Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins systematically dismantles all of the parts I loved about the Wii U game to the point where I wonder why Nintendo even bothered. Compartmentalized tracts of land replace the original’s large open world. Missions are simplified beyond even Lego standards. And in its biggest crime, hero Chase McCain and the rest of Lego City are largely rendered silent.
McCain and his buddy Frank Honey are fun characters, and I enjoyed chasing after villain Rex Fury with them in the Wii U game. In The Chase Begins, McCain is on his own, leaving him without a steady comic foil. Voiced cutscenes pop up from time to time, which add a desperately needed spark. I like when the game shows how Chase got along with love interest Natalia Kowalski and the interactions with then-deputy police chief Dunby, but these clips are a rarity. The rest of the time, dialogue is flatly presented as text. TT Games used to get away with this kind of miming, but it simply doesn’t work when tied to an original story.
The 3DS hardware doesn’t seem capable of providing a seamless open world, either. Instead, you’re stuck watching a series of loading screens as you follow mission objectives across segments of Lego City in a full-on Silent Hill smog. Once you guide McCain to his destination, you can count on reliably dull missions. Monotony quickly crept in as I slogged through the same “break this, defeat him, assemble that” loop. With few exceptions, these tasks take place outside in the city, unlike in the interior spaces and other virtual sets that past Lego games have used. The city offers few motivators to explore; I’m hopelessly addicted to finding every doodad in Lego games, and didn’t feel any of those urges here.
Chase has the same outfits found in the Wii U version, including farmer, criminal, and astronaut duds. I enjoyed testing the various skills that each provided. The astronaut can use a jet pack to reach higher spots, for instance, while the farmer can use his chicken as either an egg-launching cannon or a way to slowly descend from heights. It’s the same stuff as before, only on a smaller screen.
The Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins experience is like asking for a complex Lego set for your birthday and finding a box of Duplo under the wrapping paper instead. It’s technically similar, but the differences are critically important.
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