It's not often you get to hold an entire city in the palm of your hand, but if anything can make that dream come true, it's LEGO. The timeless construction toy has spawned no less than ten hugely popular action adventures, but the Wii U-exclusive LEGO City Undercover marked the first time the series had offered full city-roaming freedom without the safety net of a movie license. Can the 3DS pull off the same trick?
Yes, is the exuberant answer supplied by The Chase Begins, a breezy and charming prequel that tells the story of how cool cop Chase McCain first came to LEGO City and clashed with the villainous Rex Fury.
A Fair Cop
At first glance the game is much the same as its big brother, but you'll soon discover that there are some notable differences in structure. While the Wii U game broke the gameplay down into standalone replayable levels accessed from the sprawling city hub, The Chase Begins favours shorter and simpler missions that take place seamlessly in the city.
To begin with, you're treated like an underling, fetching doughnuts and responding to calls about lost dogs. Very quickly, you start to peel back the covers on a crime syndicate that runs the city, and the trail leads McCain on a tour of LEGO City's different districts.
At each one, he earns a new disguise - he is undercover, after all - and with those come new abilities. Dress up as a crook in order to infiltrate the LEGO prison and you'll be able to prise open locked doors. Construction workers can drill through marked concrete floor tiles, while farmers can grab hold of a chicken and glide from special jump points. Best of all is the astronaut, unlocked during a series of missions set at the LEGO equivalent of Cape Canaveral. Don your space suit and you can blast off on a jetpack to reach new areas.
Driven To Distraction
Life in LEGO City is pretty good fun even if you're not dressing up, however. There are character tokens and vehicles to unlock, and red power-up bricks to find, all strewn across the landscape. Just finding them is a mini-game in itself, especially since you can use the 3DS screen as a scanner to locate and mark anything of interest on your mini-map.
Even just navigating the city is entertaining, as the open world template that has served gritty adult titles like Grand Theft Auto so well still works perfectly when translated to a family-friendly title like this. Pedestrians spring out of the way rather than getting splattered, and you won't be throwing anyone violently from their vehicles. Driving around, doing stunts and finding ramps is a blast all the same.
You can even make the city more interesting yourself, by cashing in the Super Bricks that spill out of smashed scenery items. You can use these to rebuild landmarks on glowing LEGO plates, or to construct ramps for the best jumps in the game. You can also use Super Bricks to create vehicle spawn points, giving you access to your garage across the map, as well as helipads which act as fast-travel points so you can quickly hop from one city zone to another.
Well, pretty quickly. If The Chase Begins has one major failing it's that the 3DS isn't always able to cope with the sheer scale of the game's ambition. Loading times when you transition from one area to another are very slow, so long journeys across the city lose some of their free-roaming appeal. The game is also noticeably less busy than its Wii U counterpart. Pedestrians and vehicles are fewer in number, and often disappear altogether, only respawning if you stop and hang around.
The game isn't quite as funny as the other LEGO games either, with fewer cut scenes and only occasional bursts of speech. There are some decent gags and moments of silent slapstick, but it's a game that gently amuses rather than prompting outright laughter.
These understandable technical limitations aren't enough to stop LEGO City's cheerful energy from spilling out, however. The 3D effect is wonderful, bringing the LEGO world to life in a way that the larger consoles simply can't match. With gameplay that works perfectly in addictive little chunks, and a map that offers dozens of things to do outside of the main story, this is the sort of game that will keep kids - and young-at-heart adults - busy for weeks.
- Exploring the city in 3D is utterly charming
- Tons of collectibles and things to do
- Seamless mission design leads you through the city
- The city can feel a little empty
- Long loading times
- Precision platforming can be a problem on the smaller 3DS screen