At PAX East, Nintendo was putting plenty of emphasis on their latest Wii U release, LEGO City Undercover. In that adventure, players assume the role of Chase McCain in his efforts to catch the criminal Rex Fury after he escaped from prison. Nintendo also showed off another TT Fusion game for the Nintendo 3DS, the prequel LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins, which releases next month. After having played it for a short while (a bit longer than what was allowed for recording), I have to say that the game fits LEGO City Undercover's style but gives me more concerns whether it will match the overall quality.
The Chase Begins also stars Chase McCain as he enters the LEGO City police force for the first time. Taking place a whole two years before the Wii U original, the game shows a lot of the same characters but in different roles. Having played the Wii U game for some time, I can tell that the two games are very connected, although it also spoils some of the 3DS game's story in the process. I do not think I have seen a LEGO game with this type of of story connection before, but then again, we have not seen TT Games make a LEGO game without a licensed property before, either.
In the time I had to play the game, I was briefly introduced to the main characters in the game. The story plays out much like LEGO City Undercover, in that the cutscenes are humorous and quirky, exactly what you would expect from a LEGO game. Once the cutscene had completed, I was given the orders to pick up some donuts and return them to the Police Station. It was here that I was finally able to enter the game world.
LEGO City looks similar to how it appears in the Wii U version of the game, although there are some changes to how it is presented. For one, the framerate appears slightly less than the Wii U world, but it does not dip too much from that point, even in vehicles. Cars and people travel around the city constantly, but there is a significantly smaller line-of-sight for our hero than in Undercover. There is an ever-present blue haze that covers the city in the distance, and it is not that far from the playing field, either. Passerbys and cars vanish and reappear even closer than the fog, which might present a problem when it comes to speeding vehicles through the city. The fact that the activity is still as present as it is, however, does show some attempt to keep LEGO City as consistent between versions as possible.
The game uses the touch screen as a map and communicator device, which works well enough, but it also is used to display hints and notifications from the game to the player. This would be as good a place as any for information, but the problem is that when said notifications appear, it cuts off the entire map in the process. Examining the map is pretty necessary for missions, but when the help notices appear and cut the map off, it can slow down playtime waiting for the message to disappear (unless I did not know there was a way to remove the note manually). Outside of the message issues, the map looks and works as effectively as the GamePad screen on the Wii U version of the LEGO City games.
Once I got the mission moving along and had free reign in the city, traveling was more interesting, and driving had a good sense of speed, especially with the 3D display on the 3DS turned on. The humor is still there in dialog, but outside of cutscenes, there is no voicework, only text. The music is a little compressed, but the music itself is true to the police television show theme that is prevalent in the LEGO City series. Controls are solid for the most part, even if some vehicles turn sharper than they should (then again, I was driving a donut van, after all).
After my short time with The Chase Begins, my opinion on it is still on the fence. The game has plenty of things that match the Wii U game, and if the game mimics a lot of the elements of the open-world console game, it should be a solid experience. However, there are clearly things that reduce the quality of the game, although most appear to be presentation-focused rather than gameplay-based. Also, considering this was the start of the game, it could improve as the pacing of notifications and the like as time progresses. For now, it is clear to say that if you liked LEGO City Undercover, you might enjoy The Chase Begins, too, bearing in mind the cutbacks made to make a 3DS version of the game.
LEGO City Undercover: The Chase Begins releases exclusively for 3DS on April 21st.