Stunning advancements in computer technology have given todays videogame makers a near limitless palette with which to indulge their imaginations. Such a creative climate has given birth to entire digital worlds complete with communities and social classes played by thousands of individuals over the Internet (i.e. Ultima Online). In other worlds, emotionally complex characters play out epic stories of love and war with movie-like production values (i.e. Final Fantasy VIII). All in all, its a far cry from the humble beginnings of videogames in the 1980s when they were played mostly at dingy arcades and the games themselves were simplistic, two-dimensional activities more akin to a fast moving board game. In stark contrast to todays complex productions, those past games were usually played with a minimal one joystick and one button setup where striving for the highest score (which came with bragging rights in the form of 3-letter initials) was the main goal (until, of course, when the machine was shut down for closing time and, thus, erasing all the records). Yet, even with all the evolutions in gameplay and advancements in technology, games of the present arent always superior to games of yesteryear. Old-school games like Pac-Man and Space Invaders maintain a level of joy and elegance that many of todays games still fail to capture. Fortunately for us, Segas latest release, Crazy Taxi, is a game of today that manages to look cutting-edge on the outside and maintains that old-school elegance on the inside.
Originally a stand-alone arcade game designed to be played at amusement centers, the home translation of Crazy Taxi is meant to be a short, but wild ride through a fictional city that somewhat resembles San Francisco. As the title implies, the object of the game is to pick up passengers, cab them to their requested destinations, and make the most money in the process. The actual amount per fare is tallied according to total distance traveled. Bonus tips in the form of extra time and money is awarded depending on how speedy the trip was and the number of high-flying stunts were performed in the process. A clock that constantly counts down dictates the frantic pace of each game. The game is over when the counter reaches zero. The only thing that can prolong an inevitable finish is to constantly pick up passengers and deliver them to their destinations with flash and efficiency. Though each game is generally short (lasting anywhere from 1 minute to 15 minutes, depending on skill) the constant need to cab passengers results in a unrelenting pace from the beginning to end of each game. The level of delirious action is only furthered by the light-hearted physics present in the game where speed is only minimally effected by gravity and head-on collisions with other cars will barely slow a player down. Like I was saying earlier, there isnt any real goal or ending in Crazy Taxi. The main idea is that continually performing well will keep the clock from reaching zero and make the most money possible during that time. Its a simple premise that is surprisingly addictive and fulfilling even after long-term play.
Credit the developers for creating a game that follows the old videogame adage of being "easy to pickup, but difficult to master." Crazy Taxi is a game that almost anyone can understand and enjoy thoroughly even after a couple minutes of play only. By utilizing glaring visual cues that indicate fare pickups and destinations as well as a compass arrow that constantly navigates the player to the appropriate destinations, Crazy Taxi is user-friendly through good design. Even regardless of skill and driving technique, anyone who can basically guide the direction of the car and press down the accelerator button will find themselves embroiled in all the wild, high-flying jumps, devastating car crashes, and furious action in a matter of seconds. At the same time, theres always room for improvement when it comes to playing Crazy Taxi. The assistance arrow will give a general direction for a player to follow, but more intrepid drivers will memorize the lay of the land and discover shortcuts or their own preferred routes around town. The developers also did an incredible job of making sure the cars handle with relative ease on basic level, but also included advance techniques like drifting and j-stops into the fold for those who want to kick their performances up a notch. These aspects of the game ensure an extra level of depth for anyone willing to commit themselves further and improve their final score totals.
While the gameplay may takes an old school philosophy, the visual and audio presentation in Crazy Taxi is on the forefront of todays hottest games. Technically impressive, the cities that one drives through look and feel like a living one populated with rush hour traffic, scurrying pedestrians, and bustling centers of activity. All the more amazing is how thoroughly smooth the animation is, with draw-in and slow-down occurring only minimally in a few trouble spots. As for the visual style of Crazy Taxi, its like a cartoonish and offbeat interpretation of American pop-culture that melds a tough and in-your-face New York City driving attitude with a laid-back sunny Californian environment. Players drive through commercial landscapes filled with real corporate brand names like Levis, Fila, and Pizza Hut that also happen to make up a bulk of the requested destinations. A similarly eclectic mix of styles is extended toward the characters that populate the world of Crazy Taxi. Players are given a choice between four drivers, each with a unique car that handles differently from the others. The choices are: a grungy surfer dude named Axel, an off-court Dennis Rodman-looking guy named B.D. Joe, a sexy redhead named Gena, and a fuzzy and beer-bellied gentleman named Gus. The passengers you pick up will also run a wildly eclectic and absurd gambit of personalities that range from a reverend going to the church to a punk rocker looking for Tower Records.
The sound effects and musical tracks stylistically keeps with the kinetic flow of the game. Back seat passengers will vocally cheer during high-flying jumps and speedy arrivals. On the other side of the token, expect a verbal lashing from them when you crash into cars or arrive at a destination too slow. The background music is composed of several tracks (complete with vocals) from an underground-sounding alternative grunge band. There arent many diverse tracks, but the ones available are very appropriate. All in all, while the overall presentation is a hodgepodge of different styles (all of which are recognizably American), being that the name of the game is Crazy Taxi, such an irreverent blend is consistent and works.
If there are any complaints to be made about Crazy Taxi, its the general lack of options. There are basically only three modes of play. Arcade mode is a faithful recreation of the stand-alone version while Original mode offers a unique city that is exclusive to the home version. The gameplay remains identical in both modes and there are also options that allow you to play for a fixed number of minutes rather than with the standard counter. The third and remaining mode is Crazy Box. Not only does this mode serve as a tutorial for advanced techniques like drifting and j-stopping, they also serve as obstacle course-like mini-games by themselves. Each mini-game has different objectives to accomplish and records are tallied to be be broken later. On the whole, while sparse, each and every mode offers a satisfying play. Especially surprising was the addictiveness of the Crazy Box mode. Yet, in the end, I still wondered what a different kind of Adventure mode (that wasnt based on beating the clock and perhaps had more of a plot or structure) would have been like.
Outside of the lack of extensive modes, Crazy Taxi is still an amazing game that I am still hopelessly addicted to even as I complete this review. It stands as a firm reminder that less sometimes really is more, which is something that many of todays games could benefit to learn. Though Crazy Taxi manages to learn from the past and incorporates those older theories, it still presents itself as a visual and aural benchmark for the next-generation Dreamcast system. Crazy Taxi stands as an amazing fusion between old school gameplay and cutting-edge technology.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Dreamcast version of the game.