Who would’ve thought that on rookie cop Chase McCain’s first day on the job he’d find himself traveling all over Lego City trying capture elusive criminal mastermind Rex Fury? Well, you probably did because both characters are right there on the box. Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins is a 3DS prequel to the Wii U release that came out earlier this year.
While developer TT Fusion should be applauded for their ambition–trying to bring an open-world Lego City game to the 3DS–ultimately the hardware’s own limitations are what keep The Chase Begins from truly shining.
The long loading times and multiple splash screens are the first thing you notice when you start The Chase Begins, and they’re indicative of the experience as a whole. While pressing A to get to the next screen is accompanied by the delightful noise of LEGO bricks clacking together, that little burst of nostalgia isn’t enough to make you forget that you’re waiting a really long time for the game to actually load. And when this is a portable game–one that’s supposedly designed to be played on the go–waiting around is one of the last things you want to do.
Once you get into the game and past the introductory cinematic, which are the only fully voiced sections in the game, Chase McCain is deposited into Lego City. You could almost mistake this city for San Francisco because of how foggy it is thanks to the extremely low draw distances. Terrible jokes aside, Lego City lacks much of the charm of its Wii U sibling.
Even though it’s stuffed with collectibles like extra disguises for Chase, cars, Super Bricks, and more, the city feels surprisingly empty. Cars and pedestrians appear out of the fog, but they don’t do much, especially the pedestrians. Because the only voice-acting takes place in the cinematics, the city’s also quiet. You hear the sounds of traffic, but no chatter from the people on the streets. Plus there’s no music except for when you’re in combat or driving. It’s great when you get to hear some. The soundtrack is like it was taken directly from an action cop movie. It fits the The Chase Begins perfectly; it’s just a shame that it’s frequent absence contributes to the empty setting.
The main antagonist, Rex Fury, has to to be the most bizarre criminal mastermind ever. Some of his schemes include: kidnapping dogs (not very devious), blowing up a dam (downright evil), and back to capturing supposedly rare squirrels (bizarre). The Chase Begins is broken up into sections that involve Chase completing missions within a set portion of the city before moving onto the next one. For example, the first part of the game takes place in Cherry Hills near the main police station, while the second part has all your missions occur on a prison island.
Once you’re in the current location, you’re not subjected to the terrible loading times that pop up every time you try to go from city section to city section. However, if you want to backtrack and explore in an attempt to find more of the game’s seemingly endless collectibles, you’ll be forced to sit and wait again and again. The loading times and the fact that the collectibles don’t do much besides unlock new disguises and cars completely discouraged me from trying to find them all.
So I stuck to the main story which will take you about 8 hours or so to complete. Missions are fairly simple–as this is a kid’s game after all–and they involve you being told that you need to fix the latest bad thing that’s happened: generators sabotaged, bridge is out, squirrels are kidnapped, etc. Stopping the crimes involves heading to the proper spot on your map, putting on the disguise the game tells you, and either mashing A or engaging in repetitive battles against disposable LEGO cannon fodder enemies.
All the main categories of disguises from the Wii U game are here: police officer, farmer, construction worker, etc. Each one has its own uses: the construction worker can fix fuse boxes or use a jackhammer, while the astronaut uses a jetpack. Swapping between them is as easy as using the 3DS’s touchscreen or using the D-pad. Each set of missions is designed to highlight your most recent disguise, but near the end of the game you’ll find yourself switching from fireman to astronaut to construction worker and back. However, trying to choose which disguise to use is never hard. The Chase Begins explicitly tells you which one to use in every situation.
The boss fights are where the combat moves beyond just grabbing enemies and throwing them to the ground until you can slap handcuffs on them. Each fight is more of a puzzle that highlights your most recent disguise. They’re not incredibly challenging, but they’re more engaging because they require a little more work than just hitting A then Y over and over.
Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins is a game with more ambition than its platform of choice can handle. Extremely long loading times hamper its portability, and instead of bustling LEGO metropolis, you’ll spend 8 hours or more in a LEGO ghost town. If you’re looking for a game with 70s cop movie sensibilities, you’re better served by picking up the Wii U version.
This review is based on a digital copy of Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins for the 3DS.