By DERRIK J. LANG -
Over the past eight years, those cute little Lego people -- minifigs, as they're known -- have virtually traveled to Middle-earth, Hogwarts, Gotham City and a galaxy far, far away in video games developed by TT Games. The minifigs are finally coming home in their latest adventure, an open-world action game created exclusively for Nintendo's Wii U.
"Lego City Undercover" forgoes the wizardry and intergalactic wonder of big-budget franchises for something much more simple: a good old-fashioned police romp set in sprawling Lego City, a diverse metropolis where cars are made out of colorful plastic bricks and residents have interchangeable heads.
As undercover officer Chase McCain, players must seamlessly switch between multiple disguises with different abilities to hunt down Lego City lawbreakers. For example, when dressed as a farmer, McCain can water plants that blossom into vines that can be climbed. If he's imitating a burglar, his crowbar can crack open doors. There's even an astronaut suit.
The game's zany writing and voice acting alternate between corny and hilarious. ("I'll come back and give you my insurance details later!" McCain yells after smashing into other cars.) While youngsters might enjoy "Lego City" the most, there's plenty here for adults who grew up with "Grand Theft Auto," including sendups of "Goodfellas" and "The Shawshank Redemption."
McCain can get behind the wheel of more than 100 vehicles: cars, trucks, boats and helicopters. He can also ride horses, pigs and, at one point, a dinosaur. Outside of the story missions that take McCain inside such Lego City locales as the museum and prison, there are enough side pursuits for even the most obsessive gamers, from capturing aliens to painting bricks.
There are also lots and lots of bricks to pick up.
Just like the "Lego" games that have come before "Lego City," there are millions of studs spread across the world that can be traded in for customizable characters and vehicles. "Lego City" adds superbricks to the mix. These collectibles can be cashed in to craft superbuilds like helipads and stunt ramps.
"Lego City" employs the touch screen of the Wii U GamePad as a police scanner and communicator. It's mostly used to pinpoint locations on the interactive map, but it can also do stuff like spot bad guys through walls, listen in on conversations and snap photos of crimes. It's a neat touch but ultimately feels gimmicky and not integral to the overall experience.
The game's biggest flaw is its mind-numbingly long loading screens that feature nothing more than a spinning police badge and some funky wah-chickah-wah-wah background music. It was a blockheaded decision not to extend the game's charms with some title cards, images or anything -- ANYTHING! -- other than just a rotating graphic.
Despite that annoyance and a complete lack of any multiplayer mode, there's still a load of fun to be had with "Lego City." It's a must-own for Wii U owners and Lego fans. The developers at TT Games have created a fantastical toy world that proves there's really no place like home. Three stars out of four.