Thursday, July 11, 2013

Lego City Undercover review

Up until this point, I think it is fair to say that the Lego games that began with Lego Star Wars in 2005 have not really evolved all that much.  They found a formula that worked and stuck to it, simply swapping out one high profile licence after another.  For me, they were starting to get a little stale, but then Lego Batman 2 came along and shook things up a bit by giving the characters voices and a more open ended hub area to explore.  Traveller's Tales, or rather a sub studio named TT Fusion, have taken this to it's logical conclusion and created a fully open ended world to explore in Lego City Undercover, and freed from the restrictions of a movie licence have really gone to town with the creative mission design and humorous script.   The result is the best game in the series so far and a serious contender for the best game on the Wii-U, so lets explore just what makes it so good.

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: TT Fusion
Expect to pay: £40

The premise the game sees you taking control of Chase McCain, a cop who has been away from Lego City for quite some time after credit for the arrest of master criminal Rex Fury was stolen from him by Dunby, who happens to be the chief of police at the start of the game.  Fury has escaped and the major, realising who was really responsible for busting him previously, has persuaded McCain to help with the investigation.   Tracking him down will be no easy task though and will see McCain taking on a variety of undercover roles so that he can become chummy with the criminal element in an attempt to learn where Fury may be hiding.

Graphics: 8 out of 10
The graphics in Lego City Undercover are on par with previous HD entries in the series and though they probably won't impress Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 owners, they prove that the Wii-U can indeed handle large scale open environments without coming to a stuttering crawl.  The Wii-U versions of Arkham Asylum and Assassin's Creed 3 were something of a mess in this regard and left many doubting whether the Wii-U was truly up to the task.   Thankfully, the poor performance of those launch games was down to the rush to get them ready in time and the resulting lack of optimisation.

The game does actually look quite pretty with a nice draw distance and a day/night cycle, though when the action heats up it does still drop a frame here and there.  It's nothing serious though and shouldn't mar your enjoyment of the game overall.

Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
First of all, the voice work can come across somewhat cartoonish and cheesy at times, but this is in keeping with the overall tone of game.  There are actually a few minor celebreties lending their voices to the game, such as Adam Buxton of Adam & Joe fame and Peter "voice of Darth Maul" Serafinowicz.  I could swear that the guy doing the voice of Forrest Blackwell is Matt Berry who played the sleazy Douglas Reynhom in The IT Crowd too, though I have been unable to find any conformation of this online.

Throughout the course of the story you will meet Lego versions of Morgan Freeman in his role from The Shawshank Redemption and Joe Pesci to name just a couple.  To reveal all the characters that are spoofed in this game would be to spoil it, because for adults at least that's where a lot of the appeal lies.  TT Fusion have been extremely clever in making this game appealing to both adults and children - they're likely to sell more copies after all!

The music is made up mainly of 70's style cop show funk, though there are a couple of other decent tunes in the game such as the wild west sounding music when you're rounding up a runaway pig, or the action movie inspired composition featured in the final mission and the credits sequence.  On the whole I believe the sound deserves a solid 8, it is suits the game and is well put together.

Eventually you will get access to choppers, speeding up transport across the city and opening up even more optional challenges.
Game Mechanics: 7 out of 10
The game play in Lego City Undercover is broken up into three styles (in my opinion) - open world story missions, linear story missions, and optional content.  Now the reason why the score is not as high as it could have been here is that should you decide to try and complete some of the optional mini games without advancing the story very far you will find that you simply won't be able to because you won't have the disguises and therefore the skills required to access them.  Even if for example you have the Miner disguise and the dynamite ability, you may then find out that you also need the farmer disguise afterwards and have to give up on that gold brick or other optional doodad that you're trying to unlock.  I would recommend trying to ignore the side missions in the game for as long as possible to avoid such frustration.   When you do finally complete the story mode then the whole city is the mollusk of your choosing.

There are a staggering 450 gold bricks to be earned by exploring off the beaten path and completing many different types of side quest or mini game.  These can include such tasks as rescuing poor stuck kitties with the help of the Fireman disguise, stealing cars and dropping them off as the Robber, or taking tea breaks as the Construction Worker.  In addition to the gold bricks there are also tons of hidden characters, vehicles and special red bricks to be found as well, all of which count towards your 100% completion tally. Finding and doing everything will take quite some time indeed, but doing so is great fun.  Don't rush yourself, play in short bursts regularly and you won't tire of the experience.  Play for too long and you may find it start to get a bit repetitive.

Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
The game may still play like many of the other Lego games but the combination of the open world peanut butter and the linear chocolate is quite delicious.  The fact that there is an absolute shit ton of optional stuff to do is the frosting on the... peanut butter and chocolate sandwich?  I don't think that analogy quite worked out how I wanted it to!

Value and Replayability: 8 out of 10
I don't think the scope for replaying the game is all that great, but that doesn't really matter too much to me because doing everything will take many many enjoyable hours.  I took 16 hours just to get through the story, still with the vast majority of the game in front of me.  I reckon you're looking at at least 40 hours for the whole shebang, most likely longer.

Overall: 8 out of 10
The lack of two player co op in this one is a bit of a shame, but there's still an epic game for lonely types to enjoy. The game works for adults because of all the film and parodies in the game, and for kids because they get to romp around in a world full of Lego, doing cool stuff like stealing an animatronic T-Rex skeleton from the natural history museum or exploring an arch villains base on the moon.  It's great to see that the top quality releases have finally started arriving on the Wii-U - long may the continue!

Monday, July 08, 2013

My favourite YouTube gaming channels

During the 90's, TV shows based on video games were in their prime.  They may not have been the highest quality, but programs like Games Master, Bad Influence, Games World and Thumb Bandits were better than nothing, which is pretty much what we have now.  Luckily though, the rise of YouTube has made the lack of programming about our favourite pastime completely irrelevant, as we have as much quality video content as we could ever want, on demand.  Here is a list of my favourite gaming channels, followed by a few that are not entirely focused on games, yet probably of interest to people who are likely to be reading this.


The great thing about TheBitBlock is just how much passion and enthusiasm host Josh Thomas shows towards Nintendo across all his videos. It's getting a bit depressing to be a Nintendo fan, but watching him enjoy a multiplayer challenge on The Fold with his friend Nick, one of his excellently crafted video reviews, his great Animal Crossing video diaries or other coverage of Nintendo games will surely turn your frown upside down.  Below you can sample one of my favourite episodes of The Fold.


Host Andre offers a variety of gaming content including trailer analysis videos, overviews going under the "Game and Watch" moniker, hidden secrets as well as extremely elaborate and complete video guides. Again, he produces an Animal Crossing New Leaf video diary, though these can be a bit repetitive compared to Josh's because his town isn't nearly as developed. It is daily though! A lot of work goes into his channel - especially with the analysis videos and guides - so you should definitely give his content a watch.


Though I frequently find that my own opinion differs from that of Jeff and Ryan in particular, there's no denying that Giant Bomb make some great videos that are often hilarious.  My Friday evenings are often spent catching up with the Quick Look videos that they have put up during the week, and their fantastic mailbag videos are often the entertainment of choice for my lunch hour.  The video below is one of the most memorable videos they've put up in recent times, where a fan sends in a huge folder of classic PC games.
Edit: RIP Ryan Davis - you will live on in the videos and the hearts of your many fans.


This is the official channel of The Completionist, aka Jirard "DragonRider" Khalil. His videos serve a triple fold purpose - to offer a summary of the challenge and reward a particular game offers from completing it 100%, as an overall review of the game, and as an extremely well written and humorous piece of entertainment.  It is hard to pick out just one episode to highlight in this article, but this one for Catherine is a great place to start.


Joe and Dave from the Game Sack channel really know their stuff about retro gaming.  Their videos are a constant source of information about various genres and consoles including the Master System, the Neo Geo, the PC Engine and many more.  Their collections are almost as expansive as their gaming knowledge, with frequent comparisons of games across multiple platforms.  To give you a taste of their content, I have picked a recent episode about rare and valuable games.


Continue is a weekly web show where the three hosts, Paul, Nick and Josh play a retro game for about 30 minutes before making a judgment on whether they would Continue or declare Game Over.  The videos are frequently full of foul language of a sexual nature so if that is likely to offend you then maybe give it a miss.  If you're not a prude and find it as funny as I do, though then be sure to check out this episode about Total Recall on the NES as an example.


This guy (sorry, I don't know his name) has some great gaming videos on his channel, and my favourites are those where he focuses on hidden gems for a given system.  He recently put up a three part series dedicated to overlooked Wii games, and you can check out part one right here.


Also known as Classic Game Room, this channel shows off both games and hardware that is old and new.  I sometimes don't agree with host Mark - he didn't have a clue about Game Center CX when they reviewed Retro Game Challenge on the DS for example, yet just as often I do find his advice valuable before making a purchase.  I have selected a review of Golden Axe: Beast Rider to share with you here.


If you are as fond of the Wii as I am, then this channel is a great place to find out if a particular game is worth buying for the system.  There is now over 5 years’ worth of Wii reviews archived here, which covers both retail and downloadable titles.  Check out one of his videos below.

Matt Barton

Matt Chat is a fantastic place to go for coverage of classic PC games and interviews with key people that made them happen.  Earlier episodes feature game footage with Matt explaining what exactly what made them great, whereas later episodes have tended to focus on the interviews.  I have selected an episode about Planescape Torment to show you here.

John R. Gibson

John's channel is the home of his Videos Masters TV program, which combines gaming, comic books and other geek related paraphernalia into a regular show.  New episodes come out on a roughly monthly schedule, though he does take a break for a while between "seasons".  Definitely a must watch!

JonTronShow and PeanutButterGamer

These two channels seem to have had a dearth of new content over the last six months or so, which is a shame because when they were producing stuff regularly it was great.  I enjoyed PBGamer's Harvest Moon videos in particular, and JonTron had a great rant about the Sonic series a while back.


If you are a movie lover as well as a gamer, then FilmState is a great place to catch up on rumours, news, trailers, theatre and DVD releases.

The Ben Heck Show

Ben Heck is something of a genius when it comes to creating gadgets and technological doodads.  He has created his own pinball table, has taken the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii U and put them together as one monstrous uber console, to name just two of his amazing feats.  I would never have the skill or the patience to make the things he does on his show, yet it remains fascination to watch.


Ro is the host of Nerdy Nummies, which is a baking show with a difference.  Each week she invents her own nerd themed edible treats based on a game, a film, comics or anything else the target audience would be interested in.  By far my favourite is the Donkey Kong cake that she made, which also happens to feature The Completionist and be the first episode of Nerdy Nummies that I watched.