It was at last year's Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, Washington, where I was first introduced to Indianapolis 500 Legends for the Nintendo DS. It was while covering the Destineer booth that I stumbled across this odd little racing series. After playing the game on both the Nintendo DS and Wii I wasn't sure what to make of it. Here was a standard racing game that decided to try something completely new and original. This is a racing game that decided that having a lot of tracks was overrated. Indianapolis 500 Legends is the kind of game that fascinated me and worried me all at the same time.
It was while hanging around the Destineer booth that I first learned that Indianapolis 500 Legends had solved the problem of driving with the touch screen. You heard me, Destineer adamantly stated that this racing game was the first to get the touch screen controls right. That's quite a bold statement considering the history of Nintendo DS racing games, one look at Ridge Racer DS or Burnout Legends should be enough to demonstrate that racing games and touch technology is a lethal combination. But Destineer claimed to have made a racer that felt good when playing with the touch screen.
Unfortunately now that I've had some time to sit down with Indianapolis 500 Legends I'm not sure I agree with Destineer's PR department. Yes, Indianapolis 500 Legends' touch controls are better than Ridge Racer DS, but that's like saying that moldy bread is better than sewage water. Thankfully Indy fans won't have to put up with the touch screen if they don't like it (you can play the game just fine with the D-pad), but at the same time I was kind of hoping that this would be the game that convinced me that the touch pad was good for racing games.
Believe it or not, Indianapolis 500 Legends isn't as dull as the title lets on. The game is presented as a history of the classic race, taking us from 1960 all the way up to 1971. Along the way we are introduced to some of the masters of race driving, including A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Johnny Rutherford and many, many more. Toss in some extremely cool (and extremely dangerous) cars and you have the makings of a solid racing game.
There's just one big problem, the game only has one track. I know I'm said it before, but it bears repeating a few more times. When I say that the game has one track I mean it, there's no mirror mode or alternate path here. Instead you get the same track that some of the greats made history on. If you're the kind of gamer who could care less about the history lesson and wants diversity in your game, then you might want to check out one of the other racing games on the console. However, if you're the type of gear head that wants to go back in time and recreate some of the best racing rivalries of all time, then Indianapolis 500 Legends may be worth your $40.
The good news is that this racer isn't nearly as monotonous as it sounds. My greatest fear was that this game was going to force me to race a 200 lap race eleven times in a row. As much as I love racing games, I'm not sure I could handle sitting there and racing one of these vehicles for 200 laps straight. Even if it was the best racing game in the world, the idea of doing the same thing 200 times just sounds incredibly boring.
Thankfully that's not what Indianapolis 500 Legends asks you to do. Instead you get something called the "Mission Mode" which assigns a bunch of unique tasks to each racer and each year. One of the common missions is to finish off a race, which means that you will take control when there are only two or three laps left in the 200 lap race. In another mission you will need to swerve out of the way to avoid multi-car pile-ups. In yet another mission you will need to pass a certain amount of cars in order to advance, a mode that was taken directly from the Burnout series. There's even a mission/mini-game that has you using the Nintendo DS' touch screen to change a tire and refill the gas tank. For the most part these various missions are a lot of fun and do a good job of adding some diversity to the theme. Unfortunately you'll be asked to do most of these missions over and over again, so eventually the monotony will start to creep back into the overall racing experience.
Indianapolis 500 Legends also comes with a more traditional "Classic Mode," which allows you customize a race to your liking. Not only can you set the game up for two players (no four-player support here), but you will also be able to choose the number of laps you want to play (all the way up to 200), whether or not you want to run a qualifying race and what year you want all of this to take place in. For some strange reason the developers have decided to lock all of the years out from the get-go, so you're going to have to go through that single player mission mode and unlock everything. While I'm sure there's a good reason to do this, it's sad that people just looking for a fun two-player game have to go through the single player experience to unlock the most crucial parts of the game.
Page 1 of 2