This weekly column looks at classic video games both in how they looked back in the day and how they stand up today. Though scores will be assigned, our tough review standards will be relaxed a bit for these games to give a general overview instead.
All retro games come courtesy of Retro Games Plus, located at 1761 Post Road East in Westport, CT. If you’re in the northeastern part of the United States, please give them a look.
Arcades started dying their slow, painful death in the late 1990s, but they still had last gasps. Most of those gasps relied around two things: fighting games and games that required large, specialized controllers. I remember playing one game at the local arcade that had a punching pad, and it simulated actually fighting someone, kind of. This arcade is still around with the same game ten years after I was last there, and I don’t think anything’s been maintained in that time. Anyway, a staple of arcades has always been racing games. From Spy Hunter on, driving games are easy because you couldn’t just simulate actually using a steering wheel at home, unlike more traditional arcade games, which could be effectively recreated on home consoles of increasing sophistication. Whether it was the linked-up Daytona USA or even old-school experiments like Lucky & Wild, these were games that just couldn’t be properly appreciated outside of an arcade.
Crazy Taxi was one of the more popular of the later-era arcade games that had to be played in the arcade to be fully appreciated. It succeeded like gangbusters for Sega, so like most of the arcade classics from that era, it was ported to the Dreamcast with extra options to make it more palatable to a home audience. Since that time, steering wheels have become ubiquitous for home console users who have the coin to acquire them, and driving games have gone away from arcade games to super sims like Forza Motorsport 4. Does Crazy Taxi stand up against such stiff competition?
HOW WAS IT THEN: Crazy Taxi, along with fellow Dreamcast legend Soul Calibur, proved just what a beast the Dreamcast was by taking a game that looked good in the arcades and making it look better at home.
The same gameplay that made the arcade version so great was on display in the home edition and multiplied beyond that. In the arcade, players had the option to play the game in its original arcade settings, or for various time periods, all in either the original arcade stage or an original setup made for the home version. The gameplay itself was intact; players had to execute stunts and tricks to get cab fares to their locations in the least time possible, and this was just as addictive at home as it was in the arcades. Furthermore, the game had additional challenge modes that served as a tutorial of sorts, teaching players the subtleties of crazy dashing, crazy drifting, and the like.
It’s true that Crazy Taxi was best served in small bites, but back when there was no online mode, it served as a quick option that doubled as an effective party game. Add in a good soundtrack led by The Offspring, and it was a great game to own on the Dreamcast.
HOW IS IT NOW: The enjoyment of someone for this game depends on what they’re looking for in a game. Anyone looking for something meatier that will last them more than a few minutes at a time will obviously be looking towards virtually anything else, even Gran Turismo‘s arcade modes. However, someone looking for the gaming equivalent of snack food will find a home.
Crazy Taxi is exactly what it was twelve years ago: a quick, exciting game. However, flaws in the gameplay show up in 2012. For one, the Dreamcast’s analogue control, which has never been great, comes back to bite from beyond the grave as the cars themselves are very twitchy to control. Even subtle movements on the stick can send the car sharply to the left or right, which causes problems in tight traffic. This is important because the amount of bonus money one earns is determined by stringing together combos that multiply the scoring. Furthermore, some of the moves, especially the Crazy Dash, are simply too hard to pull off. Twelve years later, I still have problems with the move, and there are other and better ways to generate speed which bring about the higher scoring crazy air combos. Something akin to a drafting mechanic, or even the “sparks” from Mario Kart: Double Dash, would’ve been preferable.
There’s an arrow that leads the car to the next destination when there’s a fare in the car, but it can be misleading often, sometimes directing the player into buildings that can’t be bypassed. Some knowledge of the map is necessary to achieve higher scores, but even that’s problematic because there’s absolutely no map available at all; you really have to drive around to memorize things. That’s understandable, considering the game’s origins; when you’re charging 50¢ to $1 a play, you want people playing as often as possible to get better. Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate as well on the console.
Even with the ability to change the play options, this is nothing more than a fifteen-minute experience. Anyone playing for over an hour isn’t playing so much as practicing at that point. For what it’s available for now—anyone who pays more than $10 for the Dreamcast or GameCube version got ripped off—it is what it is, and anyone looking for something quick will not be disappointed. On that note, there’s really no reason to play this game for an extended period of time other than to perfect scoring. The main mechanic is highly repetitive, games only last a few minutes at a time, and there’s no real competition since leaderboards are largely against the player unless they have a lot of people playing, something that likely doesn’t apply much on the Dreamcast in 2012.
Crazy Taxi saw two sequels, neither of which was very good. It also saw many ports; the GameCube version is fairly good, but the modern remakes aren’t worth the money. Licensing issues caused them to lose the music they had originally, so the bands they had in the game are replaced by generic rock music, which is inferior and upsetting to those familiar with the original. If you’re going to play Crazy Taxi, this is the version to get. The question is if it’s worth it at the end of the day.