In addition to being a bastion for indie developers and startup studios, Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network are rapidly becoming destinations for actual arcade games. Many of these tend to be straight ports and, regardless of how fun they were, their aging shows through, like a favorite tennis racket with half the strings broken off. Crazy Taxi is venerated as one of the best arcade classics of its time but hasn’t translated well into this age. It’s still as fun as it was in the arcade, but whether it’s enough for ten bucks is debatable.
The basic premise of Crazy Taxi is still the same, assuming you spent the past decade in isolation and missed the game as well as its sequels and numerous clones. You start off the game by picking one of four purely aesthetic drivers – the only difference among them is their lumpy polygonal appearances – and leaping into your taxi. You’re given an amount of time depending on the gameplay mode to drive around assumed San Francisco picking up fares and taking them to their destinations before time runs out. If you take too long with a fare you lose it, and when you run out of your time your shift is up.
Gameplay is extremely faithful to the Crazy Taxi formula and plays like a true blue arcade game. There’s no attempt at any revision to the formula or giving it any more depth than it needs, and that’s nothing wrong with that. The appeal of Crazy Taxi for me has always been a unique twist on what might normally be an average racer. There’s a frantic, exhilarating pace to the game brought on by the constant reminder of your slowly ticking timer and the fact that you’re always under the gun. Barrelling down the street getting an extra dollar tip as you narrowly swerve to avoid a car, racing down to your fare’s destination as the clock ticks away can be a harrowing experience, and you’ll want to keep playing just to try new routes and beat your own scores.
On the other hand, as you might have inferred from earlier from remarks about the game’s antiquated visuals, the original Crazy Taxi has definitely not aged well. Character models are blocky and building storefronts, while colorful, are lumpy and look like they’re melting. Draw distance is poor and texture pop-in is routine. I don’t mind this by itself but the benefit of being able to remake a game on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network is being able to update and modernize it with today’s technology. As always leader boards are thrown in almost as an afterthought but potential to tighten up controls or touch up on the visuals is sadly missed.
The other problem is that once you’ve experienced the fun part of Crazy Taxi, that’s pretty much all there is to it. You can try and challenge your own race scores until your engine dies but being an arcade game there’s no depth or diversity to the gameplay. There are some little mini-games in an optional mode and these present some interesting challenges but beyond that there’s very little to see.
What is impressive is how large San Francisco is and how populated it is with cars, different storefronts, and people for 1999. The city is appropriately open ended and while your initial few fares will run you down the starting street the game opens up with a lot of different fares. It’s all about gauging how much time you have and how long you’ll need to take to get to a particular destination. Some fares are brief and give you only minor time bonuses as compensation, while other fares take you clear across the city and give you substantial time additions. Will you be able to outrace your extra time or will your fare only cost you extra precious seconds? This strategy element is what gives Crazy Taxi flair even after eleven years.
What will hamper your enjoyment of the game is the severely clunky movement physics and driving controls. The system behaves itself when you stay on roads but when you clip onto the side of a building or the front of your car gets stuck on a ledge it can several agonizing seconds to get yourself back on the road. Heaven help you if you get caught on a sidewalk at the wrong angle and your car refuses to accelerate properly for several seconds.
Controls also suddenly get very inaccessible if you go on grass, and while this normally wouldn’t be too big of a deal, a number of fares mandate that you park on the grass and then it takes you a few critically important seconds to get rolling again. In a game where literally every second counts it can quickly sour an exhilarating cab shift, especially with your fare shrieking into your ear like a Warcraft III banshee.
You can shift gears from drive to reverse to help you out but you need to press the circle button for drive and the x button for reverse, which feels more awkward than having one button to switch them both out. I suppose they were trying to maintain the “arcade” feel of the game back when you had one of those plastic gear shift levers when one could play this in an arcade, to which I would say you do realize we’re playing this with a controller, right, devs? There’s a big difference between staying true to the original formula versus just limiting yourself to it.
It’s easy to see what made Crazy Taxi so successful. Even in short bursts it’s easy to get engrossed when you play, for however briefly. It’s just a straight port of a very old game bringing all the baggage with little improvements, and after you’ve beaten your own records fifty times there isn’t much replay value to be had. It’s a nice bargain for ten bucks but not worth going out of your way to play if you’re not a fan of the series.
The city is appropriately big and well-populated but the game has aged very badly.
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Crazy Taxi is entertaining and fast-paced but the nature of it means sessions never last very long.
The menu music is a little obnoxious but in-game tracks aren't that bad, if unmemorable.
It's the same game over and over again which may work if you love Crazy Taxi but doesn't lend itself to substantial replay value.
Crazy Taxi is a nice bit of fun but can't really hold up as a straight port after all these years.