Lego City Undercover has arrived on the Nintendo Switch, almost exactly four years after the original released for the Wii U. Yes, enhancements have been made to the Switch version, but the question is, should you double dip if you’ve already played it before? And, if you’ve never played the original, is it worth your time and money to add another open world exploration game to your Switch library just a month out from the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild? As always, the answers will vary depending on your taste in games, but despite some nagging flaws I’m having a fantastic time exploring Lego City all over again.
Unlike most Lego games, Lego City Undercover isn’t based on a licensed property, such as Batman or Star Wars. This frees up the writers to create scenarios, characters, and jokes that don’t have to follow a set script. You play as Chase McCain, a police officer returning to Lego City to put a stop to the criminal mastermind, Rex Fury. Humor abounds in the introduction, and is peppered throughout the game. The comedy ranges from genuine laughs to eye-rolling juvenile humor. Like many of the great Pixar movies, some of the jokes are intended to have a double meaning so adults and kids can laugh at the same thing for different reasons. There are quite a few references to movies, such as Titanic, The Shawshank Redemption, and Jaws, as well as a ton of cop jokes (did you know they like donuts?). The main source of comedy comes from fellow officer, Frank Honey, who is as dumb as they come. It’s really a wonder the Police station hasn’t burned down by now with him around. Overall the slapstick comedy reminds me of something ripped out of the Police Academy movies from the ‘80s, and indeed even the game’s soundtrack is ripped out of that era.
The formulaic gameplay of the Lego games hasn’t changed much since Lego Star Wars released twelve years ago. If you didn’t enjoy it then, chances are you won’t find much to like now. Like previous entries, you can punch any object made of Legos to destroy them and collect the Lego studs, which serve as currency in the game. Many times you must destroy an object only to put it back together again as another useful item to progress further in the area. These gameplay mechanics are tried and true, but Lego City Undercover does also have a few enhancements to the routine. Now when you destroy objects you’re rewarded with actual Lego pieces. These are needed to create Super Builds, which are huge items in the game. Sometimes these are required to open up a new story mission, and other times they’re just for fun, like stunt ramps, which often do lead to new areas with more secrets to discover. Rainbow-colored Super Blocks are also hidden throughout the vast open world and inside missions. These will reward you with a bunch of Lego pieces so you will be able to build more items more quickly.
The biggest difference with Lego City is that it has a huge sprawling overworld to explore. There are many different landmarks squeezed into this land, like Hoover Dam, Times Square, Mount Rushmore, and the Statue of Liberty, all with a Lego twist. Indeed, most of the fun I had playing the game was simply exploring all of the different environments and searching for hidden items. There are residential neighborhoods, business districts, Chinatown, big city skyscrapers, ocean-side boardwalks, forests, farms, and more. Much like Grand Theft Auto, you can hop into any vehicle near you and take it for a spin. From sports cars to public transportation, the choice is yours!
The game’s missions are spread across the map, and you are given specific directions to find them. As you play each one you will be rewarded with a new undercover costume, which gives you a special power. For example, early on you will gain the ability to change into a robber and your tool of choice is a crowbar, which is great for breaking into locked doors and opening safes. After that you become a miner, complete with a pickaxe that can destroy large boulders and the ability to use dynamite to blow up metal objects. Much of the good stuff is often locked behind these special abilities, so it might not be a bad idea to stick to the main missions and gain these new outfits before going too hardcore in exploring the city. That’s because, and this has happened many times to me, you might see something high up on a building that catches your eye. After you jump, scale, and swing your way to the top you often discover that it’s locked behind something that requires a tool you don’t yet have available to you. By sticking to the main story missions you’ll be better equipped to conquer the city later on.
The Nintendo Switch version of Lego City Undercover has some benefits over the Wii U original title. First up is the resolution of the game when docked is boosted to 1080p, up from the 720p on the Wii U. Comparison videos between it and the PS4 version show a very minimal difference in graphical quality, although the PS4 version does run at 60fps whereas the Switch is normally 30fps. I say normally because the game does have noticeable slowdown here and there throughout the game. This happens mostly in the open world areas, not during missions, and seems to be more common when driving vehicles. It’s not bad enough to break the game, but it is unfortunate to see.
Another improvement over the Wii U version is the addition of a two-player co-op mode. This brings it up to par with every other Lego game out there. The game splits the screen right down the middle vertically, and it works quite well. I expected even more frames to drop in this mode, but surprisingly it seemed about the same. Since the game wasn’t designed from the ground up with two players in mind, there’s a distinct lack of puzzles that require two players to progress. Basically player two is just a carbon copy of the first player, but it’s a nice addition, especially for parents who want to play a fun game with their kids.
Lastly, the game is finally portable now! The Wii U version didn’t allow for off-screen play as it utilized the GamePad for map functions as well as small things like scanning buildings for criminals. This is all done via buttons on the Switch, which then brings up an overlay to show the details. One strange thing that is missing in the Switch version is that when investigating nearby buildings you don’t hear the people inside the buildings having a conversation. That was kind of enjoyable to do with the Wii U GamePad, as you’d often come across some funny stuff. I actually do miss the second screen for this game, even though it was superfluous.
Anyone who has played as many of the Lego games as I have will know they are far from perfect in the quality assurance department. So many times I’ve had one of these games glitch out on me, and unfortunately Lego City Undercover is not immune to this. I had several issues early on in the game. The first one cropped up almost immediately. The first time I hopped in a vehicle and hit the gas, the pedal stuck and it ran me into a wall that I could not get out of. No buttons worked on the controller to get me out of this predicament. I had to quit the game and restart. A little later on I jumped just perfectly to get stuck inside a rock. No matter what I did I couldn’t get my character out and had to restart the game as well. Finally, right before I was writing this review I wanted to play some of the game in handheld mode, so I pulled the system out of the dock, but the Joy-Cons wouldn’t do anything. For some reason the game still thought I wanted to use the Pro Controller. Every other game automatically defaults over to the Joy-Cons to keep on playing, so I thought this was very odd. I finally had to go into the Home Menu and reset the connections so it would allow me to use the attached controllers. These small glitches are annoying, to be sure, but they’re not the end of the world.
One thing that has been slightly addressed with the Switch build of Lego City Undercover is the amount of time the game takes to load. The Wii U iteration was horrible, especially when you’d go in and out of missions and enter the police station and come back out. The Switch version does improve this by reducing load times, often by ten or twenty seconds. In addition, the developers have ditched the music playing during the loading screen and added in some advice from Frank Honey, which is often hilariously bad, but entertaining. Still, the loading times are longer than I’d have liked, but nowhere near as epic as they were on the Wii U. One other advantage the Switch version has is that the system can be placed into Sleep Mode, which means you can come right back to where you left off in a matter of a few seconds instead of having to load all the way back in from scratch.
Graphically the game is very similar to the Wii U version, which was good to begin with. The depth of field that would blur out the far-off objects seems to be greatly reduced and even gone in the Switch version. There’s still quite a lot of pop in, especially when driving fast. The game stutters here and there with the frame rate, but it’s manageable. The colors are bright and vibrant and the game looks great on both the TV and the Switch’s screen. I did notice that the Switch runs rather hot when playing this game, even more than Zelda.
The sound in the game is pretty good, but the lack of music when roaming around the city is really noticeable. It’s appropriate in open world games where you can listen to a radio station in the car, but here it’s just ambient noises and people talking on the street. Thankfully, during main missions the levels do feature a full soundtrack. All of the voice acting comes across just fine for the various characters.
Coming off of a huge exploration game like Zelda and diving into another huge game can be daunting. It’s a very different experience, but the whole looking for secrets and climbing everything is similar. Simply running through the main missions will probably take you about the same time as a normal Lego game, maybe seven hours or so. If you do that, you’ll see your percentage of completion is obscenely low, like maybe in the teens out of 100%. After you gain all of your powers you’ll want to replay each mission to gain access to areas that were locked off your first time through. On top of that, there’s a huge world to explore and puzzles to solve to collect everything. Don’t be surprised if you spend upwards of 50 hours to 100% complete everything in the game.
This game is perfect for younger kids and those with a craving for exploration-type games. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but if you’re willing to overlook some graphical blemishes and the occasional game glitch and don’t mind some cheesy puns and hit-or-miss jokes, then buckle up, Lego City Undercover is the game for you! But, should you buy it if you’ve already beaten the Wii U version? I guess that depends on how much you enjoyed it the first time through. Even though I adore the game, I’d have a hard time telling someone to spend a full $60 on a port that really doesn’t add much other than a second player and slightly better resolution. I’d suggest waiting for a sale unless you have absolutely nothing else to play at the moment. However, if you’ve never played Lego City Undercover before, and don’t mind the repetitive gameplay that comes with all of the Lego games, then by all means give it a purchase!
Lego City Undercover Review
- Graphics - 7.5/107.5/10
- Sound - 7.5/107.5/10
- Gameplay - 8.5/108.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 9.5/109.5/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Despite a few technical issues, Lego City Undercover is still a wonderful game to dive into and get lost in its over-the-top zany world. The game has tons of pop culture references, many dating back to the ’80s and ’90s that should hit home with older gamers, while the slapstick comedy will appeal to a younger audience.