Review: LEGO City Undercover for Wii U

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When one speaks of LEGO video games, what generally comes to mind is Traveller’s Tales’ long-running line of movie-based games based on such licenses as Indiana Jones, The Lord of the Rings, Batman, and the one which started it all, Star Wars. For the most part, these titles have taken their respective properties on linear one or two-player romps which are suitable for all ages and available on any number of platforms.

LEGO City Undercover, however, eschews much of what came before it. Though it’s not the first LEGO game without a more mainstream license (see Ninjago, Bionicle, etc.), it is perhaps the biggest one to date, and follows the long-running “LEGO City” line of toys (hence the name). Rather than allowing for co-op adventuring, Chase McCain works solo (well, aside from a little help from his friends), and it’s available for only one console. And instead of a linear style of gameplay, it features a large sandbox-styled world frequently compared to games such as Grand Theft Auto.

In fact, the common idea of LEGO City Undercover being “LEGO Grand Theft Auto” perhaps does both games an injustice. Some elements of Rockstar’s hit series can be seen here, true, but only in trace amounts. There is no blood, and violence is generally minimal and cartoony, just as in other LEGO video games, with a death consisting of a character falling into his component blocks.

Nor do the characters tend to wield guns, with the exception of Chase’s trusty grappling hook gun. There is a bit of light fighting action, such as when Chase learns Kung Fu, but even that is incredibly mild compared to your Street Fighters and the like, mostly consisting of acrobatics and throws.

For the most part, the gameplay is pretty simplistic, and even a younger child might be able to get into it easily enough. At the same time, there’s a richness of story and content that can make the game appealing to players of all ages.

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The story follows the “legendary” Chase McCain as he returns to LEGO City at the request of the mayor. It turns out his old nemesis, Rex Fury, has escaped from jail. You can call him Mint Jelly, because he’s on the lam, and it’s up to McCain to track him down and bring him in. Unfortunately, there seem to be certain powers at work who would rather Rex remain free, adding an element of mystery and conspiracy to the proceedings.

Despite this, the game never really takes itself too seriously. That “Mint Jelly” line above? I don’t think that’s in the game, but that’s nonetheless the type of humor the game has as it doles out jokes which are cheesy, yet hard not to laugh at in the context of a rather silly world. The voice acting, while perhaps not award-winning, just works in a way that feels perfect for this title; it chews the scenery while giving you a wink and a thumbs-up to let you know it’s all good here, and it’s okay to smile.

Chase McCain is the character you’ll hear the most, possessing a voice which feels reminiscent of the late Phil Hartman (Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz, among others on The Simpsons) or Zapp Brannigan (as voiced by Billy West) from Futurama yet is infinitely more likeable in a “he seems like a pretty cool guy” than any of those roles. As you walk around LEGO City, you’ll also be able to hear numerous other conversations, some of which get a little repetitive– particularly those in the police station. Thankfully, Chase himself is less repetitive.

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Gameplay-wise, if you’ve played just about any of Traveller’s Tales’ other LEGO titles, then you more or less have a good idea of how the fundamentals here work. Special missions have you move through more linear-styled levels that are set apart from the main city map, where you’ll solve puzzles, fight enemies, deconstruct and reconstruct items from LEGO blocks, and engage in some light platforming as you try to get from Point A to Point B.

The greater LEGO City area is where things really open up, however. The map is rather large, and can take quite a bit of time to move around, even while driving regular vehicles. All over the place are special blocks you can get to construct “Super Builds,” plus bonus side missions and places to collect new disguises. The downside is that it’s difficult to enjoy the openness of the world between missions, as the game is always badgering you to move on to your next objective; I had to learn to ignore it.

Much like Grand Theft Auto, you can commandeer just about any vehicle you come across; however, rather than carjacking, you’re borrowing it for “official police business.” You’ll also use the aforementioned collectible LEGO bricks to construct special checkpoints where the LEGO City P.D. will airlift in the vehicle of your choosing, in your choice of color, provided you’ve unlocked it first. In addition to the cars and trucks, aircraft, construction vehicles, motorcycles, and more, you can also ride horses and giant dinosaur skeletons.

There are over 100 vehicles to get and/or drive in the game, and they each have their own distinct feel– some better than others. This, combined with all of the costumes and other things to find as you gain new abilities, definitely helps add more playtime to the game.

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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.