|Dev: TT Fusion|
|Release: April 21, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: N/A|
by Becky Cunningham
Critics frequently judge portable versions of licensed LEGO games harshly. Shrinking a console game to fit within the constraints of a portable device, yet retaining the same story and general gameplay has proven difficult for many developers. When it was announced that LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins would be a prequel to the Wii U's LEGO City Undercover, there was hope that we would get a LEGO game tailor-made for portable devices instead of a poor imitation. Unfortunately, it doesn't take long for that hope to evaporate.
Almost immediately, The Chase Begins attempts to take the impressive, open-world LEGO City from the console game and squish it onto a 3DS cartridge. The basic layout of the city is the same, but the impressive views, delightful details, and areas packed with things to discover are gone. Even in 3D, this version of LEGO City looks flat and lacks visual interest. Technically, the graphics aren't bad for the 3DS, they're just a case of over-reach. LEGO City as it exists on the Wii U is simply too vast to properly translate to a portable, and the game suffers for it.
The game's sound suffers similarly. The excellent atmospheric conversations and effects that made LEGO City feel alive aren't available. Except for the rare cut-scene, there is no voice acting either. I didn't realize how much the purposefully hammy voice acting added to LEGO City Undercover until it was replaced by generic lines that generally amount to, “Chase, go do this. Now do that,” or “Help, rescue me.”
There's not much to say about LEGO City Undercover's sound. The music is fine, but it's all recycled from the main game. However, the sound effects are rather obnoxious. It's never a good sign when my cats, who are unresponsive to all sorts of odd noises emanating from various gaming devices, fold their ears back and walk away because of a game's sound effects. I wished I could do the same during several missions, in which multiple characters yell loudly, rapidly, and repeatedly for help.
The Chase Begins' gameplay also suffers in the transition from console to portable. Chase has access to the same disguises in this game (firefighter, astronaut, construction worker, etc.), although how he acquires them doesn't always make sense. Some he receives for going undercover, but for others, he's drafted to do jobs that should have been completed by actual members of that profession.
Chase's disguise abilities don't always work exactly the same as they did in the Wii U game, usually to their detriment. Abilities like Chicken Glide that could be freely used to explore the world on the Wii U can now only be activated in specific locations. A few abilities have been tweaked to be more appropriate to the touch screen. Cracking safes even includes a simple touch screen mini-game. If more abilities had been altered in that way, the gameplay could have been far more entertaining. Instead, most missions are spent simply moving from objective to objective, pressing X mindlessly at the glowing spots.
Instead of focusing on exploration and car chases like the Wii U game, The Chase Begins focuses on hand to hand combat. On the Wii U, combat was sparse, allowing the simple fights to remain entertaining when they happened. After repeated groups of enemies, the 3DS combat quickly wears out its welcome. The player simply has to press X to counter the enemies' frequent blows, then A to toss on handcuffs when they fall. Repeat this tiresome process about every thirty seconds in most missions, and you'll soon find yourself annoyed rather than amused by the combat animations.
Even outside of missions, The Chase Begins simply isn't very interesting. The reasonable diversity of activities and challenges found throughout the city on the Wii U simply isn't available. The more interesting challenges like Free Runs and car thefts are absent. The player can choose to pixel hunt for ATMs, pigs, and cats, but this version of LEGO City doesn't really kindle that desire.
There are some bright spots in The Chase Return's design. Instead of running to a police booth, you can customize Chase's disguises at any time. Since the game couldn't feature the multi-district car chases that punctuated the gameplay of the Wii U LEGO City game, the missions do a decent job highlighting each of the city's districts. Finally, the vehicles handle a bit better, especially when turning corners. None of these changes elevate The Chase Returns to being a good game, but they would have been nice changes to LEGO City on the Wii U.
More disappointing than the underwhelming gameplay is the game's story. Players who enjoyed the characters in LEGO City Undercover likely have questions they would like answered. Why did Chase become a cop? Why does Dunby dislike Chase? How did Chase bust Rex Fury, and how did Dunby end up taking credit? How did Chase mess up and expose his witness and love interest, Natalia Kowalski, resulting in his banishment from LEGO City?