The lights are on
Even those of us who own a Wii U have to acknowledge that the system hasn’t exactly had a long list of exclusives. That’s why Lego City Undercover has always been one of the reasons I planned to purchase the console, even when it had its previous moniker, Lego City Stories. But the release of the game managed to get past me earlier this year, so I was happy to have a chance to set aside some time and dig into this unusual departure for the Lego games franchise after Ben Hanson challenged me to play it.
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More than anything else, I like Lego City Undercover because it is such a departure, but the newness comes at a cost. Gone is the ubiquitous cooperative play that has defined most Lego video games to date, and the absence of a familiar license, like Star Wars or Batman, means that the jokes can’t fall back on established characters or situations from the movies or comics.
However, these changes are what help Lego City Undercover excel. Because the developers were able to focus on a single onscreen character, the camera angles are more tailored to the action at hand, and we’re often treated to more detail through close-ups on faces and actions. In addition, the single-character focus helps the story to feel more grounded in a relatable protagonist, albeit a goofy one.
Meanwhile, the absence of an established license gives the developers the room they need to get some big laughs. With its colorful cast, constant puns, and creative locations, Lego City Undercover was funnier than any of the previous Lego games. The voice acting is spot-on, and the caricatures of action-movie clichés are abundant.
The open world setting of Lego City Undercover is great fun to explore, and an ideal way to introduce new players to the genre. Even so, much of the game is set in more linear stages, akin to previous Lego games. But even here, we’re often introduced to new mechanics, like some simple but enjoyable parkour moves as hero Chase McCain leaps and slides along the rooftops.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Wii U remote’s contribution to the experience. The onscreen map makes it a cinch to mark objectives and get your bearings, and some small but neat experiences (like holding up the remote to “scan” your TV for clues) are a great addition. I also got a kick out of getting calls from my contacts on the remote, and the way their voices would come right out of the internal speaker. In short, it’s one of the best uses of the remote I’ve seen for Nintendo’s newest console.
Lego City Undercover isn’t without some rough patches. As the game goes on, the constant need to change outfits can get a little frustrating when all you want to do is get through a door. In addition, the game includes some of the longest and most frequent load times I’ve seen in years on a console release. Even with these hiccups, I genuinely enjoyed my day with the game, and I plan to keep playing it to completion in the coming weeks.
Lego City Undercover reminds me why I originally fell in love with the Lego video games. The humor is spot on, and the Lego gimmicks don’t distract from otherwise solid level design. The big open world is great fun to explore, and a strong introduction to the genre for younger players. While this year brought a great traditional Lego game in the form of Lego Marvel Super Heroes, I personally got more chuckles and fun from this departure. As an exclusive on Wii U, I know there are lots of players who haven’t had a chance yet to check out this gem. That’s too bad, because even without co-op play or an established franchise to bring in the bucks, I’d be happy to see Lego City Undercover get some love in this year’s Top 50 list.
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