The fact that Burnout Legends for the DS bears the same name as Burnout Legends for the PSP (which is easily one of the best racers ever put on a handheld system) may be one of the most unfortunate circumstances of the year. It's not because anyone would expect the DS version to be just as good as the PSP one--after all, the hardware capabilities are vastly different and so directly comparing the two games would be unfair. What is fair would be to expect something that actually resembles Burnout in any kind of meaningful capacity. The Burnout games have always been about high-speed racing, ridiculous crashes, and pure, visceral thrills. Burnout Legends for the DS has exactly none of these things. The racing is pathetically underwhelming, the crashes are so painfully halfhearted that they might as well not even exist, and a wide variety of graphical glitches and collision problems turn the whole thing into a serious mess.
The first time you boot up Burnout Legends, you might be tricked into thinking that the developers behind this game actually got it right. The menu systems are a good approximation of what you've come to expect from previous Burnout versions, and all the main car classes--like compacts, muscle cars, coupes, and sports cars--are on hand. Many of the tracks and courses found in the PSP version are available as well. But as soon as you get into an actual race, the whole thing crashes and burns.
There's a multitude of reasons why Burnout Legends isn't fun to play, but the biggest and most glaring one is that the cars just aren't much fun to drive. The car handling has this really bouncy, off-kilter feel to it. When you bang off of a wall, you either seem like you're sucked in and stuck there, or you bounce off in this really cartoony way that looks seriously unnatural. The same goes for other cars. They'll bounce and jerk around the track like you were playing a particularly laggy online game. And for a game that's all about crashes and doing massive damage to your opponents, the crashing sure is broken. You can literally just run up behind a guy and rear-end him, and somehow that will cause a takedown of his car. But other times an opponent's car will just clip through ancillary traffic on the course, or even your car when you're trying to pull off an after-touch takedown. The whole after-touch effect is completely insane, actually. The physics are just broken, so as soon as you go into slow motion after your car has been wrecked, you'll see the burnt husk of your car as it starts to dart around much too quickly in whatever direction you pull it in. And when your opponents wreck into the scenery or into other cars, they don't look so much like they've crashed as they do like they've simply merged with the scenery. How in the world do you make a game based on crashing and collisions with broken collision detection? What god would let that happen?
Another big problem is that the game really doesn't have much speed to it. It's not the frame rate--in fact, that's the one thing that is actually done pretty well. It's that the scenery just doesn't seem to move by at a particularly brisk pace, and boosting somehow makes things even slower. Burnout games, by nature, have to be fast to succeed, so you can see why the racing here falls so very flat.
Basically every race type found in the PSP version is on hand here, but they all fail for the reasons cited above. Every race is too slow to be fun, everything involving takedowns suffers at the hands of the weak crash physics and clipping issues, and the crash mode is like some kind of cruel, unholy joke. The whole point of the crash mode is to create ridiculous pileups of cars for morbid thrill (and lots of cash). When you're physically incapable of creating wrecks larger than a small handful of cars, and the crashbreaker effect looks like a pathetically dainty whirlwind of mediocrity, how can you possibly hope to get anything out of such a mode? You can't, and won't in the DS's rendition of the crash mode.
It also doesn't help matters that the game looks and sounds awful. However, the one visual aspect that is handled well are the tracks. They look pretty good running on the DS hardware, and while the textures are certainly blurry up close, as you're driving along it all looks OK. At least, until you see the nasty fade-in effect with the background environments. There's a big wallpaper texture in the background, and all the background track stuff fades in over it as you drive. The problem is that this fade-in starts from being invisible and then fades completely in, and slowly at that. So you get these ugly spots where the buildings and the wallpaper background are clashing with one another, and it looks just really rotten. Speaking of rotten, the car models are unfathomably ugly. They're lazily designed, nasty to look at, and the crash effects are just plain bad. So to recap, in a game where crashing is king, the developers spent the time making the tracks look good and skipped out on the cars and the crashing. Right.
As for the audio, all the sound effects are pathetically subdued. The Burnout series has always had excellent sound effects, and here they're barely noticeable. Crashes clang with miserable effect, the car engines all sound the same, and bad at that, and the soundtrack is just a collection of lousy, MIDI-sounding techno tracks. After Tony Hawk's American Sk8land did such an excellent job of bringing licensed music into a DS game, there's really no excuse now for not creating some kind of real soundtrack when porting a game (which has traditionally used a licensed soundtrack in multiple previous iterations). It's just lame.
Burnout Legends for the DS is not a failure because it's a port of a game that appeared on a more powerful system. It's a failure because it just isn't an enjoyable racer, regardless of platform and regardless of name. The fact that this languid excuse for a racer bears the Burnout name does make it all the more egregious. But even apart from the sullying of that series' reputation, every single thing this game tries to do comes off as half-baked and worthless. If you want a Burnout game, buy any other Burnout game ever made, and leave Burnout Legends for the DS very much alone.