More Video Games

TT Games has made a living out of Lego titles. What started as a quirky take on "Star Wars," has flourished into a series of hits, running the gamut from "Harry Potter" to "Batman."

The developers have succeeded because the Lego games deftly capture the best moments of those respective franchises while designing levels that are clever, accessible and fun. TT Games is so good at it now that it has the gameplay down to a science.

But for all its solid effort, the one thing that has eluded the developer is an original intellectual property. The team has worked with other people's universes, but it's never handled one with its own characters. That changes with "Lego City Undercover," in stores Monday on the Wii U.

"Lego City Undercover" is TT Games’ first major Lego game to be released. The game benefits from that creative freedom.
"Lego City Undercover" is TT Games' first major Lego game to be released. The game benefits from that creative freedom. (Nintendo)

TT Games subsidiary TT Fusion has created an open-world cops and robbers title that expands on the ideas introduced in "Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes." Players step into the role of Chase McCain, a police officer who is returning to his old haunt after Rex Fury, a criminal mastermind, escapes from prison. Lego City's mayor calls on McCain to stop Fury's crime wave.

That request comes with plenty of baggage. McCain has a history with the police chief and an old flame named Natalia Kowalski. As players tackle missions, they'll get more details on what led him to abandon his friends and home.

Despite the moody drama, "Lego City Undercover" is actually light and humorous. It's more like a long episode of "The Simpsons" with funny asides, non sequiturs and unrelenting comic relief.

At first, it's strange playing a Lego game that doesn't have a license attached to it. There's no frame of reference and nothing to latch onto besides a few movie references. But as players adjust to the rapid-fire jokes and TT Fusion's approach to comedy, "Lego City Undercover" becomes a laugh riot. The campaign exudes that same oddball energy, but the developer has more freedom to let it loose and run wild.

The other part of the "Lego City Undercover" formula is the detailed open world. It's essentially a kid-friendly alternative to "Grand Theft Auto." McCain is a nice police officer, who arrests enemies after tackling them to the ground. No one dies bloody deaths. As an undercover officer, he dons disguises that give him tools like a grappling hook, a paintball gun or a pickax.

As McCain further infiltrates criminal gangs, he'll gain more costumes, and that opens up more of the world. These disguises let him in areas that were previously closed to him. That type of gated level design is layered throughout the map, and it's easy to get lost amid the rooftops, trees and sewers of Lego City, chasing after power-ups and secret areas.

TT Fusion does a good job of incorporating the Wii U GamePad into the gameplay. Players can use it to scan an area for Super Blocks, which are needed to build the bigger items in the campaign. They can use the controller as a camera and snap photos to share with friends. On missions, it's used to eavesdrop on ne'er-do-wells and to spot hiding thugs.

The one area where "Lego City Undercover" falters is its loading times, which are frustratingly long. The rest of the flaws are minor. The puzzles, especially the paint ones, can be complicated for the younger set and judging the distances between jumps is difficult.

But that doesn't weigh down the levity and manic energy residing in the game. TT Fusion benefits from the creative freedom, and that's reflected in the intricate level design that shows off the game's sense of scale as McCain chases crooks across rooftops or dives down a mineshaft. It's all a little absurd and outlandish, but the team pulls off an original work with aplomb.

Contact Gieson Cacho at 510-735-7076 or gcacho@bayareanewsgroup.com. Read his blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei.

'lego city undercover'

* * *

Platform: Wii U
Rating: Everyone 10 and up