Building on the success of the original… LEGO-style.
In the wake of LEGO City Undercover’s success for the Nintendo Wii U comes a spiritual “prequel” to the game in The Chase Begins. Like the Wii U title, the game once again champions the sandbox feel and unique story that made it one of the most critically-acclaimed LEGO titles to date—but ultimately, its subjective appeal rests primarily on two factors: whether or not you’ve already played its predecessor, and your level of tolerance for such technical annoyances as lengthy load times and choppy frame rates.
Man these donuts are inconveniently located.
Most of the qualities of its progenitor find themselves successfully miniaturized in The Chase Begins. In fact, the city itself has been lifted wholesale and crammed into the 3DS, providing the foundation for what is otherwise a remix of sorts of the action found on the Wii U. In that sense, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making this your first entry in the series instead.
Seeing as it’s a prequel, however, the story explores the beginnings of our hero, Chase McCain, when he first joined the force. Officer Dunby, meanwhile, hasn’t yet blossomed into the police chief that he plays in the Wii U installment—and instead, he takes pleasure in hazing the presumably green McCain as he undertakes such mundane introductory chores as fetching donuts and rescuing lost dogs. It isn’t long, however, before the missions quickly cascade into a series of ever more impacting exercises, soon involving violent gangs and eventually even the leader of all the chaos, Rex Fury.
The flavor of the action is similar this time around, but the organization is a bit different. Rather than compartmentalize the missions, the 3DS game puts you to work right in the middle of the city itself (and any other areas you visit), which certainly feels more seamless. However, one truly frustrating difference is that, while the load times are similarly lengthy, they’re considerably more common now—as even simply leaving a particular suburb ends up triggering a 30+ second loading screen.
While we’re on the subject of technical limitations, it’s also worth mentioning the other 800-lb gorilla here: the stuttering frame rate and notably truncated draw distance. Neither breaks the experience, but this is hardly the colorful looker that its console-based bigger brother was. As for the 3D, it looks pretty decent, too, but the textures and visual complexity suffer in turn. Overall, the game isn’t ugly, but it’s nothing really impressive—and in a game steeped in open-world promises, it’s a little bit inhibiting to not be able to witness its splendor in the appropriate capacity.
Because cops break into safes and stuff while dressed like criminals... and stuff
Many of the same mechanics remain, including the ability to commandeer vehicles at will and use them to complete your missions (or just explore), crashing them into things and breaking them into LEGO blocks. A good number of small environmental elements can be attacked to yield LEGO blocks, in fact, which are useful for building a range of other things, from helipads to landmarks. Chase’s other abilities, meanwhile, are relatively limited until he begins collecting several different disguises (strewn sequentially throughout the campaign), which grant him special techniques unique to each outfit. For instance, dressing up as a criminal blesses him with the power to pry open doors and crack safes, donning a construction worker’s clothes allows him to jackhammer pavement and fix generators, and playing an astronaut lets him do really cool space stuff.
The action points for such special abilities are clearly marked in the environments via obvious icons, where Chase can stand and switch outfits on the fly to satisfy the requirements. Most every one of the game’s puzzles are solved by simply finding these markers, choosing the correct costume, fulfilling the need, and then bringing whatever it yields to the next checkpoint. It’s not terribly unique, but it does make for a different sort of feel from the usual sandbox approach, and it is a handheld game, after all.
Combat, meanwhile, is hardly complex in any sense of the word, but it’s all right. For the most part, you can really just mash the X button to prep for a counterattack at the right moment, then press A on the grounded adversary to cuff them and send them away to the slammer. But it’s the boss battles and other occasional complications that render these scenes more worthwhile, and it’s unfortunate that there really aren’t enough spicy sections to keep the player interested in the combat. Of course, it’s really not the centerpiece of the game’s offerings, but by the same token, there are a countless number of fairly bland “get ‘em, boys!” moments throughout the adventure that are really very mechanical and mundane in nature. Oh well—at least Chase has a sizable repertoire of snazzy fighting moves to keep the action figure eyecandy rolling in the midst of it all.
And, finally, the donuts.
The campaign itself isn’t all that long, but there’s plenty of content to be enjoyed in the way of side missions, collectibles, and lots of other goodies if the player’s so inclined. We barely notched the 20% mark in our time with the game, in fact, which might sound shameful, but it’s actually quite a sizable time investment—something around 10 to 12 hours perhaps, which says a lot about how much is here. It’s a pretty large city with multiple environments of different types lining it—all filled with a unique sort of LEGO-brand structure and wit.
And that’s sort of the glue that holds the package together, too. While the scope of the city and the relative freedom are pretty commendable, it’s the humor that paints the mood, and TT Fusion loads enough clever gags and all-ages chuckles into the dialogue (and the short but somewhat entertaining cut scenes) that it isn’t quickly forgotten how far this is from the GTAs of the gaming world in just about every way. Coupled with the cute charm of exploring and manipulating a LEGO-built city, it’s enough to please the target audience, though it will hardly turn many heads elsewhere.