Review

Crazy Taxi XBLA Review (Xbox360)

Sega’s Crazy Taxi was originally released as an arcade game in 1999, a time when arcades were falling out of fashion and struggling to interest gamers who had migrated to consoles and PCs. This game was doing the rounds at the same time that Drum Mania and Dance Dance Revolution were mixing things up. It was probably one of the last great arcade games that didn’t make you look like a total knob playing it.

It was such a big hit in the coin-chomping world that Sega ported it over to its then shiny new console, the Dreamcast, and shipped it as a day one release, where it duly received rapturous praise, scoring 9/10 left, right and centre. At the time it had all the extras expected of a big boots console game: a soundtrack featuring suitably brash bands Offspring and Bad Religion, and lots of cash generating in-game licensed stores like Pizza Hut, Tower Records, KFC, Levi’s and Fila. We liked it so much we even got a couple of sequels to buy.

Do you know the way to San Hose?

Now here we are more than ten years later and Sega have seen fit to drop a vaguely modernised version onto the PlayStation Network and the 360’s Arcade market, adding 720p hi-def graphics and a 16:9 widescreen ratio. It may have outlived Tower Records but all those jazzy extras are gone and now your destinations are less product placey; record store, pizza place and so on, and the hip soundtrack has jumped cabs.

What made it such a fun arcade game was that it was simple: pick up a passenger in your Yellow & Black Taxi, get them to where they want to go in the time allotted and collect a suitable lump of cash. If you’re really fast you get lots, if you’re rather slow you get lots less and if you fail to get them there on time they insult you and jump out of your moving car. In the arcade you could play by arcade rules, where you have one minute on the clock and you got more every time you delivered a passenger to their destination, or you could pump in the right amount of coins to opt for a three, five or ten minute play.

Follow the arrow to find the pop-up

All of these things were ported to the console version and at the time it was a cracker of a game. It was perfect for sitting around with a bunch of mates and not concentrating too hard on – I can remember a few parties back then where this game would be slapped into the disc drive and passed around the room like a tray of tequilas. In small doses, Crazy Taxi came on like a short hit of pure gaming essence.

You see, though it might have looked like a driving game, it didn’t really have very much in common with any driving game you’d ever played before. The game’s physics meant that it was more like driving a galvanised rubber box around a city designed by pinball manufacturers than driving a car around on tarmac. You don’t need any skills to get a kick out of Crazy Taxi – hit the gas to go, pick up a John, drive like a maniac till you get to where you need to be, slam on the breaks. And even if you fail to get your client to his destination before the time runs out, you’ll still have enjoyed bouncing around in your soft box, making pedestrians scream and ramming other cars off the road. If you did have any gaming skills then the shortcuts, jumps, ramps, rooftops and big airtimes were there for the taking. It had, and still has, that elusive just-one-more-go quality.

But today, more than a decade later, Crazy Taxi’s have another go appeal is short lasting. Back then, you could have this game on all night obsessing over ever-higher scores, now it doesn’t keep the attention for longer than half an hour. The choice of four drivers, each with supposedly their own characteristics, and the limited play areas (there are only two cities to play in) offer very few options, especially when the differences between arcade style and timed sessions are so small they’re invisible. You can close your eyes in the in-game menus and play a form of Russian Roulette with the modes and options, but the only thing that’s going to tell you what game style you’re playing when you open your eyes is the timer in the corner.

And the award for screenshot that best fails to capture the excitement of the game it's from, goes to…

If you miss the old girl and need to know, it has everything it used to have on the Dreamcast version – the two game modes, the choice of arcade style or specific time limits and the just-for-console Crazy Box, where you’re offered various challenges like bursting all the balloons in time or jumping far enough to make the scoreboards – but if you’re going all gooey minded right now and putting on the rose tinted glasses, be warned that Crazy Taxi has dated considerably.

Pretty much like The Offspring. If a track by The Offspring comes coasting by on your iPod during shuffle, cool. A quick blast of 90’s punk rock is always welcome, but it’s not every day you want to wade through an entire Offspring album. And that’s a killer idea in the making: if you could set up your console to shuffle through your games, delivering you bite-sized chunks of every game you’ve got on your hard drive, Crazy Taxi would be one of the brightest stars, as shiny as polished chrome. The three-minute game gives you just the right amount of crazy antics and laugh out loud thrills a gamer needs. It would be the game you’d switch shuffle off to play properly. The trouble is, after half an hour you’d be wondering why you got so excited in the first place, switching shuffle back on swiftly.

It’s a loveable game, in small doses, but like the obnoxious guy at a party, it outstays its welcome way before the night is over.

Top Game Moment: Air so big you’re riding around on the rooftops.

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