Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Crazy Taxi (PS2)

The year 1999 saw the release of an arcade game from Sega known as Crazy Taxi, with its popularity and success leading to a port for the Sega Dreamcast in 2000. Not long after the Dreamcast was discontinued in 2001, ports of Crazy Taxi for PS2 and GameCube were released later that same year and has since been ported to other systems over the years. Of these ports, I happen to own the PS2 version that I found at a GameStop when they still sold PS2 games. I picked up this port since I had some experience with the arcade game, and only learned later that it retains all of the music and product placement found in both the original arcade version and the Dreamcast port. After deciding to give the game a closer look, I would agree with the idea that it encapsulates the time in which it was made, though found the port a little rough around the edges.

For those unfamiliar with Crazy Taxi, the core gameplay consists of driving customers to their target destination within a time limit, earning cash based on your performance with the ulterior goal of increasing your ranking and earning a better license at the end. Potential customers have dollar signs above their head with colors ranging from red to green depending on how far away their destination is, red for the nearest locations and green for the farthest with orange and yellow in between. Cash can additionally be earned based on various stunts you perform while driving, such as dodging traffic (Crazy Through) and getting air time (Crazy Jump). You can also perform various Crazy Maneuvers (Crazy Dash, Crazy Drift, Crazy Back Dash, Crazy Back Drift) to move around the map and get to your target destination faster, though these can be difficult to master depending on your level of skill. The HUD itself is well-designed and unintrusive, though arguably the most iconic feature is an arrow at the top of the screen that guides you to your destination, changing color depending on how close you are.

The port includes a variety of gameplay options to pick from, chief among them the original Arcade map and an Original mode that features a more open and spaced-out version of the Arcade map. Before starting a gameplay session, you have the option to pick between four different Cabbies, those being Axel, B.D. Joe, Gena and Gus. Each of these Cabbies has a different effect on gameplay based on the size and weight of their respective taxi, though figuring out exactly how they influence gameplay can take some time to figure out.

While playing by Arcade rules, you are under a default time limit of 50 seconds, though this can be adjusted in the options menu to be as low as 30 seconds to as high as 70 seconds. Picking up customers increases your time, plus you can gain additional time upon dropping them off depending on your expediency, though if you take too long to get there they will simply hop out of the cab in frustration and leave you to your own devices. If your time is too low upon picking up a new customer, the remaining time will increase to match how much time you have to get to their destination. Though a simple gameplay loop, it’s an addicting gameplay loop nonetheless, providing a good enough motivation to increase your skills and figure out the most optimal routes to get the most cash. You can also choose to give yourself a hard time limit of three, five and 10 minutes, following the same rules as the arcade version except you don’t get bonus time when you have little remaining upon picking up a customer.

An example of core gameplay. (PS2 screenshots are impossible to find.)

In addition to the main gameplay modes, the port also includes a mode called Crazy Box, which provides additional challenges to test your skills. There are nine challenges at the start, divided between groups of three, however if you manage to complete all three in a set, an additional fourth is unlocked for that set. These challenges also make heavier use of the Crazy Maneuvers you can perform in regular gameplay, and so mastering them for more difficult challenges is a necessity.

As for the controls, they can be a little awkward at first and take some getting used to. Thankfully though, acceleration is tied to one of the shoulder buttons (R1 on PS2) and the brakes to another (L1), opening up the action buttons for various other actions. The more awkward part comes in with shifting gears, that being Cross to change to Reverse and Circle for Drive, with changing between them at the right timing feeding into mastery of Crazy Maneuvers. Additionally, Square proves a reminder of your current destination while Triangle honks the horn.

For what they are, the visuals have aged surprisingly well, with the models and environments having the right amount of detail to fit with the game’s art direction while still selling an amount of realism. Though dated by modern standards, this arguably gives the game more charm since it fits right in with what could be found in arcades at the time. That said, the port isn’t exactly perfect, with some noticeable pop-in of obstacles along with a highly visible draw distance. The pop-in isn’t bad enough to ruin the experience, however it can lead to a common situation where a road is suddenly populated by other vehicles, which can affect reaction times while traversing the map. I’ve also had it where locations such as a church suddenly pop into existence when you get close to them, with the arrow at the top of the screen being your only reminder that something is there.

Though the voice acting and original music are generally good, one of the more iconic aspects of Crazy Taxi that gives it its particular identity is the licensed music provided by The Offspring and Bad Religion. More specifically, snippets of four songs between them (“Ten in 2010” and “Them And Us” by Bad Relgion and “Way Down the Line” and “All I Want” by The Offspring), while the intro to Bad Religion’s “Hear It” is played during Driver Select and their song “Inner Logic” plays during the credits. Though a generally scant track list when compared to games like the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, it’s enough to match the high-speed energy of the gameplay, helped by all of the songs included being great in their own right.

Another iconic part of the experience is how many of the destinations in-game are actually product placement for real locations that could be found in Southern California, which grounds the game in its own way. Notably, among said product placement, the game immortalizes music retailer Tower Records, which currently exists as an online retailer and still has physical stores in Japan, as well as the distinctive “red roof” style of Pizza Huts which have since been all but completely phased out. For the sake of completeness, other more prominent product placements include The Original Levi’s Store, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Fila.

Tower Records as it once was has been immortalized in Crazy Taxi.

Despite some porting issues, Crazy Taxi can still provide a fun and addictive experience for those seeking to relive the arcade experience or just want to have a good time. It is also my understanding that later ports past the GameCube version do not feature the original product placement and most of those also feature a different soundtrack, so if you’re looking to get the full experience and can’t play the Dreamcast version, the PS2 or GameCube ports are your next best option.

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