The game most comparable to LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins (the 3DS prequel to the Wii U’s LEGO City Undercover) is probably Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories on the PSP. Both offer portable takes on their more fully featured console brother. Both offer open-world experiences that had, up until that point, been unattempted on their respective handhelds. Both offer an approximation of the full experience that check all the boxes. You know, like the Guitar Hero game on the DS. It’s just like playing a fun game.
Technically, on paper, both The Chase Begins and Liberty City Stories should be perfect handheld versions of these huge, expansive, incredible console games. But both fall short, and miss out on the “magic” that made the home versions so memorable. Simply, if you had only played the 3DS version of LEGO City Undercover, I don’t think you’d really “get” what makes the Wii U game one of my favorite games of all time. And even though they’re technically different games (in the most literal sense of the word) and follow undercover cop Chase McCain through an earlier part of his police career, they’re set in the same world and you’ll do many (read: all) of the same things. But it’s just… not quite as fun. And that’s without even mentioning up the pop-in, the fog, or the lack of a turbo button and things to discover on bridges.
The things it does do right are many. There’s a ton of stuff to find. The cutscenes are as adorable as the Wii U game. The controls are just as “floaty but you get used to it” as you’d expect. There are so many nooks to explore. The missions are shorter and there’s frequent save points (a relief, since the Wii U game had missions that were almost too long and this one is obviously customized for the handheld audience). And they added that safe cracking mini-game I hoped they would have put in the Wii U version. Thanks, guys!
I think the problem, however, boils down to the hardware constraints. The world just isn’t as alive. Sure, there are cars driving by and people walking. But not as many. And they don’t react as well to your presence. And there are no little mini-games at the fair to distract you between missions. And when you rescue a cat, Chase doesn’t stick it in his hat for safekeeping. The cinematics are as fun- and humor-filled as can be, but there’s too few of them, and the humor that stems from the little details in the regular in-game world just isn’t there. By sticking as much of the big picture game in here as they could fit on a cartridge, TT Fusion forgot what makes the LEGO games so special: the little touches. Oh, and the voice acting. Reading funny dialogue just sucks.
If I didn’t play the Wii U game first, I would have never played the 3DS one. If I had played the 3DS one first, I would have never played the Wii U game. It’s… fine, I guess. A good time suck with a lot of “just one more mission” potential. But compared to what I’ve already seen possible, I can’t help but feeling a tremendous sense of disappointment. One of the pigs glitching out and robbing me of my 100% completion didn’t leave the best taste in my mouth, either.
Whereas LEGO City Undercover revived the childlike wonder I had about games as a kid, LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins reminds me that kids are dumb and would probably like this. But I’ve seen what this series has to offer. And The Chase Begins could have been so much more.
2 Gumballs out of 5