The Dreamcast, cruelly cut short in its prime by the impending release of the PlayStation 2 and waning third party support, played host to some incredible arcade-quality games. Packed with purity and stuffed with playability and slick graphics, the likes of Powerstone, Soul Calibur and Virtua Tennis still look and play great today. In amongst that pack was Crazy Taxi, a bright, brash but utterly wonderful coin-op conversion that saw the player behind the wheels of a super-powered yellow cab let loose on the streets of San Francisco – the aim being to pick up and drop off passengers to rack up points and hopefully extend the ever diminishing timer. Sequels diluted the experience slightly, so it’s refreshing to see SEGA have opted to convert the original (and best) Crazy Taxi for today’s gamers, bringing the game to the PlayStation Network and, last week, Xbox Live Arcade.
It’s not, however, a perfect conversion. Most gamers’ enduring memories of Crazy Taxi will be The Offspring shouting ‘yeah yeah yeah yeah’ as soon as the game starts, but licensing issues have meant that the original soundtrack has been scrapped in favour of a new one – yes, you can still hear both The Offspring and Bad Religion via the custom soundtracks, but it’s a shame SEGA couldn’t wrangle the tracks themselves back in there. Equally of note are the replaced licensed buildings: gone are Pizza Hut and KFC, replaced with generic Pizza Parlor and Fried Chicken Shack instead. No great loss, but it’s another demerit on the authenticity of the port – not that anyone who’s played the recent-ish PSP version won’t be aware of anyway though – Fare Wars suffered the same fate when it was released too, suggesting that, for whatever reason, the branding is gone permanently.
It doesn’t really matter, of course, because everything else is present and correct. The controls, which seem to feel better on the Xbox controller than the Dual Shock, are mapped perfectly, with all of the Crazy moves intact for the experts. Likewise, the graphics, whilst not as refined as we’d have liked, haven’t really suffered all that much – the modeling is basic by today’s standards but the frame rate’s locked at sixty and the display is crisp and colourful and where it really counts – the game – Crazy Taxi still plays rather brilliantly.
The West Coast course is a big one, taking in most of the sights that you’d expect a slightly tongue-in-cheek interpretation of San Francisco to do, but each game starts at the top of one of California’s iconic streets – filled with cable cars, vehicles and, of course, waiting pedestrians. These potential passengers are marked with a circle around them that indicates the distance away to their target and thus the amount of money you’ll get for a successful drop-off. Once you stop to collect the lucky person you’ll be under a strict time limit to get them to wherever they need to go, performing stunts and drifts along the way to up your multiplier (plus avoiding damage) and thus maximising your score. The pedestrians want to go to the same place on each play through, so eventually the aim is to map out the most optimised route to ensure the biggest scores.
It’s a compelling, addictive process, and one extended by the aforementioned Crazy moves. These include the Crazy Dash (a small boost), a Crazy Stop and a Crazy Drift, and are all perfected in the Crazy Box mode from the main menu, a pyramid of minigames and training missions that feature highscores and leaderboards for the first time. This section, carried over from the Dreamcast, provides a welcome diversion from the main game and is still just as much fun today.
The problem with Crazy Taxi, though, is that whilst it’s a refreshing, saccharin sweet trip down memory line for Dreamcast fans, nothing has been done to tweak the game for another unfamiliar, who will likely find the experience a confusingly short one, with the first couple of games being over in sixty seconds. That’s not strictly the fault of the game, which is as direct a conversion as anyone could have wished for, more the expectations of what digital downloads should deliver in terms of content and value. Crazy Taxi’s still a brilliant game, but it’s unlikely to pick up any new fans in this current incarnation – and there’s little aside from the leaderboards to tempt the hardcore back in for one more crazy ride.
- It’s the same, pure Crazy Taxi game we used to love
- The leaderboards are a nice touch
- The menus, HUD and UI are a little ugly
- There’s little licensed content remaining
- One new mode or map would have been nice for old fans
SEGA’s Crazy Taxi is a much better game to port than Sonic Adventure, the first Dreamcast game to see release on XBLA and PSN, but it’s still not the perfect choice. It’s a little overpriced, too, pushing the game out at a bargain price would have been a much better idea so the game becomes an instant impulse purchase. As it is, it’s stuck somewhere between trying to attract new gamers (which might be tough) and pleasing the hardcore (which it does, but only the leaderboards are new) – I’m all for retro conversions (if you can call the Dreamcast retro) but Crazy Taxi will find much more favour bundled with a few other like-minded games and packaged onto a disk. If SEGA can do this, and throw in the likes of Space Channel 5, then we can all start wishing for Jet Set Radio and friends.