While reading a pile of BioShock Infinite reviews so I, in turn, could review them, I realized something: once you get past the intro, so many reviews devolve into saying the same thing about a particular game in a slightly different way. It’s the introductions where the writing shines most clearly, because – underneath it all – aren’t we game writers just trying to hook you, to get you to keep reading, to make you come back and read more again soon? I know I am. I should probably update more than twice a month. That might help.
To make it up to you, here’s something unique: a LEGO City Undercover review in the form of three different review intros, all taking a different approach to telling you that you should go buy this game immediately. Maybe I just couldn’t figure out a middle or an end and just kept coming up with beginnings. You’ll never know. Enjoy.
Growing up in the modern age, “video games” have come to gradually replace “toys” as children’s primary form of entertainment. But with that transition, we’ve lost something. A young child can spend all afternoon playing with a box, because – to him – the box isn’t a box. It’s a rocket ship, or a town hall, or a submarine, or an evil robot. But eventually that dies.
Imagination isn’t fostered with video games. Here is this world that has been constructed especially for you. It has rules and limits, glitches and technical hiccups. It’s presented to you on a silver platter, requiring no meaningful input for “fun” to happen.
Imagine if that was different.
LEGO City Undercover is completely unlike any game I’ve ever played. Sure, the actual mechanics of the game are two parts Grand Theft Auto and one part Batman: Arkham City combat, and it appears to be “just another LEGO game.” But for me, it was something more. It pulled this childish sense of wonder out of me, from a soft spot in my soul I had thought long dead.
Before playing LEGO City Undercover, I was expecting a GTA-lite with an adorable sense of humor. I’d played enough other LEGO titles to know that they are charming, easy-to-play, and – above all – loaded with personality. This one is different – there’s no co-op, no license, the characters actually talk, and departing the stage structure for an open world could be a grave mistake. My biggest fear with a LEGO game adopting the Grand Theft Auto open world template is that these sprawling, expansive worlds are ultimately empty. Sure, the street maps may match Los Angeles, or New York, or London, but the buildings? The locations? The faces? Lifeless. Nondescript. Forgettable. And the activities you can do between the main story missions? Zzzzzzzzz…
LCU turns this expectation on its head. With so many secrets, an incredibly diverse array of environments, and a sense of exploration heretofore unmatched in any game I’ve ever played, TT Fusion has accomplished what once seemed like a pipe dream: an open world at once welcoming and expansive, focused yet free.
In general, we play games for fun. To escape. To experience a world which is not our own. So rare is it to find a game that actually makes me happy. Spending time in LEGO City – a town with crime but no fear – just made me feel GOOD. My sleep was better. My days were brighter. When even your side quests are rewarding, you never feel like your time is being wasted. TT Fustion understands that kids get bored, and distracted, and flighty. So why not reward that? Why not… encourage that?
LEGO bricks let your imagination soar while you’re putting them together on your grandmother’s blanket in the middle of the living room floor. LEGO City Undercover similarly gives you the freedom of a world with endless possibilities and always one more thing to do, one more secret to discover, one more corner you haven’t yet explored.
57 hours to the minute. That’s how long it took me to get to 100% completion on LEGO City Undercover. I haven’t 100%’d a game since the first Kingdom Hearts, and all that took was another few dozen dalmatians and my trusty copy of PSM. But LEGO City… I didn’t want it to end. Even now, a few days after finishing up every minute detail the game had to offer, I look longingly at the game case sitting on the desk, and I remember…
I remember stumbling onto my first Super Mario Bros. reference. And then the my second, and third, and fourth. I remember the Shawshank Redemption and Arnold Schwarzenegger spoofs. I remember millionaire heir/bumbling sidekick Frank Honey, one of the most charming and endearing secondary characters in all of gaming (even when compared to the recent BioShock Infinite‘s Elizabeth). I remember… climbing. And digging. And racing that feels a bit off at first but soon becomes second nature. And scanning the world around me with some of the most intuitive and interesting GamePad uses concocted yet.
Sure, they could have taken it even farther – each disguise you find unlocks a new ability, making even more of the world available to your explorations, MetroidVania-style, and each ability could have had a GamePad-specific minigame – but for once, a game actually feels like it was made with the GamePad in mind. Instead of shrugging the controls off as gimmicky, you feel, “How much better is this game because it was made specifically with the Wii U in mind?” The answer: “A lot.” And then you’ll wish that other games would follow suit. This is what gaming on the Wii U could be. Should be.
LEGO City Undercover isn’t just the finest Wii U game available today – it’s one of the finest games available today. Through it, I re-captured a sense of wonder and excitement that public school, a full-time job, and repeated heartbreak had – I feared – stamped out long ago. It hadn’t. It just took a magical world that cared more about what it had to offer the child inside of me than being an accurate 1:1 model of our often drab, boring lives. And even then… LEGO City is just a version of San Francisco where people are (for a change) happy to be alive. And I’m one of them.
5 Gumballs out of 5