Review by Phil Stortzum
The Wii U saw an entire month without any kind of retail release, and without releases your console is not going to sell. Wii U owners have had nothing much except the titles that launched with the system way back in November. March has finally given the struggling system some new titles for owners to play. Arguably, one of the most anticipated is a Wii U exclusive from TT Games and Nintendo, Lego City Undercover. Not only is the title a welcomed and fresh take on the third-person, sandbox-style game, but it is one of the greatest [exclusive] reasons to own a Wii U right now.
What You Need to Know
Our protagonist Chase McCain is back on the beat and has returned to Lego City when he hears news that the man he helped put away behind bars has broken out, the villainous Rex Fury. In order to learn of his location, Chase will have to go undercover and infiltrate various gangs, and even the mafia, to gain helpful clues.
If you’ve played a Lego game in the past, especially an open world one like Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, then you should feel familiar with the gameplay of Lego City Undercover. Lego City, too, is open world, with you following along with the story (more on that later). When you’re not driving around taking in the sights and sounds of the big city, you will be in one of the game’s fifteen levels, similarly structured to past Lego games.
This is still the tried-and-true gameplay you might be accustomed to. This consists of making your way through levels, using your skills and abilities to solve environmental puzzles (which usually comes down to breaking everything in sight) and battling enemies through the admittedly simplistic combat. For instance, busting a certain car allows Chase to use the leftover pieces to build a ladder to reach an otherwise inaccessible area. These missions will have you and Chase going to all sorts of places and participating in all kinds of heists. From infiltrating a museum to steal a ride-able T-Rex skeleton, to taking out baddies in a mine, there is no shortage of interesting places to see and missions to accomplish.
Right away when you play Lego City, you’ll find that the humor is absolutely brilliant. The game presents itself in a cheesy way that makes you can’t help but smile. The humor isn’t just for kids, the main market for Lego games, either. No, a lot of references and jokes will go over the heads of the younger mindset, and this game is chock full of references. From a segment that is based off of The Shawshank Redemption, to a construction site’s foreman who is no doubt inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger, even having the character not-so-subtly use the former Govenator’s movie titles in his dialogue, there are plenty of movie and pop culture references to be found. The other characters are brimming with personality as well, and by far my favorite would have to be the rookie cop Frank Honey, who is so clueless that it makes him endlessly endearing. His dialogue is fantastic and seldom failed to make me chuckle while playing.
Every City Block Rocks
Lego City is a fabulous open-world playground for players to drive, fly, or simply saunter around in. It’s incredibly expansive with unique districts modeled after real-world locations. For instance, Cherry Tree Hills is clearly an homage to San Francisco with its hills and cable cars running up and down the streets, Bright Lights Plaza owes a lot of its design to New York City’s Times Square, and Fresco’s canal streets and mafia connections are modeled after Italy. The map is massive, citizens prance up and down the sidewalks, and the most entertaining and impressive part of how the city is built is that there is literally something to do and something to collect at every block.
Each of the game’s districts has a list of tasks and side quests that can be performed. They’re all the same category of things such as rescuing a cat from a high place, conquering a district by planting a flag at a specific spot as Chase’s astronaut disguise, destroying a Rex Fury statue with dynamite, stealing a vehicle and getting it to a marked destination as the cops try to stop you, beating the clock as you participate in a waypoint time trial, getting your platforming on in a free run race against time, and so much more. Each task you complete rewards you with a Gold Brick. There are 450 in all to gain, and to tell you how much content is in Lego City Undercover, I have played for 30 hours now, and I am not even at 300 Gold Bricks yet. If you’re looking for a game with tons to do, and you love collecting and exploring a fascinating world, Lego City Undercover should be on your must-have list.
Navigating through rooftops is part of the thrill. Rooftops hide lots of secrets, from side quests to unlockable character and vehicle studs, to secret bricks used for Super Builds. Platforming plays a big part as well. Chase excels at parkour-like actions, such as wall climbing, wall jumping, pole vaulting, leaping over or sliding under platforms, and tightrope walking. You’ll need all Chase’s tricks to reach the highest vantage points that Lego City holds. Figuring out exactly how to reach a certain rooftop or area is immensely rewarding, especially if there’s something special that it houses.
While going undercover, Chase will come across various new disguises in missions, granting him new abilities. For instance, the robber can pry open doors and carefully open safes, the miner is able to destroy boulders with his pickax and use dynamite to blow open steel objects, and the farmer can water certain flowers and make them grow then making new platforms or vines to climb on. He can also cross chasms by pulling out a chicken and gently fall to the ground. There are eight unique disguise archetypes, but a myriad of mini-figure costumes that you can find, purchase at the police station basement, and wear.
Entertaining Wii U GamePad Usage
For a game that is exclusive to the Wii U, one might ask what features make Lego City Undercover only possible on Nintendo’s next generation offering. The Wii U GamePad on its own serves as the map of Lego City, allowing you to survey the entire map through sliding your finger across the screen. It also serves as your communication with the various characters you interact with. The calls come from the GamePad’s speakers and also show a live feed image of the person speaking to you. Additionally at times you will need to scan a given area for criminal activity, to listen in on distant conversations, or to just take pictures. This is where the GamePad comes in too. By holding up the Wii U GamePad and moving it around, you can perform these acts with ease. Finally, the Wii U controller is used for selecting new vehicles from call-in points and checking your status and completion progress in a district.
Wait for It… Wait for It… And Other Technical Issues
One of the main issues with Lego City Undercover is the obvious loading times that plague the game. There is a one minute wait when you initially boot up the game, and one that follows when you start a new game or load a previous save. It’s understandable when you realize the disc is loading the entire city for you to explore without any wait. However, once the initial loading screens have come and gone, you won’t see another one unless you start a mission or enter the police station. Still, it would be nice to see a patch that would shorten these loading times, even cutting them down to 30 seconds each.
Open-world games are generally rather intensive on the hardware they run on. After all, they have to load parts of the city as you approach them. This is the case with Lego City Undercover. It’s not a perfect game graphically, as there are hints of aliasing, jaggies, and the occasional frame-rate stuttering. I have also had the game freeze on me once in my 30 hours of play. Thankfully, the game auto-saves after every brick and special stud collected, in addition to side tasks completed, so no real progress was lost. Even with these technical quirks, Lego City is quite a beautiful place with plenty of points of interest to gaze at in wide wonder.
Lego City Undercover, as evident by the types of humor and references involved, is not just a game for children, but it’s important to note the game was made to be played and enjoyed by everybody of all ages. This makes it relatively easy to beat. In fact, you can’t “game over” in this title. Instead, when you lose all of your hearts, your Lego body falls to pieces; if you’re in a mission you lose a certain amount of Lego studs, the currency of the game; and you simply return close to the same place you perished. The idea that the game is difficult to lose might make some more advanced players pass or feel insulted by how easy it is. Perhaps the only difficulty is certain time trials, and that is only because the driving is a bit loose.
Combat is also rather basic. Some foes can be defeated just by pressing the Y button and tossing them, then handcuffing them. Others who are stronger require more brawn than brains by simply grabbing them, mashing on the A button, picking them up, and then chucking them. You get a warning over an enemy’s head to counter their offensive strike. While the combat is fun at first, it quickly grows repetitive.
Lego City Undercover single-handedly made my Wii U purchase worthwhile. As I stated already, the amount of activities that can be done, places to see, and secrets to find are staggering. Several dozens of hours in and I still have a long ways to go. If content is king, then the game delivers in that aspect. The game also delivers in presenting a story with levels of humor that all ages can enjoy, a city that is well designed with stuff to accomplish at every corner, and a popular Miiverse community full of people to talk with, Lego City Undercover is without question, in this reviewer’s opinion, the best reason to own a Wii U currently.
Review copy was purchased at Best Buy for $49.99
As of the original review, I have completed the majority of districts, collecting 433 of the 450 Gold Bricks, and have a 90.4% overall completion percentage.
Total play time: 47 hours