When I was 12, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway totally screwed me over.
After visiting the famed Brickyard and eagerly paying 10 bucks to take "a lap around the track," I was placed in a golf cart that putted around the asphalt at a not-entirely-death-defying 9 mph.
This was not the pants-soiling experience I had dreamed of. But until we all get Pennzoil sponsorships, Indianapolis 500 Legends may be as close as you'll get to that dream of taking the checkered flag at Indy — or at least walking away unscathed from one of the track's many fiery crashes.
Indianapolis 500 Legends
Publisher: Destineer Studios
Platform: Wii, Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E (for Everyone)
Score: 7 (out of 10)
At first glance, Indianapolis 500 Legends might strike you as, well, not particularly striking. It's not an immersive simulator like Gran Turismo, and it lacks the over-the-top crashes of the Burnout series. Yep, it's just a bunch of cars doing up to 200 laps around the exact same track. Not since Pac-Man have you played the same level so many times in a row.
But if you think you can win simply by mashing the accelerator and turning left, you will most assuredly lose every race. Legends' deceptively simple setup actually yields a helluva challenge.
Similar to Excite Truck, Legends requires players to turn the Wii remote like a steering wheel, using one button for gas and one for brakes. Unlike Excite Truck, Legends' steering controls are tight and never handle like, say, a road trip with Billy Joel. To get the gold cup, you'll have to draft behind opponents and slingshot ahead of them, which is Legends' equivalent of Excite Truck's "turbo boost."
The basic solo and two-player races are somewhat dull when stacked against similar racing games, but "Missions Mode" makes Legends worth taking for a spin. Here, the game straps you into old-school, open-cockpit race cars circa 1961-1971 and invites you to live out actual moments in racing history. You know, those formative, badass years when drivers said, "To hell with safety features — let's get this bitch up to 170!"
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Historical video and factoids like "Jack Brabham's nimble car saved his life on lap 128" lead into missions where you're Brabham, and you have to dodge the flaming on-track wreckage. And, rather than force you to drive 200 butt-numbing laps, many missions let you reenact just the last three laps of a famous race. By boiling the racing down to its most dramatic elements, even non-gearheads will shift their thinking. Besides, the basis in reality is a great aspect for those of us sick of losing races to Mario's turtle-shell-launching go-kart. (Cheating bastard.)
Crucial pit stops are broken down into mini-game form, as your Wii remote becomes both wrench and fuel hose. The speed of the pit crew is entirely up to you, as you furiously turn your wrist to change lug nuts and unscrew the fuel cap (game tip: "lefty loosey, righty tighty"). The motion-controlled events feel a little shoehorned into the game, as the racing usually stands on its own, but they're a refreshing diversion after you've been going in circles for 15 minutes.
While a change of scenery, a change of locales, and online-play options would be nice, Legends still delivers a dramatic, white-knuckle experience. And it almost makes me forget that 10 bucks I blew on a golf-cart ride that day.