This article originally appeared in Nintendo Gamer magazine.
There was a time when Lego really was just blocks. When we were young each of the little plastic people (who flew rockets made out of castle walls) were only present to add scale to our mismatched creations. Their sociopathic fixed smiles did nothing to add personality to the world. So it's hard to imagine a story built around them. Cue Lego City Undercover.
Earlier Lego games sidestepped this problem, with movie and film tie-ins offering instant context to their charming humour and gameplay. While these licensed titles established a pleasing style for the Lego franchise, the little blocks have still got to prove that the brand can carry Nintendo exclusive Lego City Undercover without the support of Jones, Wayne or Solo.
But this initial scepticism aside, Lego City Undercover makes a good first impression. Taking an open-world design that owes a lot to GTA, we play the role of undercover cop Chase McCain, who hopefully apprehends plastic villains, melts them down and remoulds them as model citizens.
It's a cute police drama set in an open world...
Taking the open world idea and moving it away from murder playground to cute police drama is befitting of a child friendly Lego title, but it does require a few changes to the established template. Currently we have seen no evidence of any gunplay in Undercover. While in previous licensed Lego titles guns and death have played a role, this was always safely within the established story. Blasting droids into studs in Lego Star Wars is hardly on a par with assassinating pedestrians in Liberty City, after all. Even with their playful style, developers TT Fusion seem to have thought better of allowing us to run wild with a firearm in a city full of innocents.
Despite this, Chase is far from a pacifist. Whatever his views on gun control may be, the inch-and-a-half high cop is armed with a number of close quarters moves to take out his targets. The ability to run down crooks, tackle them and in a single motion handcuff them looks suitably fluid and satisfying - even if it does remove the need to inquire if the downed punk is "feeling lucky". Strangely, the result of this is that the lawbreaker bursts into a shower of studs in much the same way as those Star Wars droids.
This may not seem instantly the most effective method of criminal apprehension for the blocky hero, but despite his right angled form, he's surprisingly agile. Able to parkour his way around the city streets to catch up with perps, Chase can pull off numerous impressive wall runs and swings. It may not match Assassin's Creed's freerunning, but in combination with the combat system it gives a dynamic look to the action.