If you bought a Wii U the day it launched (as I did), itís been a lean few months waiting for something new to play. Chances are youíve been eyeballing LEGO City: Undercover as a hopeful beacon in the distance for quite some time. After building a successful videogame franchise based off combining LEGOs and popular licensed properties, can LEGO City succeed without the aid of Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, or Bruce Wayne?
This is definitely a huge, open-world LEGO game; being set in a city means the comparisons to Grand Theft Auto are unavoidable. But with the level of absurdity that can occur in LEGO City, it may be more apt to liken this title to a kid-friendly Saints Row. Thatís the only other series I can imagine with the guts to pull off smashing through a metropolis riding atop a mechanical T-Rex skeleton while dressed as a samurai... or a clownÖ or an astronautÖ or as a samurai clown astronaut. The goofy charm of the LEGO games is just as endearing as ever, and although these might be entirely original characters, the familiar pop culture parody and humor are intact. The protagonist, police officer Chase McCain, and his friends are a likeable bunch and the citizens of LEGO City are of the fully-voiced variety to keep up with the latest in LEGO game technology.
The city itself is really the star of the show. Itís a sizeable sprawl of a location and it is overwhelmingly dense with stuff to do. LEGO City may have set a record for number of collectibles in a videogame. You canít wander more than a few steps without seeing something you can pick up, or something to smash, or something to climb to, or something youíll be able to get once youíve unlocked a new ability. Similar to past LEGO games, Chase can gain different powers depending on what costume he is wearing. So if heís dressed as a criminal, he can crowbar his way into places or if heís a farmer he can glide by holding a chicken over his head. All of these abilities lead to being able to explore and scale more and more of LEGO City which leads to more and more collectibles. Itís extremely addictive once you get going. In particular, the Superbuilds concept that allows you to gather up bricks from objects you smashed and use them to construct new buildings and attractions in the world is intensely satisfying.
All this climbing and driving and exploring about LEGO City really overshadows the gameís campaign levels. While some of the gameís progression takes place in the open world, the majority is self-contained in individual linear stages that are like the LEGO games weíve been playing for years. I found these to be enjoyable enough, but the over-familiarity with the formula made me thankful that they seemed shorter than past LEGO levels. I really just wanted to get back out into the bustling LEGO City, but playing the story missions is the only way to unlock the eight different types of professions that Chase can change intoÖ and thus the only way you can fully explore the city.
The Wii Uís Gamepad functionality is implemented in a number of ways. Some of these functions seem to work better than others, as tends to be the case with developers still trying to figure out what to do with that second screen. For example, thereís really no reason to use it as the sole means to purchase vehicles or characters youíve unlocked. Itís actually clunkier than just having those menus on the big screen. However, holding the Gamepad up in front of you to view the game in first-person scanner mode is pretty nifty. This allows you to locate certain items and criminals in the game through an almost x-ray vision-type power. The Gamepad screen is also used in several obvious ways, such as receiving video messages from characters and as a GPS. The latter of which should be used with caution as I once ran head-on into a train while glancing down at it. No worries though as there really isnít any penalty for death in the game Ė you simply respawn almost immediately.
The main complaint I have with the game is the loading. I realize that a large environment such as LEGO City takes some time to spool up, but the three to four minutes it takes to go from booting up the game to actually playing the game feels excessive. Similarly, going into campaign levels or fast traveling back to the police station (your home base for purchasing unlockables) are also accompanied by lengthy waits. And during this process, all you get to look at is a spinning police shield on your television and a progress bar on your Gamepad. They could have at the very least shown some helpful hints or any sort of text to read to pass the time, but instead itís just that same spinning shield and a loop of music that reminds you how annoying police show music was in the seventies and eighties. Fortunately, once you are in the city, you wonít see any more of that loading screen unless you leave the open world. The only other thing that tempered my enjoyment in LEGO City was the occasional difficulty Iíd have with landing jumps. This isnít a new issue with LEGO games, but itís frustrating to have to repeat the same platforming sections again and again due to strange physics. One last thing that may impact your decision is that unlike past games, LEGO City has no co-op and is strictly a one-player experience.
The fact of the matter here is that you need something to play on your Wii U (or youíre trying to justify buying a Wii U) and LEGO City: Undercover is definitely a substantially sized game thatíll keep you playing (and collecting) for many hours. Itís a fresh take on what a LEGO game can be, but at the same time it keeps many of the conventions that have made these games so popular. With charm and whimsy to spare, LEGO City: Undercover is a game to start building your Wii U collection around.
Outstanding | Very Good | Fair | Poor | Awful
Recommended Buy Price: $45.00
Current MSRP: $49.99
LEGO City: Undercover was provided for review by Nintendo. I finished the campaign in 23 hours with 49.1% completion. LEGO City: Undercover is available exclusively on the Wii U.