion certainly deserves credit for its attention to creating an almost identical city map, with time-based variations employed.
As previously mentioned, all of the action that is featured within this 3DS cartridge (or digital download file) is set before the events showcased in its disc-based peer. That’s a good thing, because, while the first game did a decent job of explaining its backstory, it left a lot up to one’s imagination. Now, we have a game that fills in those blanks by letting us know exactly what happened. Not only that, but it lets us play through that narrative.
Once again, players are tasked with assuming the role of Chase McCain. A new transfer to the LEGO City Police Department, he’s unaware of just how eventful his first days on the job will be. Sure, things start off slowly, with a slightly comedic donut fetching quest, but it isn’t long before reports of strange crimes hit the police dispatch airwaves. Up for anything, the new guy is tasked with checking them out, and ends up becoming entangled within a criminal mastermind’s chaotic plot. That’s all I’ll say in an attempt to avoid spoilers for those who happen to be newcomers, but those who’ve already taken a trip to LEGO City should have a good idea of the eight hour-long campaign’s ending.
Arguably, the best part of LEGO City Undercover was its writing. Its storyline was colourful, humorous and offbeat, and kept me interested despite the game’s reliance on some rather basic gameplay mechanics and repetitive mission parameters. A lot of that credit goes to the witty dialogue and the talented actors who delivered it through vocal means. Unsurprisingly, that option isn’t utilized much here. Instead, almost all of the necessary dialogue appears in speech bubbles, although a limited amount of lines are spoken during the game’s several cutscenes. It’s not a major issue, and is understandable, but the lack of voice work left me feeling like something was missing. Even though the writers tried to create humour with their speech bubbles, the results just weren’t there. Yes, a few of the lines had me chuckling, but not that many did. The same was true of the gameplay scenarios, which simply weren’t as interesting this time around. Actually, to be frank, the entire experience was rather ho-hum.
When it comes to gameplay, the two titles don’t differ much on a mechanical basis. Both rely on basic combat maneuvers that leave a lot to be desired, and employ the same costume-changing emphasis. In order to succeed, one must utilize the abilities of unlocked outfits – such as the policeman and his grappling hook, the farmer and his friendly chicken’s gliding ability, the astronaut and his ray gun, the construction worker and his tools, plus the fireman and his hose – to solve rather simple puzzles. Early on, only one or two outfits must be used in order to get to objectives. However, later in the game one must tackle groups of puzzles that require multiple costume changes. It’s a simple design, which works relatively well, especially since this is a game that is friendly to all age groups, but it’s far from revolutionary and gets boring after a while.
LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins got off to a rather tedious start. It picked up a bit as its progressed, but most of its short missions felt like busywork, and generally lacked substance. Chase would be sent to an area of the city, where he’d find a new costume and would have to use it to complete manual labour tasks for other people. In a way, that’s what the other title was like; however, it had a lot more variety, and much more substance than this one does. For a large majority of this campaign, I was tasked with doing bland things that didn’t serve much of a purpose except to add length to the experience. I hate saying it and lambasting something that people obviously worked hard on, but it’s true. That’s not to say that there weren’t enjoyable moments to be found within, because there were some. Unfortunately, they were few and far between, buried underneath repetitive fetch quests, simplistic mission design choices and occasionally problematic movement mechanics that had me falling from ledges and climbing points far too often to ignore.
For the most part, it’s the presentation aspect of this release that deserves the most credit. As mentioned previously, its city is impressively large. Going forward, the game looks and sounds good, with quality animations, decent 3D and lots of colour. However, even though I wish I could say it was all roses in this department, that would be a lie. Unfortunately, this prequel effort is glitchy. During my eight hours with it, I experienced three major glitches that forced me to quit and reload save points. The first pertained to a criminal who was supposed to run away from me, but ended up becoming stuck in one position. Then, a car I jumped into wouldn’t move, or let me escape. Last, but certainly not least, one of the final boss battles glitched near its conclusion, preventing me from being able to attack said foe. It wasn’t fun stuff as you can surely imagine.
Even though LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins is a budget title of sorts, retailing for approximately thirty dollars instead of forty, it leaves a lot to be desired and is, unfortunately, too problematic and basic to fully enjoy. The development team succeeded at creating a thoroughly impressive cityscape, but didn’t fill it with enough interesting content to make it a very enjoyable place to visit. The majority of the included missions are incredibly generic and repetitive, the available secondary objectives are lacking, and there’s really no incentive to try to get 100% in what is a rather large creation, which is filled with collectibles. It’s too bad, but this one is only for the diehards and those who don’t mind busywork, even though there are some good building blocks to be found within.
This review is based on the 3DS exclusive, which we were provided with.
LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins features some impressive building blocks, and takes place within a large city environment. However, its focus on busywork and bland mission types holds it back, and the same is true of its lack of quality humour, basic gameplay mechanics and glitchy nature. As such, it's merely mediocre at best, which is disappointing.