[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
In general, I’m not a fan of last-generation remasters released at full or near full price, because frankly, I think it’s bloody cynical. I was certainly willing to make an exception for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Edition on the Nintendo Switch, because at the very least it did include all of the previously released downloadable content and a number of new inclusions such as battle mode. Also, playing MK8 on Switch (especially two players) is an absolute joy, so it kind of pays you back very quickly.
When it came to the port of Lego City Undercover however, I was a little bit more concerned. City is a four year old game now, and what made it so compelling on the Wii U was the quirkiness and innovation brought by the second screen on the game pad. As in so many other games, the functionality provided by the Wii U game pad in the original game was intended to replicate the use of Chase McCain’s in game PDA, and it was fantastic for doing just that. Here on the Switch (and indeed on PS4 and Xbox One) the game delivers these PDA functions through the D-Pad, and it does a reasonable replacement job, but I was disappointed to see that there are no motion features or anything else to take advantage of the Switch’s pseudo-Wii U potential.
Anyway, the Wii U game pad did not make the game at its launch, it simply enhanced what was already a good game, so the real question is – how does City stand the test of time, and has anything new or interesting been added? The reality is, considering how few other titles there are on the Switch, City is a fairly good (but by no means perfect) addition.
The graphics have been tweaked and improved, with a glossier finish and a darker color palette, as well as either a higher resolution, or at least the illusion of it. Performance in handheld mode on the Switch is fine, although the graphics do suffer from some slightly jagged edges, and I also noticed that my Switch was super hot in docked mode.
One feature worthy of discussion is the cooperative two player mode, which hints at the kind of split screen, multiplayer Grand Theft Auto that we’ve all been waiting for, but unfortunately it’s a mess. Frame rates in the split screen mode drop from a playable and stable (for a game like this) 30 FPS to somewhere in the single digits at times, making the game basically unplayable. I can only attribute this to the open world nature of the game and the graphical complexity of rendering two separate images, but it’s a real shame to see such a promising inclusion reduced to a shambles.
There are no notable additions to the gameplay or structure that I was able to identify, but the core experience remains as playable as it was back in 2013. Players take on the role of Chase McCain, an undercover cop with a complex backstory and a lot of history with the other characters in game including the police chief, the villain and most of the supporting cast. The story and script is similar in tone to most (if not all) of the other Lego games, with a light and breezy feel that will appeal to adults and children of all ages.
When it first launched, City was the first Lego game to feature a proper open world structure, and it still feels every bit the U-rated Grand Theft Auto that it sets out to be, which is perhaps the main saving grace of the Switch re-release in particular. The Xbox One and PS4 versions are competing with competition from bigger boys like GTA V and Yakuza, whilst the Switch has nothing even remotely similar for players to show preference towards except Zelda, which is a tenuous link because of the open world structure only.
There’s tons to do in City, from gathering new outfits to unlock access to new areas and mini-builds within the game, to undertaking the story missions, street races and arrest sequences littered throughout the game. These things all felt a bit more worthwhile to me in the handheld form that the Switch provides than they ever did on the Wii U, and where in the original launch I was never interested in side missions and collectibles, I am strangely drawn to them when I am sat killing time on a train.
To summarize, City just about gets away with being relaunched on the Switch because of the portable nature of the console itself, and not because of anything the developers have added in porting it over. The port itself is littered with technical issues that continue to disappoint even after the update that came soon after launch, and the cooperative mode is actually anticlimactic because it works so poorly. The core game remains as good as it was (but no better) although I did find that little bit of extra mileage in playing whilst I was on the move. If you’ve already played the whole game to death and you are not desperate to replay it, then steer clear, but if you are curious or even if you just dabbled with the original, then you should at least…