Release Date: Available now
In that past age when Nintendo ruled the console roost, Sega arguably held sway over the arcade. While Nintendo busted its mojo to create real magic through their Mario series, Sega was demonstrating that they could also work real wizardry through their arcade circuitry, churning out bright, colorful entertainments that screamed loud and clear from across a crowded bowling alley, compelling players to drop one more quarter. And while arcades never morphed into the bizarre futurescapes teased by Tron, Sega’s legacy lived long as gamers waxed nostalgic for that impressive series of addictive amusements that dominated the tail end of the 1990s. Their Dreamcast might have proven the last gasp for these games, but now that current console owners have virtual storefronts at their finger tips, Sega has a new pipeline to bring that arcade experience back home. It’s time to take Crazy Taxi for a spin again.
In Crazy Taxi, you choose one of four cabbies who careen around a bustling seaside metropolis heeding the call of fares demanding to be ferried to landmarks across the map. The goal is to earn as much money as possible before the clock ticks down. The various people you encounter are color coded to indicate how far they are from their destination. Red fares offer a short hop for quick change, yellow nets you a few extra bucks and green sends you across town, with the promise of a big payday if you can get there fast enough. Each pickup adds a little extra time to the clock, so you find yourself racing to and fro, hunting down new shortcuts to keep the ride going and the meter running.
In addition to the classic arcade mode, this XBLA/PSN release offers “Original” mode, which features the same objectives of the arcade version but in the new city built for the Dreamcast launch. You also have access to Crazy Box, which is essentially a series of mini-games that challenge you to pop a certain number of balloons with your cab before time runs out or to launch the taxi like a bowling ball and hit a set number of strikes. Success in all modes is dependent upon your mastering control combos, which increase your cab’s speed, provide tactical drifts and speed boosts.
When Crazy Taxi first premiered in arcades in the late 90’s, it was an instant hit, coaxing players to take one more spin, just as Sega’s Daytona series had previously done. Its popularity led to its breakout success as a Dreamcast launch title. Almost a decade later, Taxi’s influence is still seen in various open-world games, with the Grand Theft Auto series paying loving homage through its numerous cab-based side missions. There’s a reason this style endures – it’s the hallmark of great game design. When you’re hurtling through those tight city streets, racking up extra cash from narrow misses against oncoming traffic, you see the inspiration behind the Burnout series. At its heart, Crazy Taxi is just a bundle of manic fun into which other developers have wisely tapped.
The Dreamcast visuals, while better than arcade perfect back then, have not weathered the gulf of time. They get by on that patented Crayola hue in which Sega bathed so many of their arcade games. But when you slow things down, the polygonal models (particularly people and environmental objects) show their age. This is a game built on speed, and as long as your cab is racing from one point to the next, it’s easy to lose sight of the decreased visual fidelity and get lost in the fun. Crazy Taxi is a game that’s best played in quick bursts. While the Crazy Box adds some addictive challenges, and there is always the allure of online leaderboards to post that shiny new high score, the game’s arcade origins lead you pick it up and play for a few games before diving back into that next marathon Black Ops engagement.
While I often salute XBLA and PSN for heralding adventurous indie games, they’ve also proven a boon for beloved titles from gaming’s past. Crazy Taxi has aged better than most, carried aloft by its quick vehicular mayhem that just gooses the need for speed in all of us. For small change, this makes for a great pickup.