Race and race and race on the Nintendo DS!
Indianapolis 500 Legends treats itself like a racing simulation as opposed to an arcade racer, and consequently requires more attention, patience and subtlety from its players. Thankfully, it also manages to offers a lot of bite-size pieces of racing fun on the Nintendo DS without sacrificing any authenticity.
The game's Classic mode may be a race of anywhere from ten to 200 laps, but it autosaves after every lap so you can jump in and out of a race at will. Mission mode takes players through quick objective-based challenges which are inspired by real rivalries and situations from the years 1961 to 1971. These missions can vary in length from 30 seconds to three minutes, so with 11 years to play through and the lure of "I almost had it that time," this mode is surprisingly captivating. One of the most unique and exciting challenges is based on crashes: players race at top speed while avoiding getting entangled in the wild chaos created by fourteen other out-of-control cars. You can also play the game wirelessly with friends, but only if everyone has their own game cart.
Indianapolis 500 Legends proudly displays its heritage by narrating actual historical footage and photos between missions. It almost feels like a little snippet of the History Channel on your DS. But this authenticity comes at a price: the Indianapolis 500 takes place on one track and one track only. The cars will get faster and handle differently, but only subtly so. It feels like you're always racing with cars that are exactly like yours on the same giant oval racetrack. These are troubling signs indeed for anyone who expects variety and surprises out of a game.
While there aren’t any red shells to fire at opponents, Legends has a wonderfully-implemented slingshot mechanic which is your primary means of bypassing rivals. Simply stay close on another car's tail (marked by blue lines trailing behind it), and a meter will fill up. If you can stay in position long enough for the meter to fill completely, you can trigger a boost that will give you a burst of extra speed and help you move up in position. That is, if it’s used responsibly.
Yes, players have to be more restrained in Indianapolis 500 Legends. When all the cars have almost the same max speed, catching up after a mistake relies on patience and efficient racing instead of things like blue shells. The game injects a real sense of danger to reckless driving because a single crash at high speed can really set you back. And you'll also need to be dedicated enough to make periodic pit stops, playing the associated mini-games to keep your car cornering and racing at its best.
This is all fine and dandy for players looking for a more realistic and demanding racing challenge. But anyone looking for another Mario Kart will find that Indianapolis 500 Legends has little else to offer. The graphics engine impressively places fifteen cars on-screen racing at high speeds with no frame rate issues (even during frenzied crashes), but the lack of visual variety makes the game unremarkable. In the sound department there are all the appropriate engine noises and even a handful of different music tracks, but if you're not already enjoying racing lap after lap you won't be impressed.
Game controls are a final and unfortunate sticking point. You can opt to control the game with the D-Pad and buttons, or with the stylus controlling a touchscreen steering wheel. It's difficult to corner without burning rubber if you're using the digital D-pad to steer your car, while stylus control is problematic when you're trying to make small steering corrections. Stylus steering is also very sensitive, leading to over-correction when making large movements. With practice, both control styles can lead you to victory, but it's a shame that there's no unified method.
The bottom line is that Indianapolis 500 is still fun, but only if you can overlook the very limited scope of the game. Beyond that you'll need to concentrate on the game's historical context, as well as determinedly using the sling-shot maneuver to pass opponents either three, or 200, laps at a time.