Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins for the Nintendo 3DS is a lot like its recently released big brother game for the Wii U, which is both a good and a bad thing. While The Chase Begins is as impressive in scope and ambition as the home console version – titled just Lego City Undercover – it's also clearly hemmed in by the limitations of its smaller package.
A prequel to the Wii U game released last month, The Chase Begins is a mash-up of that game's premise and structure. Players take on the role of Chase McCain, a rookie cop who has just arrived in Lego City. His mission, as it is in the console version, is to track down and arrest arch-criminal Rex Fury.
To do so, our hero must infiltrate the various gangs scattered around town. Fortunately, McCain is a master of disguise. As the story progresses, he accumulates a veritable cornucopia of Village People disguises, from fireman and farmer to construction worker and astronaut. And, just as in every previous Traveller's Tales' Lego game, each of the costumes confers different abilities.
The fireman, for example, can use his extinguisher to put out blazes while the astronaut can step on special teleport pads. The core of the game lies in figuring out how to use the different abilities in sequence to solve puzzles and reach new areas.
As in the Wii U game, McCain has a large open world to explore, with a zillion collectibles to distract him from the main story. Whether it's big, blue crystals to be cracked open with his miner's pick or fuse boxes to be repaired while in his construction garb, each challenge delivers a new character or vehicle token. For those players who simply must reach 100-per-cent completion (myself included), this means hours of discovery and figuring out clever puzzles.
Lego City isn't as big on the 3DS as it was on the Wii U, but I was genuinely surprised at how much of it is recreated – I'd guess about two-thirds to three-quarters has made the transition. The city is amazingly large, especially on such a small system, although the trade off is that the game does pause to load new sections when you enter them.
Unfortunately, both the open world and the main story are considerably more limited in the 3DS game. McCain can't, for example, fly wherever he wants with his astronaut jet-pack like he can on the Wii U – he can only use set take-off points to get to pre-determined locations. It's a big limitation that hampers exploration. The same goes with the inability to look up or down, which makes it harder to scout for collectibles. The main missions, meanwhile, take place largely in the open Lego City world, whereas on the Wii U they were often set in their own, individual levels, whether in building interiors around town, the mines below it or on the moon base above it.
The missions themselves often fall into a repetitive pattern, too: McCain goes to a new location in the city; discovers a new costume/ability; uses it to fetch some items a few times; fights a bunch of thugs along the way with a boss battle at the end of each section; then he gets a second new ability.
The repetition turns tedious when the goon fights take place almost every step of the way. These fights are not challenging in the least – even to kids – with McCain merely tossing the bad guys around for a while before cuffing them. I won some of the fights without even looking at the screen.
More disappointing, though, is that there isn't nearly as much voice acting in The Chase Begins as there was in Lego City Undercover. Voice recordings are saved for the cut scenes in between missions, with most of the character interactions happening throughout the story in text form. It's an understandable omission given the 3DS's smaller horsepower, but the game loses much of its humour as a result, which was perhaps the Wii U game's best attribute. While that game was full of laugh-out-loud moments, they are few and far between here.
It is usually unfair to compare a 3DS release to its beefed-up console version, but I couldn't help but think back to that game every time I encountered something that had been compromised or watered down. Had I come to Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins without having played the bigger game, its issues probably wouldn't have been as apparent.
With that said, The Chase Begins is still a decent Lego experience for the 3DS. It's got enough of Traveller's Tales trademark puzzle-solving and Lego cuteness to satisfy fans of the genre. If anything, it might whet your appetite for the bigger game, if you haven't played it yet.