Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins ::: Review

Chase McCain returns in his portable prequel. Can you return in a prequel?

Look at the last few things the Thomas’ have thrown up on here and you can tell a few things. Firstly, that we like Nintendo. Why on earth would one of us own a Wii U and both of us have gone out on day one and purchased 3DS’ if we didn’t? (Becoming an “Ambassador” was just a nice bonus.)

Next, Lego is the greatest creation of mankind. Without it my shelves would be bare, my key would have no ring, and we wouldn’t have those fancy quick looks that James has managed of the Wii U games recently.

And finally, when you combine the two, you make us very, very happy indeed.

A couple of weeks ago, James had a look at the latest Lego game, Lego City Undercover, a game which was free of the potential constraints of a licence but at the same time lacked the potential draw of Star Wars, DC or Pirates. However, what he found was an incredibly charming open world set inside the Lego City range of sets that allowed a game to come as close as we have yet to really represent the spirit of play that Lego embodies. So now, a few weeks later we have the 3DS game to take a look at, how does it stack up against it impressive bigger brother?

Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins is a prequel to the Wii U version and sees Chase McCain embarking on a series of missions to stop a variety of criminals from their nefarious deeds, until he reaches the top and takes out the big bad of Rex Fury… assuming that actually is Rex, I can’t be sure, he wasn’t wearing a mask last time I saw him?

Just like the Wii U version, it dumps you into an open world in which you are then free to roam. As you do you can pick up missions, take part in races, collect a variety of trinkets that are dotted around the world, or even ride a pig towards cannons before launching them through the air to gather a few more studs. In fact the first tool tip I came across proudly stated “Farmers can load pigs into cannons”, it was about this time I knew this game was for me. The missions are a version of your traditional Lego fare; platform a bit, fight a bit, build a bit, laugh a bit and then repeat. But the freedom gained from being released from the shackles of licencing means that even the most basic of task is thoroughly draped in charm, and when you start unlocking extra outfits (disguises) for Chase things get even better. Not much can beat the joy of seeing a Zombie-Clown hunting down criminals.

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When dropped into the missions Chase is tasked with everything from battling off hordes of nasty thugs to racing around the town to saving kidnapped squirrels. The combat is a fairly simple affair, letting you grab enemies and chuck them around before arresting them and sending them to jail. Well I assume that’s what happens, they actually just disappear. They even take a little hint from the recent Batman: Arkham games and throw in the counter mechanic that Rocksteady popularised. It’s a simple system which is used in most missions, but at points it does skirt the line in becoming overused. When you have three or four rounds of three or four guys coming at you, its simplicity can come back to bite you as you are left wanting and merely trying to get through sections as quick as possible. A slightly deeper combat system could have made it a bit more enjoyable than simply being tolerable.

The Lego world is a lovely one. Separated into seven distinct chunks each has their own individual flavour, but all of them chock full of the charm that Lego brings. Be it the city district, the warehouse industrial zone, or the prison island, to name but a few, each comes with a brand new batch of sights to see, people to bump into and vehicles to drive.

The world is also dripping with collectables pushing you to explore the world, but also experiment with the different costume you have unlocked. Each of the main themes within the game has a costume that allows Chase to do a little something extra. Robbers can jimmy locks, firemen carry extinguishers and farms can use chickens as a make shift hang-glider (obviously). With these you can reach previously inaccessible areas or offer up some genuinely unexpected results – the first time the Alien showed of its special skill I actually laughed out loud – and using these usually leads to some extra “stuff” for your character, be it new outfits, new vehicles, extra studs or the super fancy red blocks. Picking up the red blocks as soon as you can is highly recommended as they can unlock useful skills like multiplying your studs or turning your cars horn into that of a clown. As I said, really useful stuff!

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To help you with finding all these extra doodads, you steal a trick from the Wii U gamepad and turn the 3DS itself into a radar helping you look for the various collectables. You can then highlight it on your map helping you find it, but to make things a little trickier you can only highlight one at a time so searching through the landscape thoroughly is a must. Knowing that the 3D effect is easily lost when waving the console around the dev has very sensibly allowed you to either move or use the analogue stick to the same effect.

So on the surface all the bells and whistles seem to have been ported over to the handheld version, but one major roadblock stands in the way. Put simply, the Wii U has much more horse power than its dual-screened cousin. Where on the big screen you have a huge open world to wander, on the 3DS you have seven distinct chunks of the world, each separated by considerable load times. The Wii U has fully voiced cut scenes, with The Chase saving those for select story beats. On the console, the world is populated by hundreds of mini-figs wandering around and nattering as they do, while here only about 10ft in front of Chase can manage any characters as they appear literally from nowhere. Sure Traveller’s Tales have done what they can to limit the amount this affects the game, missions are designed to ensure that you don’t have to flit between zones, for example, but that doesn’t quite make up for it.

And it’s these issues that stop Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins from being something I can recommend to everyone. If like me, you haven’t played this on the Wii U the charm and joy this game can genuinely show you easily out strips all the problems the technical limitations bring. But, if like the older Thomas sibling you have already spent over 24 hours in Lego City, all you will see is what’s holding this game back.

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