Monday, August 5, 2013

Classic Review - Crazy Taxi

In 1999 SEGA released a very unique arcade game. While on the surface the arcade machine appeared to be one for a racer, the truth was; it was anything but. The yellow with black and white stripes easily stood out over the other driving games in the arcade, but it's gameplay is what truly made it well known. The game was called Crazy Taxi, and just as the title implies, it is a game where you play as a taxi driver. You pick up customers, drive them to their locations, you rack up some cash, and then call it a day. What may sound like a strange concept at first turned out to actually be a hit, and not too long after its release, Crazy Taxi came to home consoles.

Crazy Taxi's Core Mechanics:

Crazy Taxi is NOT a game you play for the story, mainly because there really isn't one. Each time you start up the game you get to pick from a few taxi drivers, and you then instantly hit the street. Once the game starts a timer begins to count down, and it is your job to make as much money as possible before that timer runs out. While in the original arcade mode you actually gained time by picking up customers, the home console version actually added a separate option as well. In the home console version you can either "play by arcade rules" (which is where the timer gains time as you score more customers), or you can also select one of the predetermined time limits which go up to a maximum of "10 crazy minutes." It really doesn't matter which one you choose though, since the game will basically always be the "same."

After you have started the game, and picked your preferred time system, you are then ready to start making money. As you drive around through an open ended city, customers will show up in different locations and call out for a taxi. Above each customers head is an icon which shows you the "difficulty" of each customer, and depending on the difficulty, you will either get more or less money for helping them out. For example, someone with a green icon above their name will ask to go to a close location (which will net you less cash), but someone with a red icon above their name will require you to push the time limit, and take them to a far away location (all while gaining loads of cash in the process). Really if you pick someone up or not is completely up to you, but if you want to take them on as a customer; all you have to do is stop the car and let them get in.

Once a customer gets in the car, an arrow will then appear at the top of the screen, a second timer will appear above the customer's head, and the customer will ask you to drive them to their location. At this point it is your job to do everything you can to get them there before their time runs out. Squeeze between cars, ramp over buildings, crash through phone booths, nearly run people over as you drive down the street (don't worry, they'll always jump out of the way), or even drive through the ocean; it is up to you how you get them there. By preforming dangerous actions and exiting your customer, you can gain some extra cash, but keep in mind that a single slip up will sometimes cost you the precious time needed to reach your destination. Sure, you could squeeze in between them cars, swerve in front of the car in the opposite lane (while narrowly avoiding being hit), and then you could end the whole thing by ramping over a parked tow  truck and landing in front of another car, but is the risk worth it? What if you crash, spin out, cause a pile up, and then run out of time? Your passenger will be yelling "YOU SUCK" before you know it, and they will then leap head first into a car as it speeds by you; all while their body magically vanishes into thin air upon impact. In short, it might not be worth the risk.

If you manage to make it to a location on time, you will then see a glowing area around the building, and that is the area you must park in. If you cannot get the car stopped in time, and you run out of time, the customer will still jump out of the car, and they will still take all of their money with you; however if you do manage to park, then it will be a different story. Depending on how fast you get a customer to their destination, you will earn different amounts of cash. If you get them there fast, you will get a high bonus, if you get there in an "average" amount of time, you will earn the normal amount, but if you're slow, you will earn less. This is what you want to avoid at all costs, but it WILL happen from time to time. Once you have dropped off your customer (or once they have jumped out of the car as you speed down the highway), you can then pick up another customer and begin the process allover again. Once your time is up, you will be graded based on how well you did, and you will then be free to play again. It is a simple arcade style game, but it is also one that becomes very addicting. Still that doesn't mean it is all simple.

Advance Tricks:

The thing is, Crazy Taxi is all about skill and learning how to use everything to your advantage. While fully memorizing the map can go a long way in helping you figure out the best paths; that isn't always going to be enough. If you truly want to do well in Crazy Taxi, you will have to learn how to use the crazy stunts. By quickly shifting into reverse and then back into drive as you floor the accelerator, you can pull off a wide verity of stunts. If you do it as you turn, you can pull off a "Crazy Drift" which will swing you around turns full force, but by doing it as you simply drive down the road you can preform a "Crazy Boost." Along with these two tricks you can also pull off a "Crazy Stop," which allows you to stop faster, as well as a few others. Using these different tricks to handle different situations can really go a long way while playing the game, and they really are a system you must master.

Original and Arcade:

Although the arcade version of Crazy Taxi only featured one city to drive around in, the console version actually features two. The first map option is in fact the arcade map. This map is a large open city that mostly consists of flat land, a park, a beach, a parking garage, a single hill, an overpass/highway, and a few business and residential areas. Really the map is a great place for starters, and it is a pretty easy map to learn. The "original" map on the other hand, isn't quite as simple.

The second city to explore in the console version of Crazy Taxi is the "Original" map; yep, that is its name. This map is clearly based on California, and it features a city that is just about completely built on a hill. The winding roads twist and turn around buildings, water ways cut off access to specific areas until you can either find a bridge or some other way to cross, a subway system twists and turns underground, and the Millenium Tower will always be lost within it all until a customer tells you how to get there (yes, apparently this city is in fact San Francisco). Overall the "Original" map can provide a bit more of a challenge than the original Arcade map, but either way it doesn't matter which one you play on. You are never going to become truly lost because the customers will always tell you where to go, and there are always people standing around asking for a taxi. You will be able to find a job no matter how lost you are; even if you're underwater somewhere, you will still find a diver or two who needs your help.

Another Day and Secrets:

Despite the fact that Crazy Taxi can be a very addicting game, sometimes doing the same thing over and over again can become boring. Each time you start up a game, everyone will be standing in the same spot, and because of that you can follow the same pattern over and over again. After spending hundreds of hours repeating this process you may just give up... That is until you find out about the "secret" modes!

Crazy Taxi also features a wide verity of secrets. There is "Another Day" mode which changes the placement of the people in the town, there's a mode which lets you turn off the arrow that shows up when you pick up a customer, there are settings which let you fine tune how heavy the traffic is, and there are even other vehicles to use such as the bike! (Which I personally found one day as I was mashing buttons out of boredom. Can you imagine my surprise when the game loaded up and Axel was on a bike!?) With these options you can make the game as hard or as easy as you want, and you can also use them to change up your gameplay experience. If you are truly a Crazy Taxi master, you can turn off the arrow, turn the traffic up to high, change it to "Another Day" mode, and then play on arcade time rules. Not only will you have to be fast, you will have to have memorized every single location in the game, and you will have to know the fastest way to get there from your current location. It isn't easy, but it sure can be fun.

The Crazy Box:

While the console version includes basically everything the arcade mode had (plus more), it does have some completely new content as well. The "Crazy Box" is a new mode exclusive to the console version, and it is a mode filled with "missions" which test your driving skills. At the start of the Crazy Box you have a box shape mission select screen where you can basically pick any mission you want to play. There's missions such as the "long jump" which tests you to see how far you can jump your taxi, there's a mission where you must pop every balloon within the time limit, and there is also a mission that has you launching yourself from floating platform to floating platform (which requires perfect Crazy Drift skills) at sea. As you complete missions, more missions are added on to the outside of the box, and as you complete them bonus rewards can be unlocked for use in the main game.

Although the Crazy Box isn't the "main" aspect of Crazy Taxi, it really is a fun extra, and it is one I personally spent a lot of time playing. It is a great mode to play with family and friends, and it even keeps track of your scores in a standard arcade style scoreboard.

Brand Names and Music:

Back in the early 2000s, one thing that really stood out about Crazy Taxi was its product placement, and its music. Whenever a customer jumped in your car who wanted pizza, they didn't ask you to go to some generic pizza place, they asked you to go to Pizza Hut. If the customer wanted chicken, you took them to KFC, if they wanted to buy clothes they went to the Levi store, and if they wanted music, they asked you to go to Tower Records. Although it may not seem like much, these brand names really help Crazy Taxi feel as if it were in the real world; however, sadly these brand names did not remain throughout Crazy Taxi's lifetime.

While the original versions of Crazy Taxi (Arcade, DreamCast, GameCube, PlayStation 2, etc) did in fact include the brand names, future releases had them removed due to legal issues. Although this really doesn't change the gameplay, it is kind of sad to see them replaced with generic names. Now despite this fact; Pizza Hut still does look like Pizza Hut, and KFC still looks like KFC, so you still at least drive to the original buildings. On another note, to make up for this change the voice acting did have to be rerecorded for later releases, and that may take some time to get used to if you are a series long fan.

The music in Crazy Taxi also really stands out as if features music from the bands "The Offspring," and "Bad Religion." Even if you're not a fan of punk/rock, just about everyone will find that the music is very fitting for a game such as Crazy Taxi, and you can't help but get excited by it as you race down the streets picking up customers. As soon as you jump into the drivers seat and hear the "YA YA YA YA YA" from the start of "All I Want," you will be ready to go. Sadly the music was removed in later versions of the game (such as the SEGA DreamCast Classic version), but these versions do in fact feature a custom soundtrack option so they can always be added back in. As for the newer iOS and Android versions, they actually feature the original soundtrack which is a very much welcomed returning feature.

The Good and the Bad:

Crazy Taxi is a solid arcade game, and it is one that you can easily spend a lot of time playing; however it really all comes down to what type of games you actually like. If you don't like games where the goal is to get the highest score, or if you don't like driving games at all; Crazy Taxi may not be for you. The game is heavily based on repeating the same thing over and over again, and each time your only real goal is to do better than your last run. Even with the ability to change it up with "Another Day" mode, it can get repetitive. If this isn't an issue for you however; then you will find nothing wrong with the name.

Other than a few minor hang ups, the game is basically issue free. The gameplay is smooth, the controls are responsive, and you will never really feel cheated by the game's difficulty. Crazy Taxi is all about knowing how to play, and each time you start up a round you will slowly get better. Although on the surface Crazy Taxi is a single player game, it is also one that makes a great party game as well. Back in the day I used to sit around the TV with friends and family as we each took our turns at the game, and we never got bored. Constantly the customers voices would be heard throughout the house, and no one cared. You would hear screams from people diving out of the way as someone crashed through a phone booth, or you would hear others yelling "YOU'RE ONE HELL OF A DRIVER" as whoever was playing got their customer to their destination fast. Whenever someone was playing Crazy Taxi in the house, you knew it, and you almost always wanted to join in on the fun. The gameplay truly became addicting, and you always wanted to push for that next highest score. When a friend or family member would beat the highest score, that only pushed you to jump back into the drivers seat and try to top them; despite being away from the arcades, the competitive leader boards helped keep the arcade experience alive.

If you are looking for some old school arcade action, or if you just want to play one of the great classics of the past, Crazy Taxi is definitely a game worth picking up. Now days it can be found on most major consoles and mobile devices, and it is still just as fun as it was all them years ago. Crazy Taxi is the rare example of a game that can truly stand the test of time, and that is why I am giving it a perfect 10/10.