Leggo my… Lego. Yeah!
Oh, Lego. I don't know what's making your jaundiced characters and building-block games so addicting—especially when they're not actually asking me to manually build anything at all—but you manage to keep it as charming as it is welcoming. And here's another example of a game that's so open and encouraging to explore that it's going to stay open in my screen for hours. Darn you, encourager of procrastination!
On the 3DS, Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins is the beginning of the story of Chase McCain, rookie cop new to Lego City. By switching costumes and exploring the different sections of the city on assignment, he not only can discover all of the uniquely skilled costumes he can find, but must also catch the notorious Rex Fury: the terror of the town. As a cop on the trail, you can commandeer any vehicle you come across and run roughshod over the entire town, which is kinda like Grand Theft Auto, but fine for kids (though it could use some Lego hookers to run over... just saying). The 3DS LCU is the prequel to the Wii U incarnation, so if you like it enough with the (presumably) larger combination of screens, you're bound to enjoy the portable version.
Like so many of the Lego games, the point is to go exploring the sandbox. There is a story element tp the game, but after finishing it (and a few side-quests) in about eight hours or so, I was surprised to see I was only about 21% through what the game had to offer. There are bunches and bunches of different outfits to collect, other minor "missions" to accept around town, cash strewn everywhere to pick up, photographs of landmarks for postcards to take, and vehicles to discover and purchase. I put "missions" in quotation because they're not official missions, like the ones given during the main story mode; they're missions like "help this person who's being mugged" and "break apart every ATM in the city" and such (which is a great thing to teach children in lieu of running people over in a Lego sportswear).
After the main game it feels a little tedious, but for the "sandboxiness" (if that's not already a word, I'd like credit for it) of the experience on a portable console, I'm willing to give it a pass. It's fun to run around the city, which looks nearly as nice as the Wii U's version. I wish it had voice acting outside of the cutscenes of the main game, but it's still weird to me to hear the little bastards speaking in the first place, so this is a bit more like the "classic" games in the franchise. Along those same lines, the gameplay is almost exactly as you would expect: fetch quests, limited fighting, bosses and challenges that don't challenge the brain. They're designed for an E10+ audience after all—no need for anything too deep.
There's also customization of your characters, the ability to swap around body parts and painted-on clothing choices, but they're more generic this time around. Remember in the Star Wars games how you could put Yoda's head on Darth Maul's body with Anakin Skywalker's legs? Yeah… not so interesting here. Maybe there's a Yoda head I just haven't found yet, but the more I play, the more I doubt I'll find him. 'Tis a shame, but oh well. It's still deep enough to have fun with, but it doesn't hold my attention as well.
While I wish it had grown up more over the years, the franchise still has that appeal of a fun story and easy-to-grasp gameplay that can keep my attention for a bunch of hours without fail. It hasn't evolved, but when it's as good a sandbox game as any on the market (and still sells a buttload), why would it need to? People are going to buy it, and they're going to enjoy it. As little as it's changed, it's adapted just well enough to keep the cart/disc/download on and running. With Nintendo at the publishing helm, I'm back to look for any Miyamoto-inspired stuffs, like the Wii U sequel is filled with. I might've missed it with all the car jumps and bad guy chasing.