Lego City Undercover is often a hilarious game, but its laudable sense of humor isn’t quite enough to mask its most glaring problems. For nearly every clever, convivial Hollywood blockbuster or childish Grand Theft Auto copy-catting, there’s a lack of ingenuity when it comes to utilizing the Wii U’s next-gen capabilities, both graphical and gameplay-wise. Playing as the revenge-seeking, plastic-plated undercover police officer Chase McCain leads to a number of engrossing open-world sandbox circumstances and decidedly well-designed platforming segments, but the close-quarters combat leaves much to be desired. The control layout is far too simple, rarely taking advantage of the Wii U’s specialized screen-imbued gamepad to add unique functionality. The cakewalk countering system basically permits McCain from ever being KO’d, and while it’s true that Lego City Undercover is aimed at a younger audience, its occasional attempts to rope in an older crowd with homages to films like Dirty Harry, The Shawshank Redemption, Titanic, The Matrix, and The Dark Knight leave the game’s overall direction feeling quite confused.
However, presentation is where Lego City Undercover most frequently excels. Developer TT Fusion has created an energetic, kaleidoscopic microcosm of swiftly moving parts, scattered with countless collectables and thoughtfully composed methods of quick travel throughout the environment. The voice acting is commendable, and the soundtrack periodically soars, providing the appropriate degree of tempo for each and every synthetic situation. Central hub Lego City is a monumental metropolis that can be expanded even further with the application of amassed blocks; the game’s myriad puzzles and Super Builds equate to multi-layered bonus areas that offer even more treasures to acquire. Chase’s numerous costume changes and attached special abilities (tossing dynamite as a miner, teleporting as a space traveler) give the game’s lack of a complex handling scheme the necessary boost in allurement to keep those over the age of 11 interested for the long haul. Clearly, though, with its heaps of ancillary content, it’s safe to say that the 10-hour main campaign will account for only a fraction of your final playtime.
Lego City Undercover unfairly neglects the Wii U’s gamepad, and what’s left barely justifies using it in the first place. There’s intermittent reconnaissance-style location scanning, staged mapping, and a sort of communication aspect that helps to move the story along and immerse the player, but these tend to come off as afterthoughts, failing to deepen the wholesale experience. This is a vibrant, densely packed sprawl of a game that unquestionably needs some sort of exclusive element to elevate the regularly formulaic, unstimulating gameplay. The Wii U’s hardware could have easily provided this significant something, but TT Fusion has unfortunately come up short in more ways than one.
Just shy of being brushed off as L.A. Noire lite, Lego City Undercover is very nearly a must-buy for parents who wish to keep their habitually unoccupied hellspawn entertained, sans much supervision, for entire weekends. It’s a comical, visually exciting romp that’s sure to provoke incalculable giggles and guffaws from restless pre-pubescents. Yet, for the ripe of body and mind, the game’s initial charm dolefully fizzles out before it can firmly grab hold of the deprived inner child.