REVIEW: LEGO City Undercover (Wii U)

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  • Nintendo Wii U / Rated E10+ / $49.99 / released March 2013
  • FINAL: You NEED this game. 5 out of 5 stars

Full of cute riffs on action movies and sly winks to famous TV/movie cops, “LEGO City Undercover” takes the winning formula of previous LEGO games (“LEGO Batman,” “LEGO Star Wars,” etc) and applies it to LEGO’s heretofore generic “City” line of building sets. Now centered around crusading police officer Chase McCain, what “Undercover” loses in name recognition it gains in free-spirited explorative gameplay.

When the surly police chief gives Chase his orders to catch the escaped con Rex Fury, the room is filled with MAD Magazine-style parodies that only the parents are going to get. Starsky and Hutch, Dirty Harry, Columbo. This early scene is a good indicator of the entire game: fun for the kids, but constantly throwing gags at the parents.

The sprawling, detail-rich environment of LEGO City covers acres of virtual land… convincingly populated with LEGO people going about their day. It is no stretch to call this LEGO “Grand Theft Auto,” in reference to the legendary (and legendarily adult) videogame series that’s all about exploring a virtual city. Once set on Rex Fury’s tail, you are free to explore LEGO City to your blocky heart’s content, limited only by doors and locks that will not open until you’ve progressed further along in the story.

And to that end, we see the “undercover” portion of the game. Chase must employ various disguises, culled from decades of LEGO sets. Only while wearing the space suit can Chase activate the futuristic teleporter devices hidden around town. Chase must put on his miner gear if he wants to use dynamite. For missions that require a less-than-upright thrust, Chase has a robber outfit. Each of the game’s costume categories has dozens of choices, allowing the player to dress up Chase however he or she likes. (And yes, although the storyline will maintain Chase as a male character, plenty of female costumes are provided.)

LEGO City Undercover” makes a bold decision that jettisons many of the problems associated with the licensed LEGO releases: no frustrating two-player mode. Although families may miss the ability to play together, the LEGO games have struggled with this functionality for years. If all we can hope for is a scale from tolerable to ghastly, I’m glad “Undercover” decided to give it a pass.

As a Wii U exclusive, “LEGO City” makes great hay out of the Wii U’s GamePad controller. The touch screen is used to scan for detective clues, map traffic routes and snap pictures. Pictures can be shared to Wii U friends using Nintendo’s Miiverse service. You also receive video chat phone calls on the GamePad from the game’s characters, adding fun immersion to the game.

Although impatient gamers will see the GamePad’s worst function in “LEGO City” when it does nothing but display a progress bar while the game loads. “Undercover” takes a looooong time to boot up, and entering certain areas (like the police station that you always need to visit) will trigger more tedious loading screens.

When not stuck loading, “LEGO City Undercover” is a game to get lost in, with an absurd amount of collectibles to find and enough variety in the process to keep it from getting boring. Wii U families on the hunt for the next great game should definitely move to LEGO City.

This review is based upon product supplied by the publisher. Image courtesy Nintendo of America.