Lego City Undercover Review

By Blair Nokes on May 3, 2017

Back when the original LEGO City Undercover released in 2013 for the Wii U, I had a hope that more platforms would get a chance to experience the charm behind it. On the one hand, it was nice that the Wii U had one more exclusive under its belt despite its poorer sales at the time, but because of its very small install base and because the core demographic were most likely awaiting the launch of Super Mario 3D World, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, and Pikmin 3, LEGO City Undercover fell under the radar. Thankfully, Traveller’s Tales recognized that they could reach a larger audience after 4 years with the dawn of the newer consoles from Sony and Microsoft, and now with 2017’s Nintendo Switch. Players across platforms have been given a second opportunity to partake in LEGO City Undercover.

The game takes place in the aptly named Metropolis of LEGO City. You play as Officer Chase McCain who discovers that antagonist Rex Fury has broken out of prison and began a new wave of crime throughout the city. The plot is about as simple and straight-forward as you would expect a LEGO game to possess. In a typical LEGO game fashion, the game is very tongue-in-cheek and chock-full of pop culture references and jokes that may go over the heads of most youth, leaving younger adults and perhaps parents playing along with their children as the intended recipients.

For instance during the missions on Albatross Island Prison, you’re given a myriad of references to The Shawshank Redemption. Not to mention the name Chase McCain is most likely a reference to Die Hard’s John McCain. Other nods to Sherlock Holmes, Starsky and Hutch, Dirty Harry and Columbo are prevalent throughout the game as well, forcing you to keep a close eye on the cutscenes.

They were all tastefully done and in a quirky, quick-witted way fans have come to appreciate in LEGO and their games and movies. The voice acting was also well done at the time; to put it in context, previous LEGO games (before 2013) either had minimal voice acting, or had actors lend their voices for multiple roles. With LEGO City Undercover, you could really hear the diversity in the cast along with their sense of genuine fun they had performing the lines.

One minor detriment to all of these references were that some scenes had more than one pop culture reference stuffed too closely to one another, treading dangerously close to the faux-pas of forcing laughs by way of distractions rather than the construction of the joke. Thankfully, they don’t happen quite so often, and even when they do, scenes like watching a LEGO figure do the classic Baywatch slow motion jog, or the famous “flying scene” in Titanic gave me a chuckle.

Continuing on with the trend made by LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, LEGO City Undercover takes place in a fairly large and dense open world. One of the original problems the Wii U version had due to its limited hardware was that there were frequent issues regarding the overall framerate. Thankfully, this seems to be completely alleviated with the Nintendo Switch pore, with the game running very smoothly. Adding onto that, the game now runs in full 1080p, with a sensible deduction to 720p while undocked.

Vehicles driving around in LEGO City can be interacted with, and there are scripted items in the game world that can be disassembled and repurposed, as is typical in LEGO games. It's particularly nice to drive around in Chase's police cruiser with the sirens blaring, and watch how the litle lego people react as you barrel on through. Throughout the city, there are side-missions that will reward you with optional costumes. Previously, these were typically cosmetics, though over time LEGO had definitely improved upon them especially with the Super Hero Games. In LEGO City, they are, for all intents and purposes costumes, but deliberately so as they’re part of an array of disguises you can use. Some allow Chase to break open locks, utilize grappling points, teleport, or other abilities that were otherwise reserved for character slots, like in LEGO Marvel games. I thought it was a cute touch to still incorporate this mechanic, though expect some obvious cosmetic disguises, like Civilian or Clown costumes which do little outside of their novelty.

One neat gimmick with the Wii U was the ability to utilize the Gamepad to interact with the game’s world. Not only was it your map system, in-game communicator for missions, and can also scan devices in the game as well. Sadly this feature was omitted in the porting job to the Switch and other consoles. My best guess for the omission is most probably due to the fact that this port exists on systems that don't require the use of a touch-screen controller. Even in the Switch's case, there are those who prefer to play the system docked, and so transferring this unique mechanic may have been a wasted effort.

One much needed addition however, was the ability to play locally via split-screen. Again, due to the Wii U’s hardware, it was rather limited and displaying two instances of the game might have been too much. Thankfully, The Switch not only includes this, but also lets players use each individual Joy-Con as a respective controller. While the size of a Joy-Con may not be appealing to some, it’s at the very least nice to know you are not left purchasing an entirely separate controller outside of what’s included in every Switch Hardware box.

At the suggested retail price of $69.99, it falls under the similar scrutiny that Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition received. For Switch Owners, they may be starving for a game that isn’t Breath of the Wild, but Xbox One and Playstation 4 owners have had quite a lot of new releases drop in this launch window, where near full retail price isn’t as appealing when some remasters can be bundled in compilations for at or around the same price point.

Final Thoughts

Overall, LEGO City Undercover, as a game, is quite good. It’s nothing extraordinary, nor will it be taking home game-of-the-year awards, but it’s a charming open world platformer with loads of humour and plenty to do in the game to keep you occupied. For Switch owners, it’s certainly worth a looksee, especially if you’re trudging around looking for that 900th Korok Seed in Breath of the Wild and need something to distract your mind. For its minor short-comings, I had fun with LEGO City. It’s a shame some of the Wii U’s innovations or novelties didn’t transfer over to the other consoles in some capacity, but the added local split-screen more than makes up for it.

Lego City Undercover was reviewed using a Switch Physical Copy provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
Great open world, with a ton of buildable content as is tradition with LEGO games.
A plethora of pop culture references that seem aimed for older audiences to enjoy.
Local Split-screen was very needed, and greatly appreciated.
Lack of the Wii U game pad features are missed, though the ‘why’ behind the omission are more than understandable.
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