Review: LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins for Nintendo 3DS
LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins feels like it can best be described as one– or perhaps both– of two things: A technological marvel, and a technological shortcoming. That may sound weird, but the game holds a strange significance in how much it manages to achieve while simultaneously falling short of its goals.
Part of the problem, one might posit, is that it stands in the shadow of its Wii U sequel/older brother. The original LEGO City Undercover is a very fun game, but not without a few hiccups here and there, and what TTGames seems to be trying to do here is deliver the same console experience on a considerably more underpowered machine.
What’s most impressive is that, in a way, it works.
Taking a game which runs on a more powerful piece of hardware and shrinking it down to be workable is nothing new, certainly not for this industry. Just ask anyone who has ever had to play an arcade port like Donkey Kong on the Atari 2600, or any number of ports to the NES and Super NES.
A particularly noteworthy one to my mind was Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game for the NES. The graphics, sound, and even the number of players were all downgraded significantly to fit the system’s specs, but it was still a smash hit. Or Contra, Super C, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, each of which were not only downgraded and changed in various ways, but ultimately proved more popular than the better looking, better sounding arcade originals.
These days, you’ll find most developers seem exceedingly discontent with the idea of downgrading their vision for such ports, something for which the Wii U suffered when it came to third-party ports. Nonetheless, that sort of pioneering spirit feels like the kind of gambit TT Games has taken here, and the result is a game which feels noticeably– very much so– like its Wii U counterpart, though still with some noticeable shortcomings.
The Chase Begins is a prequel to LEGO City Undercover, telling the story of how supercop Chase McCain became the legend he’d be known as in the Wii U title through his first encounter with the villainous Rex Fury. To that end, much is the same between the two games, including the setting and some of the characters you’ll meet, though in states younger and earlier than the other adventure.
You take on different missions, commandeering vehicles and fighting off felons while sometimes taking on disguises which grant you new abilities. For instance, a thief has a handy crowbar for prying open doors, while a construction worker has a jackhammer that’s good for tearing up pavement.
For the most part, players of the Wii U game can jump right in, though there are a few tweaks. For instance, cracking a safe as a crook is a little more involved, using the touchscreen to display the dial on the lock. Just turn it back and forth with the stylus until the indicators light up, and voila! And while the Wii U game implemented the GamePad as an actual in-game item used to track footprints (among other functions), a simple magnifying glass performs the same task here.
Combat feels like it has a heavier emphasis this time out, as you seem to get into scrapes with greater frequency. And yet, it remains simplistic– almost too much so, as you can basically just press the X button when promoted to counter an attack with a rather gracious window in which to press it. One button performs numerous moves, depending on the angle, but the actual action can get a little repetitive when there is wave after wave of enemies coming at you.
The boss characters are a bit trickier, as your normal maneuvers and deft dodges do little to nothing to them. While the game practically holds your hand for the regular grunts, the bosses are a bit more obtuse– at least, until you figure out that pressing A to lock up with them and then mashing it to overpower and pick them up for a throw is the key. They do bring out some tricks, such as explosively-armed radio controlled cars or minions to stand in your way, but still manage to feel pretty basic.
If the odds do manage to overcome you, though, you needn’t worry. The penalties in LEGO City are rather small potatoes, as you’ll be revived right back in the thick of things. At the very least, it doesn’t tend to be particularly stressful (save for getting hit with one instant-death RC car after another upon respawning, but even that passes soon), and might be good for players who lack a greater degree of coordination.
Regarding the aforementioned shortcomings: If you thought the loading times in the Wii U game were bad, they tend to be comparable here– possibly worse, as it takes anywhere from 15 seconds to the better part of a minute to load certain sections and scenes, with many falling right around the half-minute mark. If you didn’t like it in the Wii U version, you won’t like it here– especially as the city seems a little more divided into sections which require their own loading screens.
The visuals are generally good, though given these are LEGO figures we’re talking about, they don’t exactly push the boundaries of the uncanny valley. Nintendo 64 players might feel at home, as there is a perpetual fog in the distance to hide draw-in of buildings and other such things as you move along. Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply as well to the actual denizens of LEGO City, who will often pop right into view as if out of nowhere, sometimes right in front of you.
Then there is the humor. Much of LEGO City Undercover‘s charm came from its sense of humor, which ranged from visual humor to one-liners to subversive to parody and more. Some have said this game isn’t as funny, or even that it isn’t funny at all, but it does elicit some chuckles here and there. Personally, I think the main problem is with the voices: They’re as good as ever, but seldom used, typically saved for particular cutscenes. Other parts are told in text, and there’s no idle dialogue from the different people you pass by, which drains a lot of the amusing atmosphere from the original game. Even so, it still has its moments, albeit less frequently.
All in all, LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins isn’t a bad game, but it might not be to everyone’s tastes. If you didn’t enjoy the Wii U game, then there is really nothing for you here. If you did enjoy that one, then you have to ask yourself which parts you enjoyed and if they’re well-represented here.
Generally speaking, it feels like the Wii U experience was squeezed down into a much smaller package that’s bursting at the seams. For better or for worse, TT Games might have overextended their reach in some areas, but still did an admirable job in recreating the LEGO City Undercover experience on a less-powerful piece of hardware. I enjoyed it enough that I can honestly say it’s not bad, though it’s still not as good as its high-definition big brother.
A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.