An altogether expendable prequel to the Wii U's adequate LEGO City Undercover, LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins unwisely aims to downsize its bigger, better sandbox-style counterpart, ultimately squandering most of the mirthful series's supple allure in the process. Gone is the seemingly endless, rambling open world of the Wii U's Lego City, replaced by a tame, deflated environment swaddled in an implacably thick fog. The core graphics aren't all that terrible; colors are suitably vivid, routinely popping in the appropriate places, but the generally lackluster attempt by TT Fusion to consolidate the bustling building-brick microcosm they previously created on the 3DS is anything but a visual tour de force. Mysteriously vanishing pixels, intermittent lag, abysmal viewing distance, and overlong load times are just a few of the aesthetic disruptions eroding The Chase Begins. The urge to instinctively roam the landscape, exposing each and every well-placed secret, has dissipated significantly; what's left is the equivalent of a yard sale-caliber LEGO starter kit with a sizable portion of its pieces missing.
Perhaps the most detrimental aspect of The Chase Begins is the fact that, aside from a few cutscenes, the game is devoid of any voice acting. One of the primary charms of LEGO City Undercover is the way it sounds, and the continuous stream of droll one-liners, corny as they are, give the stock storyline a leg up in terms of longevity. With The Chase Begins, however, the inept absence of voiceovers leaves the game with a par-cooked, half-empty aura that's never furnished with an opportunity to expand. Similarly, audio effects are repulsive; aural scratching and fading is obvious throughout, and putting on a pair of headphones does little to smooth such scraggy edges.
The Chase Begins's gameplay and mission structure has been dumbed down considerably, with condensed run-from-point-A-to-point-B objectives aided by your trusty geographic chart, which appears on the 3DS's lower screen. The Wii U gamepad failed to fully maximize its unique peripheral capabilities for LEGO City Undercover, so it's no surprise that The Chase Begins follows suit; this map is a map, and nothing more. Gratefully, Chase McCain's comical, voluminous wardrobe of interchangeable disguises is still a prevalent feature here, but regrettably, certain abilities that come along with sporting specific outfits can only be activated in predetermined locations (chicken-gliding, a la The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, for instance, is a once-pleasurable tactic that falls victim to this unfortunate programming decision). Streamlined close-quarters combat takes prevalence over inquisitive exploration for the majority of the game's roughly 10-hour main campaign. Ho-hum, drawn-out button-mashing is the norm, lessening the predominance of the platforming segments, which did well to breathe life into the sketchy skirmishes chafing LEGO City Undercover.
This being a prequel, one would expect some of the lingering questions regarding Chase McCain's backstory to be revealed, or at least partially addressed. No such luck. The game shrugs off effective character development; a substantiated script is apparently too much to ask for, as there are a slew of rank inconsistencies in relation to the plot of its superlative relative. With a full-bodied hike in attention to detail, The Chase Begins could have been a satisfying alternative for LEGO fans who haven't yet obtained a Wii U, or simply gamers who've been bellowing for a well-made 3DS addition to the franchise. Disappointingly, what they've been allotted is a tattered set of hand-me-down LEGO blocks, mismatched and marked with the fingerpaint smudges of those who've grown up and moved on to Minecraft.