Indianapolis 500 Legends Hands-On

The glory days of American racing are the focus in this driving game for Wii and DS.

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American open-wheel racing has seen better days. The overwhelming popularity of the NASCAR series has cast a huge shadow on practically any other form of motorsport here in the US. Still, despite that domination, the Indianapolis 500 is arguably the most important annual motorsport event in the country. The upcoming Indianapolis 500 Legends for Nintendo Wii and DS look to recapture some of the magic by going back in time and revisiting some of the classic races and matchups from Indy 500s of the past. We recently had a chance to try out both versions of the game to see how they're coming along.

Go back in time and experience classic Indy races in Indianapolis 500 Legends for Wii and DS.
Go back in time and experience classic Indy races in Indianapolis 500 Legends for Wii and DS.

Indianapolis 500 Legends seeks to capture Indy 500 races from 1961 and 1971, a decade that saw some big changes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and plenty of classic races. As far as we can tell, you'll only be racing at Indy in this--which we suppose makes sense--but some of the small details in the track seem to be accurate. For example, in the game, the 1961 track features a long line of bricks on the front straight, while the 1962 track is configured so that that long stretch is paved over with asphalt except for the three-foot wide stretch at the start/finish line that we still see today, which is historically accurate. In addition, the car models change from year to year to reflect the continuous car development that occurred during that 10-year stretch of races. Both the Wii and the DS versions feature classic and mission modes, the latter of which will let you tackle the Brickyard course in a race. You can choose between options such as number of laps and so on, then hop onto the speedway and try to fight your way to the front.

Mission mode seems to be the centerpiece of Indy 500 Legends' single-player game experience. Here, each year in the game is broken up into missions that reflect the real circumstances of the Indy 500 from that year. As a result, you'll see real-life Indy racers from that year. For example, in the 1961 missions, you'll be racing as three real-life contenders from that year's race: Eddie Sachs, Jack Brabham, and eventual winner A.J. Foyt. The 1961 event has a handful missions to choose from for each driver. As Foyt, you'll have a battle event in which you need to get ahead of Sachs by lap 171; there's a race event where you need to finish ahead of Sachs for the final three laps of the race; and there is also a pit stop event (more on those in a bit). Another frequent event type is the dodge event, where you're tasked with avoiding on-track contact during an accident while still maintaining your speed along the way. Qualifying events will require you to complete a lap around the track in a certain time. All events will earn you medals as well as collectibles such as photos.

Controls in the Indianapolis 500 Legends are fairly straightforward in both the Wii and DS versions of the game. In the Wii version, you hold the Wii Remote horizontally and steer by twisting it left or right; gas and brakes are controlled with the 2 and 1 buttons, respectively. As with any Wii driving game that uses the Remote in this fashion, the controls take a bit of getting used to, especially in the tight corners with cars on either side. On the DS version, you steer with the directional pad and accelerate and brake with the A and B buttons, respectively.

You'll only be racing at Indy, so get used to turning left.
You'll only be racing at Indy, so get used to turning left.

Driving quickly is only part of the path to success in Indy 500 Legends; you'll need to be quick during pit stops as well. Here, you'll be responsible for everything from filling up your gas tank to changing your tires with some minigames that make use of the Wii Remote and the DS's touch screen and stylus combination. To fill up the gas, for example, you first have to unscrew the gas cap, then place the hose near the nozzle and try not to splash too much fuel on the outside of your car. Unfortunately, in both the Wii and DS version, the hose moved around so much artificially that we invariably set our car and driver on fire in the process, which then meant we had to bust out the fire extinguishers to calm the flames. The stylus and touch screen seem to work a little better here, as it's more difficult to be accurate with the Wii Remote's motion sensor. Nonetheless, while filling up the gas tank might be tough, changing tires is a bit easier, especially after some practice.

Neither of these games are graphical barn burners--the funky visuals when drafting behind an opponent are quite odd--but the multiple camera angles, including an entirely drivable cockpit perspective in the Wii version, is a nice touch. The very specific nature of Indy 500 Legends might not appeal to everyone, but racing history buffs might get a kick out of the classic video footage that precedes each year's race events. It's definitely a niche game, but one that just might find an audience when it's released in late November.

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