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Joystiq presents

DS Fanboy Review: Indianapolis 500 Legends

Indianapolis 500 Legends isn't your average racing game. Instead of presenting the player with a series of circuits, this DS title focuses on one, and only one track. To state the obvious, in the game you race in the Indy 500, an event known as "the Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

Since Legends doesn't try to woo you with a bunch of different courses, it attempts too add variety with the help of history. Through the game, the player is not only able to experience the Indy 500, but also learn about it. One way in which the game achieves this is by letting the player race as (and against) famous drivers (well ... they're famous in relation to other Indy car drivers, at least). But, can combining history with racing really work in the context of a video game?

Of course, Indianapolis 500 Legends is a game first, history lesson second. Of the two modes offered in the title, the less impressive one is "Classic Mode," which offers a simple, customizable race. With only one track choice, however (the Indy 500, naturally), there's only so far that you can go with the customization. Sure, you can race with the driver of your choice (or the ones that you've unlocked, at least). Beyond that, though, the only option you get is choosing how many laps to drive.

A "Quick Race" is 10 laps, but you could choose to do 20, 50, 100, or even the full 200. Whether you would want to do that many laps, however, is a completely different issue. Only a true masochist, or perhaps an absolutely die-hard Indy racing fan would want to subject themselves to such an event. For reasons that will be fleshed out later, even the "quick" 10 laps feel like torture. "Classic Mode" is, therefore, a largely ignorable part of the game.

Fortunately, that's not all there is to offer. The real meat and potatoes of Indianapolis 500 Legends is its "Mission Mode." In this configuration, the player gets to race in the Indy 500 during the years of 1961-1971. For each year, the game offers three different drivers, who all face their own set of tasks. This actually provides the player with a lot of content, making up for the ever-so-lame "Classic Mode." That's not to say that "Mission Mode" is without its faults, however.

When you get deeper and deeper into the game, you'll realize that it's too much potatoes and not enough meat (just like when you read more and more of this review, you'll realize that I can't let go of a metaphor). The main problem is that the missions start to look familiar. Whether you have to avoid damage to your car, do some quick pit crew work, or win the race, there's really not as much variety as there appears to be on the surface. Another problem with this mode is the system of unlocking. While adding unlockables will often enhance a game, if the system is overused it can become downright annoying. The game essentially pigeonholes you into a specific year, driver, and mission, leaving you with few options. Want to race the Indy 500 in 1962? You have to complete 1961 first with two drivers. Oh, and you can't choose which driver you want to use – you have complete the first driver's missions to unlock the second guy, and then complete all of his tasks to unlock the third. But wait, there's more unlocking to be done! Do you want to choose which task to complete for your driver? Can't, sorry. You have to complete the first task to unlock the next one, and so on.

This system of "forced choosing" takes a lot of fun out of this title. Indianapolis 500 Legends could have benefited greatly by having a different mechanic, perhaps one in which you could choose your driver and mission from the get-go, but had to work to unlock future years. Fortunately, most of the missions are short, and usually involve a challenge lasting around 30 seconds, or a race involving only a few laps. It's probably the brevity rather than the variety that makes "Mission Mode" better than "Classic Mode," because the races get old fast.

This is to be expected, though, in a one-track racing game. There's only so many times a person can feel inspired to drive around the same, dull oval. With only one track to offer, not even the cute "playing through history" concept is able to make the game interesting. The track is made even more boring by the visuals, as there just aren't enough details to make it worth looking at over and over again.

The good news is that the cars handle well. The gameplay uses simple controls (A is accelerate, B is brake, etc.), but also adds some interesting strategic elements. If you've ever seen Talladega Nights, you're probably familiar with the "slingshot" maneuver. Using this technique effectively is essential when it comes to winning races. Your cars can also take damage, so you have to be careful when driving.

The pit crew minigames are worth mentioning, too. While I liked the idea of being involved in the pit crew activity, it didn't translate well in the game. In fact, it seems like Torus just added this aspect in order to force some stylus action in this title. The two available minigames (fuel filling and tire changing) are fun the first time or two, but after that, they lose all appeal and become repetitive.

The tire changing minigame

As for multiplayer, the game only offers multi-card local play. This means that you can only race against someone if they also own the game. Even if the game did have wifi capabilities, though, the prospect of racing other people continuously on one track doesn't seem too appealing.

Controls: The controls are fine, albeit simple. It should be noted that you can also move your car with the stylus while driving, but doing so is impractical when compared to the simple D-pad controls.

Visuals: The graphics aren't terrible, but the visuals are just too dull. It's nice that the look of the cars changes based on the year you play in, but that's not enough to spice up the bland scenery and drab colors.

Sound: The music and sound effects are fine for the game, but they're not worth noting.

Story: The game incorporates a lot of history, which actually makes it more interesting. Missions are based on how a driver fared in the Indy 500 in the year you've chosen to race in. For example, if you're racing as Jack Brabham in 1961, one of your missions will be to evade the pile-up that occurred during lap 51. Also, when you complete enough of a year, you get to see actual footage of the Indy 500.

Difficulty: Even with the slingshot maneuver factored in, the game isn't too difficult. At the very least, you'll be able to pass missions with a bronze.

Final Score: 4/10 -- Who would have thought that the story behind a racing game would be its best asset? The inclusion of racing legends and actual events in missions is the most compelling feature of the game. Unfortunately, though, this title doesn't have enough depth to make it worth playing for more than a few hours, if that. The use of only one track is ultimately detrimental to the gameplay, and the missions don't offer enough variety to make up for the lack of courses. When you factor in dull visuals and tedious minigames, Indianapolis 500 Legends simply fails to deliver a worthwhile racing experience.

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