Nintendo DS Review: Burnout Legends

Burnout Legends suffers from one noticeable problem on the DS: It's called Burnout. If was named Generic Racing Game 1, it would have been tolerable. Sadly, slapped with the label from the best arcade racing franchise arguably ever, it's a disaster.

It's obviously going to suffer a little from the hardware. Within system limitations, the actual racing has been pulled off smoothly. The frame rate is perfect and the controls wonderfully tuned to suit the d-pad. It feels tight, and drifting around most corners is not a problem.

All of the usual race modes are included, from the fun eliminator to sometimes aggravating pursuit. Fans of the series will easily recognize these challenges and locales. There's nothing new to see (other than the toned down graphics engine) since the tracks are pulled from the first three games in the series.

That becomes noticeable during the game's usual bright spot: crash mode. On the DS, this is where things start falling apart. This sad representation of the best thing to happen to the racing genre in years is just abysmal. It seems like someone forgot to implement the necessary physics and watching the cars barely bounce off each other fails to convey the impact that makes this fun in the first place. The wimpy explosion that accompanies the crashbreakers is easily the funniest part of the game (unintentionally). There are a limited number of cars involved too, and gaining a gold is a matter of luck.

Problems there begin to infect other race modes too. Cars crash into walls almost at random; speed seems to play no role. During the replays, the vehicles clip right through walls with little debris accompaniment. The lower resolution plays a role, hiding oncoming traffic from view or making it difficult to see a curve just a few feet ahead.

Even the camera becomes a problem. Occasionally, when returning to the track after a wreck, the camera faces straight down at the asphalt and slowly curves up to the normal view. It's obvious why this is a problem, and ramming hood first into a truck does not make for a pleasant afternoon of gaming.

With all of that behind it, the critical flaw here is the speed. Actually, it's the lack thereof. The speedometer can say 150 mph all it wants. The person controlling the cars feels like they're going 50 at best. This sluggish feel almost seems to be a way to avoid the critical graphical flaws and give the player more time to react. Instead, you'll constantly feel like you're doing something wrong, even with a full meter of boost.

It doesn't matter whether it was a hardware or coding issue. That's the least of this game's problems. If it was a lack of care or rushed development time, it shows in the non-licensed soundtrack too. Regardless of your thoughts on the punk and rock mixture on the home consoles and PSP, you'll be wishing you never have to tolerate disastrous audio like this.

With some tweaks, this engine has some potential to be a fun arcade racer for the DS. The controls are the best out of the few games in the genre for the console, at least if you don't take your cars seriously. As an entry in the Burnout series though, and with only a few modes that work like they should, it's a frustrating disappointment.

(** out of *****)

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