Last Year, Hitmaker, formerly AM3, lived up to its new name by releasing one of the best arcade ports to hit the market in a good long while. Dubbed Crazy Taxi, its premise was perfect you controlled daredevil cabbies willing to do anything to score a fare on the crowded, hilly streets of a pseudo-San Francisco. Its combination of sharp, colorful arcade graphics, an energetic soundtrack, and tight controls made it a truly enjoyable experience and a crowning achievement for Sega and its Dreamcast. That said, here in the Big Apple I couldn't help but scratch my head while playing. How could Sega release a game about cabbies and leave out New York City: the cabbie mecca of the world? Our tales of cabbies in this city are legendary—some rival the very things you are expected to pull off in Crazy Taxi. I could only conclude (and hope) that the developer would realize its error and correct it in a sequel. Sure enough Hitmaker did just that with Crazy Taxi 2.
After Crazy Taxi, I didn't think there was anything meaningful that could be added to its play mechanics, but Hitmaker did anyway. Not content to have the action take place on street level, it tricked out the cabs and added a jump feature (dubbed a Crazy Hop) to the mix. This feature does its job in taking things to the next level. Now when playing chicken with oncoming traffic, slow moving drivers or stationary obstacles that cannot be otherwise circumnavigated, I just hit a button and the cab takes to the air like the General Lee. This also means that ledges, rooftops, and elevated highways are much more accessible. Taking to the air was appealing for a while but I found that it came in most handy by increasing my tips from passengers—combining a Crazy Hop with a Crazy Dash and Crazy Drift results in mondo bucks added to my meter.
Though it added some variety and interesting new dynamics to the gameplay, the Crazy Hop brought with it its share of problems as well. When Crazy Hopping onto an elevated highway or rooftop, you are immediately faced with such challenging issues as maintaining your direction and judging distances. The green arrow that once guided you right to a target when you were on the ground level is now useless if you are in a multi-storied location. It offers no clue as to where the destination is on the lower level or which path should be taken to reach it.
As first demonstrated in Crazy Taxi's Crazy Box mode, you can now carry multiple passengers. Up to four passengers can ride at once, each with his or her own destination. Picking up multiple fares is a sure way to make a killing without having to constantly stop and pick up passengers. The catch is that you don't get paid until you deliver every single passenger. And these fares make you earn your money. Sometimes they send you to the farthest reaches of the city, so much of your time will likely be dedicated to driving them around. These multiple passengers can also be a pain to keep track of. The green arrows now spin sporadically depending on how close you are to a passenger's destination. The onscreen icons that tracked your distance from the destination and counted down the closer you got to your goal, now clutter the screen and are not easy to use as you zip around the city in a race against the clock. Admittedly, this problem is alleviated a bit once you have the cities committed to memory, but you should still expect to get lost while playing.
It's when the novelty of these new features wears off that Crazy Taxi's original problems rear their ugly heads. I'm referring, of course, to the game's brevity and lack of replay value. While racing through the city is great fun, I have always felt that 3-, 5-, and 10-minute intervals are not enough time to allow me to enjoy myself. The "original" mode allows you to accrue more time depending on how quickly you dispatch passengers, but no matter how good you are, time eventually runs out. It's even worse when you pick up one or two of the four-member fares scattered throughout the game. Though they offer the biggest rewards, driving these parties around can eat up a huge amount of your time.
Since the original Crazy Taxi, I have craved a "free ride" mode where I could drive around as I saw fit—or where at the very least I have more than 10 minutes at my disposal. It certainly doesn't help that the game starts you off in the exact same spot every time you start a game. If the starting point were random, I would get to see more of the city and get more varied destination requests to keep things interesting. That's where the second city, Small Apple, was supposed to come in, but it succumbs to the same limitations. Time and time again, I had to go out of my way to find some variety in few fares, but why should I do so much work just to get some variety in a game? I understand that Sega never set out to make a particularly deep game when it made Crazy Taxi. That's probably what made it such a great arcade game. But this home conversion needed some adjustments to its core gameplay that Sega seems unwilling to make.
As I am prone to do in any game that features New York stages—or, in this case, is based solely on my hometown—I was eager to take a tour of this virtual NYC. I knew beforehand that Sega did a lot of work trying to recreate the landmarks and architecture of New York so I wanted to see them for myself. For all of their hard work though, Sega seems unwilling to let me see them. By the time I made it to such NY landmarks as Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I'd find myself out of time. I always found that I didn't have the time to enjoy it.
Hitmaker did sneak some new modes into the game for the sole purpose of increasing the replay value. You can now record your runs and view them at your leisure. In the very same replay mode, it is possible to start the game at different locations, but you only get a minute and 20 seconds in which to do anything. There is also an Internet mode for downloading high scores of other "Crazy" fans. But this brings me to the question of why Sega hasn't offered a two-player mode with this game. Crazy Taxi 2 is just screaming for one. I will already concede that an online mode might be too ambitious given the size of the cities and the speed of the gameplay, but I should at least be able to compete with a friend via split-screen. I certainly would have been playing longer had I had a friend to compete with—even for a few minutes at a time.
Everything else in the game seems to get the touch up treatment. The Crazy Box mini-games are back and offer—well, more mini-games. The graphics engine has been improved. Though most vehicles and buildings are still relatively simple in their construction and texturing, there are far fewer occurrences of the draw-in that plagued its predecessor and the action runs at a crisp 60 frames per second. Of course, it wouldn't be Crazy Taxi if it didn't include the loud high-octane alternative music of Offspring. Crazy Taxi 2boasts four new tracks from the band that are sure to make fans happy. For the rest of us who can't distinguish one Offspring song from the next, it probably doesn't matter. Nevertheless, the graphics and music play no small part in the appeal of this game so fans of the first game are sure to be happy with what they get here—it's everything you'd come to expect from Sega and its arcade port.
As one of the premiere Dreamcast titles, Crazy Taxi was an excellent example of next-generation gaming with its wonderful mix of 128-bit graphics and simple, yet engaging gameplay. Crazy Taxi 2 does a good job following in its footsteps, thanks to its new features and a new city in which to roam. Unfortunately, Sega's refusal to expand the game beyond its arcade roots in its conversion to the home market only grounds intrepid taxi drivers. None of the original problems I tolerated were corrected and with the passage of time, they are only more apparent.