Crazy Taxi had you hooked even before you witnessed the attract screen in your local arcade. "Hey hey hey, come on over and have some fun with Crazy Taxi" was a cat-call every bit as exciting and as provocative as any lusty harlot's late on a Friday night. A dare if you will - how much fun could you have earning a wage as one of four taxi drivers weaving through traffic in some sun-kissed mythical Californian city?
Apparently, a hell of a lot. Dreamcast owners a decade ago got to taste the sweet intoxication of Crazy Taxi, and as part of its drive to re-release classics of that its heady days as a console-maker, Sega is sending out the yellow party-wagons back out and onto the digital streets of Xbox Live Arcade.
The game's core premise is simple. Drive around a choice of two cities (Authentic Arcade and the specially-created for console Original) picking up passengers and ferrying them to their destinations to earn fares. The magic comes from the game's central tip-multiplying mechanic, which will be familiar ground for Criterion fans - drive as dangerously as possible. Each near-miss, power-slide, jump, and weave into oncoming traffic added to a tip multiplier that scored you the big fares and the higher rankings. Of course getting your passenger to their destination well ahead of their individual time limits was another part of the equation, as it accumulated time extensions. To do so means learning the cities back-to-front. The most clearly signposted route is never the fastest.
The experience is a blast every bit as brief as the punk-rock songs that serves as its soundtrack. But the real technique comes from learning the routes and how to chain fares together to run numerous laps around the city's circumference, which racks up some truly impressive scores.
However, the problems that dented the game's beautiful chassis back in '99 still stand true today, and they've only been compounded by ten years worth of racing genre evolution in-between.
Small glitches, like getting stuck on two wheels while riding along freeway barriers and watching the screen shake mid-tantrum can irritate, and the directional arrow still spazs out on occasion by changing direction massively just when you think you've nearly arrived, and becomes a real nightmare when using it on the long hilly roads of the Original city. As stated before, learn the city without the arrow's instruction.
A big part of mastering the game is in learning and controlling the power-slide heavy Crazy Drift (great for hitting 90 degree corners and stopping dead against a wall at your destination and aiming towards your next) and timing the Crazy Boost (little bit of extra speed). The latter is as easy as ever (quick snap from drive to reverse and then back again while tapping the accelerator) but the former is a real bitch to perform. Trying to get in the zone for a successful drift is like attempting to strum a G chord whilst in the back of an articulated truck that's rolling down a cliff.
The dodgem-style bounce that comes crashing into other traffic will jar those looking for spectacular smash-ups, and the juddering along walls will aggravate those used to the silky-smooth offerings of today's racers. Also the aggressive pop-up is going anger a few. Yet this is all accurate to when the game first was released, and Crazy Taxi at least goes an extra mile than Sonic Adventure by offering a full-screen mode rather than just a 4:3 setup.
The small losses due to licencing rights running out, with the deletion of certain stores such as KFC in the cities and the original Offspring and Bad Religion soundtrack irk briefly but their replacements suffice. For those that can't be without the "Yea yea yea!" opening of Offspring's All I Want, fire up the Xbox 360's custom soundtrack option to recreate your glorious youth.
Does it stack up to today's best? No. But then, how could it? The racing genre, more than most, has made massive gameplay leaps in the last ten years. And despite the inclusion of an extra city alongside the arcade version and the four-by-four grid of Crazy Box mini-games , the game's got longevity issues, a product of its arcade-thrills origins. Crazy Taxi is best played in short spurts. Dedicated evening-long runs will see you tire of the game quickly.
So why the high score? Because despite the game's flaws, its rough-around-the-edges style, its character endures even today. Crazy Taxi is in a niche of its own when it comes to sub-genre, that no title since has emulated or bettered. This is the game people dust off their Dreamcasts to play through once more, re-visiting and enjoying the experience as much as any punk rock album of their youth. Chances are, much like Outrun Arcade, this'll be a title you'll fire up on your Game Library in the months to come as a welcome break from the day.
There's a timeless quality to its blue skies and pedestrians that dodge out of the way no matter what. Even without the nostalgia factor, the enjoyment is undeniable, the tone grin-enducing. It's not a must buy, but it's a great short spurt of goodness - much like the original release ten years ago, and at fifth of the original asking price. In this era of the serious simulation racer, it's good to have an injection of good old-fashioned fun.