Lego City Undercover – The Savior of WiiU?
As a console the WiiU is a technical oddity. Everything about the latest Nintendo offering seems baffling, be it the controller, the timing of its release, or even the user interface. But we’ve learned the hard way to not underestimate the power of those crazy, sexy Japanese visionaries, and so a few months after the release of the WiiU gamers the world over are still holding their breath, waiting to see what will happen. Are we ready to exhale?
A Rocky Start
The launch line-up for the WiiU was strong by Nintendo standards. We had a brand new Mario game to play, and ZombiU – the title that proved Nintendo could do real games too. But sales figures and analyst predictions since then have quickly painted a gloomy portrait of the future. At the time of writing this article, Nintendo have reported selling 3.45 million WiiUs – that’s against their original prediction of 5.5 million.
A brief visit to any game store will remind you that there’s not a whole lot going on for WiiU. Other than Black Ops 2 and the Batman rehash, there’s not a lot for a WiiU owner to spend more money on. This will to cause a vicious cycle for Nintendo, as third-party support will quickly wane.
This isn’t just a prediction – this is reality. For example, Black Ops 2 has received map packs on all platforms – except WiiU. Why? Activision have remained quiet on the matter, but reading between the amply spaced lines, the small user-base (2,000 players online on WiiU vs 200,000 on Xbox) just doesn’t justify the effort of putting the content out on the console. If a money-mad third party like Activision won’t release content that they’ve already developed on the WiiU, what other third parties are going to continue to throw their effort behind the console? The latest Rayman title has already been moved and turned into a cross-platform release. How many more clues do we need?
Ah – but there are some great exclusives on WiiU, I hear you exclaim. Lego City and Monster Hunter are nervously touted as saviours of the struggling system, and after playing Lego City for a few hours it’s easy to see why. A great game it certainly is, but is it the saviour of Nintendo’s console legacy?
Lego City Undercover
Lego City Undercover is arguably poised in the perfect position to hit a home-run for the WiiU. At their core, Lego games have always been a masterful fusion of challenging game-play, puzzle-solving, and outright fun – all wrapped up in an eye-wateringly cute graphical package. Undercover fits comfortably into this mould; an open world game set in a city, which is basically your childhood imagination come to life.
Playing as undercover-cop Chase McCain, you battle and puzzle-solve your way to victory against the plastic meanie Rex Fury. Yes, it’s a walking talking cliché, and yes, at its core its basically the same Lego game you’ve been playing for the last five years, but the whole package somehow steps up to deliver something new.
Firstly, the world itself is lovingly crafted to make you feel at home the instant you land. It feels like it will become one of those classic cities which you’ll remember your way around for years to come. In the same way that many gamers are more familiar with GTA3’s rendition of Liberty City than they are with their own home town, Lego City is a place where you never feel lost.
To say the entire metropolis is built from Lego blocks, the vistas you are treated to are consistently stunning. Watching the Sun set over a Lego Golden Gate Bridge is never tiresome, and the streets are filled with comical NPCs going about their daily business like… well, NPCs do. The colourful variety of vehicles tootling around makes the game feel alive, as well as offering a smorgasbord of options for your transportation needs.
It’s not all skyscrapers and suburbia, though. You’ll sink hours into riding motorbikes across the woodland areas, nailing sweet jumps off of ramps, or hurtling through the docks in a plastic fire truck. You even get to dictate the environment yourself to an extent in this game. The new in-game currency, ‘Super Bricks’, allows you to build new structures at various points about town. These will range from basic car-depots to game-critical things like bridges to new places.
So, top-notch world to play in? Check. What’s the story itself like? Lego City Undercover deftly circumnavigates the obvious pitfall of making the game feel too clichéd by injecting a constant feed of excellently written humour into all of your interactions. This humour ranges from witty one-liners right up to out-and-out movie parodies – Shawshank Redemption and The Matrix being among the satirical victims.
This means that playing the game is as fun for adults as it is for the young ‘uns. Level design is second to none – but we’ve come to expect this from Lego games. Perhaps the most apt compliment we can pay it is to say that Lego City Undercover is quite possibly the best Lego console experience since the original Star Wars trilogy. Seriously.
Saviour of the System?
Of course, this is not just a review of Lego City Undercover. What we want to know is: is this enough to save the console from an agonizingly quiet death? You could ask the same question of Monster Hunter. Given the context we set at the beginning of this exposition, any purported saviour of this console has to add enough value to justify investing in the console. Not just a game that makes you want to buy a WiiU – a game that makes you see what the console is really capable of, one that will make you want to be part of that experience for a generation of console gaming. Does Lego City do this?
No. Sure – there are some innovative uses of the touch controller; you can use it to virtually scan the environment using the onboard accelerometer. It serves as your mini-map while you’re driving about town, and incoming phone-calls pop up on it in a way that’s far less distracting than the system GTA4 offered. But ultimately, I could have played this on an Xbox or a PS3, and not ‘missed out’.
That’s a scary thing to say when you realise that a) the WiiU is nearly double the price of its current competitors, and b) in eight months time it will be a last-gen console, by all accounts. The WiiU has simply failed to make its case for why it deserves to exist now, let alone continue for the best part of a decade to come.
Of course the price will come down, and of course Nintendo will shart out the same five games it has for the past fifteen years now. But Mario, Zelda and Metroid won’t keep the system afloat for ten more years, and with third party support conspicuously absent, it’s undeniable that the WiiU has a shelf life. Seems to us that the book-end is in sight…