Tuesday, March 26, 2013

First Impressions: Lego City: Undercover

I don't think many would argue that the Wii U has not been a runaway success. Initially excited to purchase the system when it launched, my Wii U has been dormant for over a month. Mario U and Nintendoland were quite enjoyable, but the gamepad hasn't been properly used and there hasn't been a must have title. Then last week Traveler's Tales dropped the Wii U exclusive, Lego City: Undercover. The Wii U may have a killer app on its hands.

The story puts you in the shoes of Chase McCain, famed cop of Lego City out to stop his nemesis Rex Fury.  In order to accomplish this task Chase must unlock various disguises that have unique abilities, train in a dojo, and as the title suggests, go undercover.

With a Traveler's Tales Lego game you know a couple of things right away. The game is a combination of platforming fun, breaking stuff and brick collecting.The platforming has drastically improved from the early Lego Games and the introduction of super bricks adds a new element of collecting tens of thousands of Lego pieces.

I am happy to report that Lego City: Undercover provides genuinely humorous moments, that had both myself and my son laughing out loud.  Traveler's Tales has been hit or miss with the humor in my opinion, but have done a nice job of parody with this title.  Numerous references to pop culture are included that I appreciated, and then simple sight gags and physical comedy entertained my son. The voice acting was spot on and the soundtrack sounded as if it were ripped straight out of Starsky and Hutch. 

At its core, Lego City: Undercover is Grand Theft Auto for kids. Lego City is vast with many areas to explore and minigames to play. You can hijack any car, wreck people's property, and spend hours running around the city. Thankfully there are no prostitutes and the Lego people do a nice job of getting out of the way of fast moving cars.

As with other Lego titles, the controls are relatively simple (my 5-year old had some troubles with the gamepad elements, but was content to roam around the city exploring) and a little loose.  There were numerous platforming elements that I had to repeat due to falls.  The cars all handled differently like other games of this genre, but could stand to be fine tuned.  As you learned more skills the fighting element provided much more depth than most other Lego games.  But the real question is, as a Wii U exclusive, how does it handle Nintendo's tablet controller.

I am pleased to report is that the Wii U gamepad has been integrated well. Some of the tasks feel like a little bit of a gimmick (scanning a building), but it really allows for a new level of immersion in the Lego City universe. I felt this the most when using the gamepad as a communication device back with headquarters. The face of who I was speaking to was only on the gamepad and the audio was only coming from the gamepad's speakers. The element of holding onto a device that is speaking to you while you are playing really did add a new element that I have not experienced in a game before.

At the time of this review I am approximately 50% finished with the main story, but have barely scratched the surface of unlocking all of the characters, finding all of the secrets, and truly seeing all what this title has to offer. This is a game that hopefully will feel fresh at the end and provide some incentive for completing one of the many side quests and returning to old levels.  So far that seems to be the case.

My only real complaint at this time is the load times. At each new level and before each cut scene you are left with a load time that feels reminiscent of the original Playstation. Some of the load times are in excess of over one minute (which in gaming terms is quite long).  It can get very tedious.

The Math

Objective Quality: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for being genuinely humorous; +1 allowing me to play a GTA style game with my 5-year old

Penalties: -1 for tedious load times

Videogame Coefficient: 9/10. "very high quality/standout in its category."

[For an explanation of our scoring system, head on over here.]