Sega will always be the house of the Hedgehog, but the developer/publisher actually thrived throughout the 1990s in the arcade racing genre. Hits like OutRun, Sega Rally and Daytona U.S.A. dominated during much of the slap-bracelet decade. Near the tail-end of the nifty ’90s, Sega published the frantic cab racer Crazy Taxi, a game that was met with wild success in both arcade and port form – I grew up obsessed with both the Dreamcast and GameCube versions. Now a decade later, Sega’s re-releasing the game in HD on PSN and XBLA. So how does this dusty arcade game hold up?
Nothing has changed in the gameplay department from the original console ports, and that’s a good thing. Players choose between four taxi cab drivers working in a San Francisco-inspired city. Your task is to pick up pedestrians with floating dollar signs over their heads, each pedestrian depending on you to take them to their destination. To assist you, Crazy Taxi was the first game to introduce a revolutionary new GPS mechanism for racing titles, where a giant arrow hovering above your vehicle pointed you in the direction your goal. Of course you’ll have a sea of jaywalkers, crappy drivers and trolley-cars trying to get in your way; clearly they think the city is a giant parking lot. It’s a race against the clock where the quicker you deliver your passenger, the better your score and the more money you make. You’re also rewarded by driving crazily, earning additional coinage when swerving between cars, jumping off ramps, and executing drifts.
The game is broken down into different modes: Arcade Mode stays truthful to the arcade game’s more straightforward landscape, while Original Mode features a course layout developed for past console releases (which includes the abilities to drive underwater, in train-filled tunnels, or jump drawbridges). Both modes allow players to choose between set time intervals or playing in traditional arcade fashion with incremental time rewards given based on stellar delivery service. No matter which mode you select, the gamplay is incredibly addictive and still just as fun today as when the game first released. The wide-open city landscape offers players a different racing experience every time, taking passengers through busy streets, up grassy hills, or into crowded outdoor eateries. There’s something incredibly satisfying about delivering a passenger on time while knowing the shortcuts and despite the near-fatalities, ten-car pile ups, and mass destruction of property that took place along the way.
The game also includes Crazy Box challenges, essentially a collection of mini-games ranging from high jumps for distance, to timed delivery challenges, to using your car to knock down bowling pins. These mini-games are a hell of a lot of fun, but equally serve as a tutorial, teaching you to become a better driver. It won’t take long to master a crazy drift or a crazy boost, both necessities for improving your overall score grade in the main game modes.
So with all that’s returned, what’s actually new, you ask? Sega has increased Crazy Taxi’s competitive edge by adding online leaderboards, allowing players to submit their own scores or view how their opponents rank. The game also supports earning trophy achievements. Unfortunately, these two additions serve as the only new features added to the game.
Visually, the graphics have been completely remastered in HD 720p for a cleaner look, with added Surround Sound audio. Aside from the visual polish, Sega didn’t try to improve any returning environmental glitches or bulky character models, instead opting to retain the dated charm of the original title. Within menu operations, you’ll have a choice between setting the video display to “Full-screen” mode, which stretches the display causing pixilated text on the menu screens, or “Wallpaper” mode, which offers a crisper display but adds decorative panels on the left and right sides to make up for the lack of widescreen support. Despite the shortcomings of jarring menu text, full-screen is your best choice and looks great, offering the best visuals Crazy Taxi has ever had. Yet with every step forward, it seems Sega took two steps back by removing a lot of what made all previous versions so charming.
For starters, the game used to feature several tracks from ’90s alternative rock group The Offspring (of “ya-ya-ya-ya-ya!” fame). The HD port instead uses generic rock tunes that, while adequate, don’t come close to achieving the frantic fever that songs like “All I Want” brought to the open road. Another shameful oversight was the exclusion of several notable franchise locations. Famous shops and fast food joints like KFC, Pizza Hut, The Levi’s Store and Tower Records have now been replaced by generic brands like “Clothing Store,” and “Record Store.” Product placement in the original brought a sense of familiarity, bridging the real world with the virtual world. Neglecting to include any brand names in the game was a major let down, and seemed lazy considering they opted to keep Pizza Hut’s building structure — with signature red roof – but plastered a “Pizza Parlor” sign in front. And yes, believe it or not, I am faulting the game for not including product placement. It’s understandable that these changes were likely made due to expired licenses, but a disappointment nonetheless.
Crazy Taxi will likely go down as one of my favorite arcade racers of all-time. However, this version is not much more than an HD port of the original. It’s actually less than an HD port of the original, with several key omissions that made the arcade classic so charming. Ditching The Offspring was unfortunate and substituting real locations with cheesy knock-offs reduced this game to seemingly little more than a quick cash-in. Despite the added appeal of HD graphics, leaderboards and Trophy support, it’s hard for me to recommend this version over one of the many past console ports that fully captured that stellar arcade experience. This just doesn’t feel like the Crazy Taxi I know and love. The original gameplay is the only redeeming aspect, since it’s just as fun as you remember it being. Even for those that have never played the original, Crazy Taxi is still a must-play for all racing genre fans. For many, having the game in convenient, downloadable form may be too good of an offer to pass up.
Crazy Taxi is available now on PSN for $9.99, and is set to release on XBLA on November 24.
The Tanooki Rating – 7.0
These opinions are those of a single reviewer, and may not reflects the opinions of other writers from The Tanooki nor the site as a whole.