“Hey, hey! Come on over and have some fun with CRAZY TAXI!!!”
“The following is a contributor post by the Purple Prose Mage.“
It is the 1st June 2001. “Do you Really Like It” by DJ Pied Piper is the UK No. 1 single. Pearl Harbor, produced by Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, continues its second weekend atop the Northern American box office. Acclaim Entertainment ports SEGA’s Crazy Taxi to the PlayStation 2 in Europe.
You what it is, I know what it is, we all know what it is. Of all the racing games featured so far, this is the one by far the most popular with gamers who aren’t racing genre aficionados outside Mario Kart. It’s already been voted the #4 Dreamcast game, made the cut for the Hyperactive Coffee Mage and the Hopeful Sega Mage‘s list of games that should be included in the Sega Ages collection (so far, that hasn’t happened), and has been declared the best arcade game by the Green Screen Mage and the Final Fourteenth Mage. But I should probably describe it anyway.
Crazy Taxi is about racing against the clock to deliver customers to their destination. There’s an arcade mode, which is a direct port of the arcade game, an original mode, taking place in a city created for the console version, and Crazy Box, which is a series of driving games testing a particular driving skill. The soundtrack is compiled from punk rock bands like The Offspring and Bad Religion. Four drivers are available to the player, who each have their own unique cab: Axel, who looks like an anime cosplayer; B. D. Joe, who became something of a mascot for the game; Gus, who’s probably been the subject of recent allegations; and Gina, who is a woman. Arcade mode seems to take place in San Francisco, whereas the original course is more generic. The various passengers themselves are characters who have distinct personalities, helping bring the world of the game to life, along with the product placement of real stores, like Kentucky Fried Chicken or LEVI’S.
Extra time is earned by picking up passengers and delivering them in enough time earns a time bonus, which is added to your total overall fare. This can be further increased by performing numerous tricks, such as drifts and jumps. Ideally, you’ll want to drop off a passenger close enough for a new one to be picked up automatically, saving you precious seconds. Each of them stands in a circle beneath a $ sign, both colour coded to indicate how much time you’ll have to deliver them, from green to red, which is also based on how far they want to go. They don’t just appear anywhere, so if you see one, pick them up. They generally tend to only be found at other passengers’ destinations, and don’t reappear once delivered. If you have enough time, you can deliver every passenger in the city, assuming you can still find them when there’s only a few left.
It sounds simple, but the game isn’t just for amateurs. The odd transmission system, which requires the player to switch between D for drive and R for reverse is tricky to master. Most players use it for exactly those purposes, but getting the hang of it allows you to shift up into higher speeds you didn’t even know are attainable. In fact, the whole physics engine itself is a little strange: not only can passengers be picked up from the seabed as if it’s nothing, they walk through everything. Things can also get a little haywire when your taxi rides up against the surface of a building, seriously delaying you until it eventually settles back down on flat ground. Part of the appeal of the game is how deceptively hard it is – most players have probably never completed a full lap of a course, or are even aware that the courses loop.
Play the game enough, and you’ll eventually memorise “The Knowledge” of each course. The overhead 3D directional arrow – the first of its kind – only directs by street, which can be confusing for locations difficult to access. The sign of a true Crazy Taxi veteran is the ability to completely ignore the arrow and make your own way there in much less time.
At the end of a game, the fare and passenger deliveries will be counted and combined to form a license, measuring the player’s overall skill, which comes with a rank. The top license is “CRAZY!!!”, which unlocks the credits.
Of course, there’s always a cool Easter egg in a game like this. If the Crazy Box challenges are completed, a rickshaw will be unlocked, usable by any of the four cabbies. It’s not a gameplay transforming gimmick by any means, but it’s a fun gimmick at least and is a mark of proof that you completed all the tasks. The Crazy Box is where the developers really experimented with the game, by asking questions like “What if many passengers were being delivered at once?” or “What if a passenger were being delivered around a complete loop of the course?”. It’s something a bit different that works as both a departure from the main game mode, while also training the player to become better at the game.
Crazy Taxi is unique game for the simple reason that it’s a form of role play. It takes a profession like taxi driving, and turns it into a game based on the appealing aspects and eliminates the drawbacks. It probably would be interesting to be a cabbie. You earn money by driving people around, you meet new people every time, and you develop an encyclopedic knowledge of the city. Of course, you also deal with traffic jams, drunk passengers and a likely feeling of isolation and loneliness. The idea of driving around purgatory in your own coffin for eternity while transporting other sinners is an analogy Martin Scorsese turned into the film Taxi Driver (1976). Conversely, Luc Besson took the opposite approach with the film Taxi (1998), which is much more like this game. It was remade in 2004 starring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon – no, really. I prefer the sitcom Taxi – it stars Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd and Andy Kaufman!
It’s a very simple game, but became such a success because of its particular style. Earning points against a ticking clock until time runs is one of the least original formats for a game, so what defines Crazy Taxi is the additives: the punk music, the exaggerated physics, the way everyone is having a good time, the sun-drenched Californian laid-back coolness of it all. As with every great game, it’s not about how you reach your destination… it’s the fun you have on the journey.
I really want a Mage Taxi game now. Various Mage characters are transported to different locations around a large campus. Hmmm… I’ll go write that down.
The Purple Prose Mage is the author of the Racing Game of the Week column and is currently working on a documentary about the Driver series for its 20th anniversary on 25th June. He also likes reviewing the latest book he’s read on his own blog, covering the World Rally Championship and generally posting about what he’s been playing, at alexsigsworth.wordpress.com.
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Categories: Racing Column