If you love Nintendo and you love Lego, then 2013 is a good year for you. In March, Nintendo published Travelers’ Tales’ Lego City Undercover for the Wii U, a new Lego game that not only wasn’t based on an existing license but was also set in an open world city. A month later in April, Nintendo publishes yet another Travelers’ Tales’ game in the form of Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins for the 3DS. Taking place in the exact same city, The Chase Begins is a prequel. Unfortunately, this companion game lost quite a bit of what made the Wii U version so great.
Every hero has their beginning. Chase McCain has his in Lego City, which he considers the greatest city in the world. As with every hero, they have their nemesis, a villain which will not rest until their presence downgrades the city’s status to No Longer the Greatest City in the World. Enter Rex Fury, the nastiest criminal Chase will have to arrest as he begins his career as one of Lego City’s finest. The only way Chase will ever get close enough to get to Rex, however, will be to go undercover by taking up every job imaginable from construction worker to fireman and even farmer. It’s time for Chase’s story to begin.
Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins uses the exact same city as the Wii U game with bits and pieces still under construction, but doesn’t utilize it nearly as well. For starters, the entire city is not rendered all at once, meaning every district you travel to will require a hefty load time of around 45 seconds. This greatly deters exploration, and the city also contains quite a lot less in the way of collectibles. There are still random things to do such as finding pigs and firing them out of cannons, busting up ATMs and reaping the rewards, and catching muggers in the act but for the most part, the city seems much emptier. There also aren’t as many different cars or people populating the streets. Free-running returns, but you’ll notice fewer spots on buildings with which to do so.
The mission structure of the game is also different. There aren’t any 20 minute-long self-contained levels like the majority of past Lego games. Some missions use a scene or two from the Wii U’s game, while others will have Chase setting foot in an entirely new location. Every mission takes roughly two to five minutes to complete, clearly designed for players who don’t play their 3DS for more than 10 minutes at a time. The problem with this kind of gameplay is it makes the game unfairly smaller than it should be. There are no missions that require you to travel across the city, providing you opportunities to have conversations with other characters, which is a sandbox staple. Also, since there are no self-contained levels, there’s no stud collecting for Lego City Hero goals or collecting pieces of police shields. All red cheat bricks are scattered through the city as well, and there are no mission replay options.
To make matters worse, the combat – which was pretty basic in the Wii U title – is now more monotonous. It still works the same. You press Y to throw enemies to the ground and X to counter incoming attacks. Picking them up with A lets you throw them into each other and once they’ve been beaten up, you can slap the cuffs on them. You only needed to take them down once in the Wii U title to arrest them, but now you have to do it several times in Chase Begins.
The different outfits Chase collects work the same as in the Wii U title. You have the firefighter, who can put out fires with his extinguisher; the miner, who can destroy boulders with his pickax and plant dynamite; the construction worker fixes fuse boxes and drills through weakened floors. Some of the disguises have a few changes to them such as the farmer no longer being able to glide whenever you want, the astronaut no longer hovers but can now rocket up to great heights, and the burglar has a great new way of hacking safes using the touchscreen. Unfortunately because of the snack-sized mission structure, you don’t get to use these disguises to come back to levels and unlock more goodies.
The touchscreen acts very similar to how the gamepad was used in the Wii U title. The map is constantly displayed on the lower screen, but is actually more useless. You can’t zoom in or out to see other districts on the map, and it still makes the mistake of not keeping more than one targeted icon on display at a time. You can still use it to scan for hidden collectibles in the city, but the gyroscope controls are floaty. Chase Begins has a new feature where you can use it to scan for a signal during a wiretap, and you can also find panoramic cameras in the city to take photos for postcards.
You can still collect bricks to build the giant structures known as Super Builds, but they lose impact here. For some odd reason, the number of bricks required to build most Super Builds has been reduced, but the number of bricks you collect via Super Bricks has been reduced as well. There are also fewer Super Bricks scattered in the city. When you find a building pad and begin to build, the game doesn’t show the bricks falling from the sky, building the structure in real time. Instead, it goes into a cutscene, and then the Super Build magically appears in the game world. It was a cool effect in the Wii U game, but it should have been carried over here. Alas, you never even assemble Super Builds during story missions, which the Wii U game had you doing all the time.
Still on the topic of Super Builds, you can build helipads for quick travel across the game’s seven districts. Recall that there were more in Wii U’s Undercover? That’s because there were. You no longer are able to explore the bridges, passing right through them when traveling to the next district. Sadly, these helipads don’t act as aircraft call in points, so you won’t even have the ability to travel across the city via air. You can still build ground vehicle call in points, and the overall driving controls have actually been improved. It is, however, easier to spin out during a collision or lose the ability to maintain traction at all when you get stuck off road. There’s also no turbo option for the faster cars, which makes vehicle pursuits less thrilling.
It’s easy to see that the 3DS tries its best to perform when rendering The Chase Begins, as the graphics are instantly recognizable to that of the Wii U game. Of course, textures won’t be as sharp and there are jagged lines here and there. As mentioned before, the game does not load the entire city at the same time, but it also casts a good amount of fog to try to reduce the amount of draw-in. The animations are just as terrific as the Wii U game, but sadly, the game is afflicted with an inconsistent frame rate. It never gets bad enough to cripple the game, but it is problematic enough to not let it go unnoticed.
The greatest disappointment of The Chase Begins is the complete lack of voice acting during gameplay. The cutscenes do have voice acting, but the rest of the game sorely needs it. Lego City Undercover for the Wii U was so enjoyable in large part to the game’s omnipresent charm and humor, and it was helped by brilliant writing. Although Chase Begins is humorous at times, it seems that all the energy of the writing went into the pre-rendered cutscenes. As for the music and sound effects, they are all recycled from the Wii U title; there’s nothing new to be experienced in regards to those features.
It’s strongly recommended that you play Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins before you play its bigger brother. Even though it’s unfair to do so, you’ll continuously make comparisons to it and wish that what was in the Wii U game was in the 3DS game. It’s hard to excuse the game for being so scaled down, when it’s clear that it does so much to try to emulate the console experience. As it stands, much is lost in both the gameplay department and the presentation due to mission structure, replayability and most importantly charm and humor. There are even a few game breaking bugs and glitches that somehow passed by Nintendo’s quality assurance team. At 30 dollars, it’s an easier pill to swallow but even then, you’ll need to do it with a lot of water.
Animated very well | Cutscenes retain the humor of the Wii U game
Lack of voice acting during gameplay | Long load times | Missions aren't very exciting | City feels emptier
Born and raised in Denver, CO in 1979, I've been playing games since I was old enough to hold a controller. I was weened on Atari, then Nintendo and Sega, and currently own just about every console and handheld made. I'm an avid hip hop fan and I love to read books. Favorite authors include Dean Koontz, Stephen Hunter, and Christopher Moore. I'm also an avid movie watcher and I try to collect as many Blu-Rays as I can.
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