Developer: TT Games Fusion
Release Date: 3/18/2013
Rating: Everyone 10+
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The Good: Great graphics, memorable characters, hilariously witty dialog, huge open city with a lot to do, lengthy story that’s interesting, neat gamepad features
The Bad: Everything is overly simple for kids, nearly zero challenge, non-completionists won’t find much interest beyond the story
LEGO games have always had a charm with large franchises like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Harry Potter. While they were all easy, they were just plain fun for all ages and had humor for the grown-ups as well. Undercover is about as close as a kid friendly Grand Theft Auto as you will get. Being the spiritual successor to LEGO Island from way back in the day, LEGO City actually has a very memorable cast of characters and a fun story. The city is full of life and there’s a lot to do here.
You play as Chase McCain, a LEGO City cop who has to bring Rex Fury back to jail, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Chase goes undercover and works for various mob bosses to bring himself one step closer. In the meantime, his shaky love for Natalia Kowalski drives him further as he needs to find her father. My favorite character is Frank Honey. He’s the stupid comic relief for Chase and the dialog is just downright witty. The very first cut scene had me busting up laughing. Despite the child-friendly LEGO sheen, the game has humor towards adults. I honestly really enjoyed the lengthy story, but the gameplay satisfies as well.
The game consists of having several different disguises. From a cop to a fireman, astronaut, robber, miner, construction worker, and various others. Each of these has abilities you need to play through the story and find secret hidden Super Blocks, costumes, and vehicles. You will see an icon on the ground for the tool you need. A fireman can chop down boarded up doors, the robber can pry open doors, use his stethoscope to crack safes, and has a color changing gun. The cop has a grappling hook, the miner can use dynamite and break open boulders. Every disguise has a purpose and by the end of the game, you will be swapping them constantly to advance through the levels.
Now, the game is very easy and simple, but it’s still fun. Combat consists of just pressing Y and countering with X. You can throw enemies, but you need to cuff them with A once they are down. You can’t really die in the game, once you lose all four hearts you just respawn in the same spot with no penalties like all LEGO games. Combat just gets tedious because of how easy it is, but it’s broken up with lots of platforming. Advancing your way requires you to use your abilities, but there aren’t any hard puzzles in the game at all. You just open this safe, take this key here, pry open this door, gather required amount of super blocks, build this super build, and various other platforming shenanigans. Nothing really complicated, but it’s all just plain fun and relaxing.
When you’re not on missions you can drive around in dozens of vehicles, jack them from people a la Grand Theft Auto, drive around finding hidden items with your disguises, and that’s about it, but there are dozens of hours of gameplay…if you’re a completionist. Because the Wii U doesn’t have an achievement system you may blow through the main story and never look back. There are 450 Gold Bricks which are gained by doing various tasks around LEGO City, some people may not have that kind of patience.
What about the Wii U gamepad? There are some interesting ideas put into it like using it to scan the city for hidden bricks by holding it up to the TV, you can take screenshots, and use it as an audio scanner during the story. Your contacts will call you on your gamepad and they will appear and speak through it which is neat, but not necessary for gameplay. There’s no gamepad only play which will disappoint some.
This game is obviously geared toward kids, but adults who love platformers or even sandbox games will have a blast. The story has many references for adults like a Morgan Freeman sound-alike during the prison stage just like Shawshank Redemption. Towards the end of the game, a site foreman sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger and uses his movie titles as puns. Kids wouldn’t get this, but parents would and it’s just hilarious. There are other funny story elements like the Italian mafia deals in ice cream instead of drugs, and a Starsky and Hutch type duo show up half way through. It’s all very funny and has some characters that have more depth than violent AAA games for adults.
In the end, Undercover is just a fun relaxing game that doesn’t take itself seriously. It has solid mechanics, dozens of hours of gameplay, great graphics, and a lively city to play around in. The characters are memorable, and while there’s not much of a challenge, it’s just fun and full of solid gameplay.