“YA YA YA YA YA!”
-Offspring, “All I Want”
Deranged, especially wild or aggressive. Insane. Unstable. Extremely enthusiastic.
No game in human history has ever deserved its adjective more than Crazy Taxi. Forget the Final in Fantasy, the Metal in Gear Solid, the Super in Mario Bros., heck… even the Sonic in Hedgehog… Crazy Taxi’s title aptly describes the screaming, overwhelming, exhilarating, frenetic, psychotic, impetuous, adrenaline rush that is playing this game. If I knew I could have played this game on the Dreamcast way back in 2000, maybe I would have bought a Dreamcast! Unfortunately, like 6,112,870,000 other people in the world at the time, I didn’t buy one. Much to my own shame, if all the games are this great. But not even Crazy Taxi, the third best-selling Dreamcast game, could save the Dreamcast.
Oh and a very special thank you to RetroGifMonster for supplying the game I’m writing this review for!
Hitmaker and Sega’s Crazy Taxi began life in the arcades in 1999, so you’ll know that this version is a port for home consoles. This is the version, the only version, I remember ever playing, sitting on the AC-chilled seat in front of the big screen, steering wheel in hand, pedals beneath my big toe (I wore slippers everywhere; it was Hawaii). But though I popped a few tokens in from time to time at the local Fun Factory, I never got too far, telling myself upon each inevitable game over screen that “ah well, it’s a racing game, after all”.
Well, younger Red, turns out you were wrong, at least in some kind of quasi-nit-picky sort of way: Crazy Taxi is not a normal racing game, by any stretch. What I mean is, it doesn’t task the player with circling a track or crossing a finish line, completing laps in a certain period of time, picking up death weapons to smash your opponents, or lobbing blue shells to screw the kart in the lead. Instead, as its name suggests, you pilot the noble gilded taxi, you are the Charon of San Francisco (or an urban lookalike), ferrying needy consumers from one product placement to another.
Yeah, they actually have you dropping people off in front of Pizza Huts©, Kentucky Fried Chickens©, Tower Records… towers©, and Levi’s® jeans stores. Crazy, right? My understanding is this was changed in later games and/or re-releases, which is a shame, because these, too, are a part of the severe and sore 90’s vibe all over this game.
Not a normal racing game, as I mentioned, instead it is what’s called a score attack game. Now I hadn’t heard about this particular subgenre until doing some research on Crazy Taxi. It is the counterpart of the time attack game. In time attack, there’s a race against the clock, a race for the best time. With score attack, however, it’s a race for the most possible points or the highest score, though time is of course a central limitation within which the player pursues this score-oriented goal. It is adding a points-based layer of game design to the racing genre, refining the concept, at least to my mind.
In Crazy Taxi, you start off with a counter that continually runs down and when the time is out, it’s game over. The only way to extend the clock is by picking up passengers and taking them where they want to go. You do that by parking near them, almost running them over like a maniac, of course, and then dropping them off at their chosen destination. Passengers may want to go quite some distance across town or just around the block, so it’s best to try to plan which people to pick up and when. Even more essential is getting to know the layout of the city so you don’t get lost. No GPS for you!
Picking up and dropping off passengers extends your time, which I’m told by reliable sources means the game can be “completed” by actually taxi-ing every single person in the city. I’m nowhere near that goal. I’m still trying to beat all the game’s extra challenges. I’m still struggling to decipher the pure differences between the game’s four drivers: Axel, the white dude from the ’90s, B.D. Joe the black dude from the ’90s, Gena the white chick from the ’90s, and Gus.
Crazy Taxi isn’t so much about being merely the fastest driver so much as it is about being the smartest and most dextrous. There are a variety of techniques and tricks I’ll mention below, but I still find myself saying when I lose “ah well, it’s a racing game, after all”.
I don’t have a whole lot of personal experience with Dreamcast games to serve as a comparative backdrop for critiquing Crazy Taxi’s visuals, but I do know a lot about the visuals of PS2 and GameCube, its rivals. Comparing Crazy Taxi to these, I can certainly say that Taxi is crisp and almost candy-colored, though its textures and character models leave much to be desired. I’m not totally sure, but comparing the home version to the arcade original, it appears as if the latter had the upper hand in clarity, if only slightly. The processor of the Dreamcast was all about Sega’s penchant for porting from the arcades, and it was very capable.
Going a little deeper than superficial comparison, I think that the developers made a wise choice in barring the intrinsic “craziness” from flooding the visuals. How so? Well, notice for instance the stylish font used for the remaining game time in the upper left corner. Now try to envision the rest of the game’s visuals just as stylized, in their own categorical ways. Imagine explosions and confetti upon reaching a destination, or blood when careening into a bystander, or flying sparks and onomatopoeias crowding the screen. The temptation might have been to make the game look so outwardly crazy as to immediately convey how insane it really is to play it… and simultaneously rendering the game unplayable through sheer graphical oversaturation.
Instead, Crazy Taxi shows some subtle restraint in its visuals, perhaps unexpectedly, but not unwisely.
I may take some heat here, but remember I’m trying to lay down a score that makes sense, not merely pull one out of thin air to mark my favoritism. Here’s my argument: “so iconic it’s good”, or conversely “so ridiculous it’s good”, are not real statements of value when it comes to criticism, the discovery and expression of something’s worth. For one, how do you measure how iconic something is? And further, does iconic merely boil down to cultural or mass familiarity? In which case, how does familiarity in external agents relate to the internal qualities within this subject?
Anywho… that all might be a little too much to say about a soundtrack you can listen to from start to finish in less than 10 minutes. With Crazy Taxi being as addicting as it is, this means that you’re going to hear the handful of songs from Offspring and Bad Religion over and over again. This probably lends to the iconic familiarity. This likely means the songs will get stuck in your head and, coupled with how fun the gameplay is, it means you’ll likely associate them with happy memories.
None of that is bad, of course. It’s actually part of the enjoyment and remembrance of Crazy Taxi, but no matter how appropriate the music is for this game, I can’t help but wish there was just more to it. Punk rock isn’t my cup of tea but as in the Tony Hawk games of the time, these tracks fit the game like a glove, driving you forward at ever greater speeds. But what we must remember is this is a port of an arcade game: we should expect it to have a very small soundtrack suitable for a cabinet that’s out to steal your money. Maybe it could have benefited from some Flight of the Conchords or Dragonforce, or Nirvana or Foo Fighters. I guess we’ll never know.
There is also voice acting to keep you cozy, similarly full of short, recycled sound clips you’ll hear repeatedly. The game’s narrator oozes “crazy”.
The home version of Crazy Taxi includes the map from the arcades as well as another, much larger map and new Crazy mini-games for testing your driving skills. I’ve had a heck of a time trying to complete all of these, as they get progressively harder, but I’m forcing myself to confront them in order to learn the handling techniques.
There are moves like Crazy Stop and Crazy Drift which allow you to position your taxi for reaching your destinations in the optimal time, and Crazy Dash lets you go from zero to extremely fast in a heartbeat. Learning these moves really ups your game when it comes to making more money from your passengers, which is what Crazy Taxi is all about (take too long en route and your passenger will bail on you).
When you run out of total time, all the money you’ve made is counted up (these are your points) and you’re given a rating for your driving skills. You can earn extra money for generally being crazy: jumping ramps, narrowly dodging traffic, etc. The faster you get your passengers to where they want to go, the more money you’ll make.
What works so well in Crazy Taxi’s gameplay is its simplicity. The concept alone is simple: be a taxi, but a crazy one. Some people drive like this anyway, especially in California. But beyond or beneath that simple concept are more complex things for the avid player to discover, such as learning the ins and outs and shortcuts of the city, or getting the exact and demanding timing down for the handling techniques. It is at once a game that anyone can play and a game which takes some time to master properly. The simplicity gives it immediate appeal. The depth gives it its addictive quality.
Simple as its concept is, a friend and I tackling Crazy Taxi together for the first time had some difficulty wrapping our minds around the control scheme, the default one at least. We did play around with the other button layout Basically, you have the shoulders for brake and accelerate, and then A and B for switching between drive and reverse. For some reason, both of us could not get this down. We kept switching to reverse when we meant to brake, and this made learning moves like Crazy Dash rather tricky.
I found that I needed to get some practice in with it in order to learn the techniques, but I can’t personally say whether this is because I don’t play a ton of racing games or not, although I haven’t had this exact issue before with previous racing games I own and have played. That’s likely because so much of the technique of the game depends on your skill in shifting from drive to reverse and back again very quickly.
Holy guacamole! This game is addicting. I found it hard to tear myself away from it. I chalk that up not just to its depth in simplicity, but also to its nature as a score attack racing game. Never underestimate the power of the high score. It puts a number on your performance. That means you always have something to attempt to top. “One more try” is something I found myself saying a lot, even in those tricky mini-games!
Speaking of the mini-games, beyond the Crazy Box, it’s hard to say exactly how challenging it is. The mini-games themselves are challenges and many of them are very demanding of your skill. In the main game itself, I found myself off to a slow start. Literally. I was getting very low ratings and quick game overs, getting stuck on trees and building corners, over-shooting the spaces where I needed to stop. Over time, with much practice, I was able to get my rating up, and what a feeling it is to find perseverance rewarded through overcoming tough obstacles and learning the ropes!
Crazy Taxi apparently has a fan base that’s very fond of the original game, and now I know why. It’s a game which stands out in the world of video game racing. I can’t quite think of something like it, just as quirky, just as wild, just as crazy. It earned its adjective.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
I love being able to finally play a beloved game for myself and discovering why it is so beloved. Crazy Taxi is such a game. In many ways, it transcends the racing genre with specificity and rogueish earnestness, with angst that’s short on outright rebellion against all rules and limitations and definitions. It’s a game which folks like myself, for whom race cars do next to nothing, can suddenly find themselves craving. Who knew that speed, burning rubber, and narrowly dodging pedestrians before enticing them into your car could be so addicting?
I was delightedly to answer “Crazy Taxi” when asked about what game I was currently playing, and then having to explain the ludicrousness that is this game, at once sounding completely mundane (“you’re a taxi”) before sinking in the hook (“but a crazy one”).
Aggregated Score: 8.3
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Categories: Game Review