For starters, while most of the Lego games appear on every gaming platform known to humankind, Undercover is a Wii U exclusive. It doesn't have an auxiliary license attached to it, either: this is one hundred percent Lego style in its purest possible form. The format is a dramatic shift, as well: while most of the big Lego releases have been straightforward platform/action adventures, Lego City Undercover is perhaps the most family-friendly open-world game on the market.
And make no mistake about it: Lego City is a very, very big playset for hero Chase McCain to roam around in. It's modeled after numerous major cities mashed together like some crazy combination of construction kits. I saw pieces reminiscent of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle in the time I spent with the demo. There's probably more that I missed, too, as I felt like I barely scratched the surface of Lego City in my play session.
But even though it might resemble some familiar locales, Lego City has its own very distinct personality given by that unmistakable Lego style. You know what I mean: Blocks, knobs, funky plastic foliage, yellow citizens with their fashions painted on and perpetual lobster hands. It's bright and appealing and makes you feel like you're in the awesome larger-than-life toyland you've dreamed of since youth.
Chase is a legend amongst the Lego City police force, having helped put criminal mastermind Rex Fury behind bars years ago. Now Rex is on the loose again, and a crime wave worthy of the Comic Mischief ESRB descriptor has gripped the city. The retired Chase has to rejoin the force to protect the ones he loves.
But things have changed since he's been gone, and not everyone in the force appreciates having a loose cannon like Chase on the team ... while others seem to appreciate him just a little more than would be comfortable. But like him or not, they know there's one thing Chase can do better than anyone, and that's take on a plethora of different roles in his undercover investigations. It's a cute premise built on many generations of cop drama programs, though the ample humor and jokes in the game definitely cater towards 90s pop culture (perhaps aware of the age of gamer parents whose young'uns will take as much of an interest in this game as they will).
Using his status as law enforcement, Chase can perform the sorts of mischief that protagonists in other open world titles can – snatching cars, rampant property destruction – but he always does it with a smile and an apology, leaving not blood and burns but heaps of disassembled blocks in his wake. The citizens of Lego City, for what it's worth, don't seem to mind sharing their vehicles and having various public structures smashed up while you gather colored knobs and Super Bricks – hey, it's all in the name of stopping crime!
True to the title, Chase sometimes takes steps to infiltrate the seedy E10+-rated underworld of Lego City. That's where his various disguises come in: each one grants him a different set of abilities. Dressed as a robber, he can blend into a criminal group and aid in break-ins. As a miner, he can set dynamite and make things blow up in a shower of knobby-topped plastic bricks. But once he's rid the bad guys of suspicion, it's time to switch to police gear and round up the crooks with a few quick attacks and a pair of cuffs.
The smooth, responsive controls in all of Chase's various getups make exploring the city a breeze, and the unique functions of the Wii U's GamePad are used heavily, giving you maps, transmissions, advice on the missions, even acting as an audio scanner to overhear what nearby crooks might be up to.
With a lengthy campaign and a huge number of side missions to undertake, features to unlock, and collectibles to earn, there's enough in Lego City Undercover
to keep you busy for a very long time. And with a March 18 release date, you won't have to wait much longer, either.
If you're still in need of something to give your Wii U some attention – and you probably are – odds are looking good that you'll find a very nice open-world game underneath Lego City Undercover's
grinning, plastic exterior.
Heidi Kemps is an intrepid freelancer living in the lap of luxury in Daly City. Her work has been seen on G4, GamesRadar, GamePro, @Gamer, GameSpot, and a wealth of international publications, some of which do not start with the letter G. You can follow her ongoing freelance adventures at @zerochan.