The Wii U scored a major hit with the release of LEGO City Undercover roughly a month ago. It may have suffered from bad load times, but the family-friendly adventure featured lots of good gameplay and the series' trademark humor. Not to be left behind, the 3DS has LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins, an original title that doesn't reach the lofty goals of the home console edition.
The Chase Begins is set two years prior to the events in the Wii U title. You are Chase McCain, a fresh rookie in the LEGO City Police Department. His first few tasks are small, such as getting a batch of donuts or helping a citizen retrieve a dog. It doesn't take long for him to stumble upon a plot by a gang to take over LEGO City, and with so few officers up to the task, he must take down the gang and its leader, Rex Fury.
Though few expect these games to have deep, thought-provoking plots, it feels like this title squandered the opportunity to flesh out the home console version. From the first scene, all of the major characters are already set in their ways, and there's no explanation as to how that came to pass. Deputy Dunby already hates you, and your relationship with Natalia is already volatile. Again, stuff like this isn't important to the game's target audience, but for some older gamers who enjoy the LEGO games, the lack of story continuity is a little disappointing.
Another source of disappointment is the humor — or the lack thereof. Some elements that made the Wii U game memorable were the bad jokes and references weaved throughout the plot. The lack of a rigid license meant that anything goes, and it usually did, with references to films like "The Matrix" and "The Shawshank Redemption" as well as caricatures of Harry Callahan, Columbo and Sherlock Holmes. In the 3DS iteration, references are scarce, and only a few characters from the Wii U game make an appearance for tutorials. The jokes are certainly more youth-oriented, though many are predictable and lack any sly undertones. In short, it barely tries to be funny, and for a LEGO game, a lack of humor doesn't resonate well with players and fans.
Instead of creating something completely different for the handheld, the team at TT Fusion tried something that hasn't really been attempted on the 3DS: an open-world title. All of LEGO City is available for you to explore. For the most part, you can walk wherever you want on the street level, and you can use your acrobatic skills to shimmy along building edges or climb to the top. You can use cars to quickly cover distances or helicopters to warp between parts of the city. There's also no shortage of things to collect, and you can build an abundance of vehicle drop-off spots. At face value, it seems that the team has tried its best to translate the core of the LEGO City: Undercover Wii U experience into a more portable format.
The problem with an open-world game on the 3DS is that it doesn't work that well. Part of this has to do with the compartmentalization of the world. Despite the map indicating that the city is rather large, you're often prohibited from accessing areas before reaching specific points in the story. This would be more acceptable if there were visible roadblocks impeding your progress, but all of the roads and bridges are completely open, so the artificial blockades are sort of a rude surprise.
When you finally open up a few areas, you realize that there's a good reason for the blockades. The game suffers from some pretty bad load times, and loading occurs very often. Traversing from section to section brings up load screens that last about 30 seconds, and the same thing occurs when moving in and out of buildings. It may be acceptable on a home console, but on portable systems, every second of gameplay counts. With the long load times and small areas, you'll spend more time watching and less time playing. To that end, you're not enticed to build every landmark and ferret out every hidden object because of the sheer number of load screens you'll encounter.
Interestingly, while the game suffers from some rather bad load times like the Wii U version, all of this is dependent on the media used. In the case of the review copy, which was provided as a download code, the load times can be sped up with a higher class of SD card. A Class 10 card made the load times a little more tolerable while a standard Class 4 brought about two-minute load times in some cases. If you plan on getting this game through the eShop, you're advised to use a Class 10 card if you want to decrease load times.
Due to these technical limitations, missions are limited to one area at a time instead of asking you to traverse several chunks of the city. Car chases, for example, only take you through part of that city chunk as opposed to being citywide affairs, and the patterns are easy enough to recognize that it's only a matter of being patient before you diffuse the suspect's vehicle. The on-foot missions follow that same vibe, though they're the right length since you don't cover too much ground anyway. As a result, you'll get the sense of déjà vu early on because you'll see the same streets and buildings across several missions and in a short period of time.
For the most part, the missions follow some of the general traits of the console version. Combat is more defensive than offensive, so you'll do more counters and throws than delivering punches or kicks. Chase can obtain different costumes, each with special abilities that are essential to the mission and essential for unlocking other areas. The farmer, for example, can shoot pigs from a cannon or do an assisted jump with a chicken while the burglar can pry open locked doors and crack safes. As expected, there isn't a penalty for death, as losing all of your health causes you to immediately respawn in the same location. You don't even lose studs or bricks when you die.
Despite those similarities, the missions are lacking because of the open-world environments. They fit the desired structure of portable games with bite-sized missions, but you don't get the expected tasks, such as finding special objects or getting lots of studs to build up a meter to 100%. This isn't too bad, but it doesn't help that the missions are too easy. The boss fights are pretty easy, and with the map on the bottom screen all the time, it takes a lot of effort to get lost.
The graphics also play a big part in the game's lower quality. The frame rate is solid enough, but it tends to drop if you're traversing the city at high speeds while turning. There's a persistent layer of fog that only lets up when you're inside buildings and while the fog doesn't take up lots of real estate, it takes up enough that you'll be bothered. The presence of fog doesn't stop objects from popping up a little too late, which is problematic during chases. Both pedestrians and cars suffer from this issue, and with no way to alleviate this, you always run the risk of unintentionally hitting something during a chase because you didn't have enough time to react. Finally, there's no lip movement for any of the on-screen text, and the expressions remain static regardless of whether the person is happy or sad.
Get past those graphical issues, and you'll see that the rest of the game looks pretty good. Everything has nice, bright colors, and the animations for the minifigs and some of the animals are fairly good. Except for some of the more intricate details, the city provides a fairly good facsimile of the Wii U version, with the necessary changes to make it look a bit younger, with some parts still under construction. It might not be upper-echelon stuff for the system, but it looks good enough for the system's life. That perception doesn't change when playing in 3-D, as the performance is the same, but the added depth makes the world look a little more appealing.
The sound is pretty much like the Wii U version, only a bit sparser. Music only seems to play while in vehicles or pre-rendered cut scenes. The rest of the game is spent in perpetual silence, save for ambient sound effects. Those sound effects aren't that bad, as they sound like a slightly muddled iteration of the home console versions. What affects the game to a large degree are the voices, or lack thereof. The pre-rendered cut scenes are fully voiced by the actors from the Wii U game, but those scenes are rather few and far between. For the most part, the characters speak in silence, robbing the game of a bulk of its humor. It is too much to ask that every character speak all of their lines, considering the abundance of dialogue. However, incidental dialogue is also missing from pedestrians, so the game simply feels less charming.
LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins is an overly ambitious game that isn't as good as the home console edition. The limited feel of the open worlds and the lack of traditional LEGO-style levels makes this version less impressive than it should be, and the various technical issues don't help the game, either. For those looking to get an open-world style game on the go, this fits the bill. For those looking for something much more enjoyable, rent this movie from him and buy the Wii U version instead.
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