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Crazy Taxi
Crazy Taxi (Dreamcast)

Sega took over the dying arcade market with this imaginative game centering on adrenaline-addicted taxi cab drivers and their need to drive like complete idiots across the San Francisco landscape. Could they maintain that pace on their new home console, the Dreamcast?

Players: 1
Genre: Arcade / Racing / Action
Length: 2 Hours, Endless Replay Value

Extras: Analog Control, VMU, Rumble Pack
Released: 02/01/00

Publisher: Sega
Developer: AM3
ESRB Rating: T

Realism was never Sega's strong suit
Part a sea of cars like freakin' Moses
Bitch be too SLOW!
I need to take one of these suckers out to the lanes

If there's one thing Sega knows how to do, it's create explosively addictive arcade-style games. It's not a matter of when they finally turned the corner, of how many years' worth of effort went into fine tuning their in-house skills, or even of whether their next arcade title will truly be any good... it's just a fact of life. Sega makes great arcade games, just like the grass is green and Mountain Dew makes your appendages start to vibrate. Keeping that frame of mind, Crazy Taxi fits neatly into the famed developer's arcade portfolio, right between Daytona USA and Outrun. It's a solid concept, one that's never been attempted before, it looks great and it's addicting enough to gobble up a couple hundred quarters without a second thought. And, if we were here to chat about the arcade release itself, that'd be all she wrote.

However, as one of the big ticket titles for the then-fledgling Dreamcast, Sega's final venture into the home console market, this game needed to replicate and improve upon the quality established by its arcade counterpart. Naturally, die-hard fans of the arcade machine would flock to a home release, regardless of quality, to save themselves a bundle on quarters... but the real trick was capturing the hearts and minds of the home market. Crazy Taxi's arcade release came near the very end of the out-of-home market's lifespan. Like it or not, gamers just weren't leaving home with as many tokens in their pockets as they had in the decades beforehand. You could blame it on developers' fading enthusiasm for stand alone machines, or perhaps even on the speed of home consoles' development (rendering the term "arcade perfect port" a thing of the past), but the end result was still the same. Sega had captured the arcade market with this imaginative gem, but they'd only reached a dwindling fraction of the gaming market. To really consider Taxi (and the early quarter of the Dreamcast's life) a success, they needed a grand slam here.

As with any good arcade title, there's no lengthy, thought-provoking back story to the world of Crazy Taxi. Naturally, you can't expect gamers to pop in a quarter then sit and stare at a lengthy cinema scene, several screens instructing them on how to play and a detailed character selection screen. And, no matter how far you run with the concept in the home release, that's one aspect you're never going to get rid of (nor should you want to). If there's one thing that's slowed considerably with the advent of home consoles, it's the mindless entertainment genre. Everything feels so epic these days, like it'll take a lifetime to master each new game, that the whole element of entertaining oneself without a fifty hour commitment has been almost completely lost. Imagine if Namco tried to release Galaga or Pac-Man today. They're both regarded as classics, yet any attempt to release a similarly simplistic game in today's market would be scoffed at and discarded before it even got off the launch pad. That's one thing Crazy Taxi has going for it: it's instantly accessible, mindless fun. After ten minute of gameplay, you feel like an old pro. You could take a wild guess about the premise just by looking at the CD jacket and get 90% of it correct. OK, get this... you're a TAXI driver.... who is rewarded for driving all CRAZY-like... and your only purpose in life is to earn more money. End of story.

Okay, there's a little bit more to it than that. What little else there is, however, is equally as easy to comprehend as the jacket art. Your fares jump around and wave their arms in the air, surrounded by a brightly colored circle that varies in shade from red to green, depending on the length of their trip and the amount of money they're willing to pay to get there. The shorter, less expensive trips are abundant, while the lengthier fares with more money to throw around are fewer and further between. You're given one overall game clock when you start, which mercilessly ticks down the seconds left in your run's lifespan. If you reach your destination in short order, your game clock gains a couple valuable seconds and you've successfully increased your game's length. If you do a poor job at delivering your fares to their destination, not only do you lose the time it took to get them from point A to point B... they also refuse to grant you any sort of additional time bonus.

As seems to be the case with any arcade game, the physics of CT have been mussed with just a teensy bit, aiding in the transformation of a taxi driver's day from monotonous, mundane errands to wild, exciting rides. Your car will never sustain any damage, nor will those of the game's various citizens. Instead, vehicles bounce off of one another, roll over and sail through the air like so many cartoony bumper cars. The game's set in San Francisco (which is about as close to ideal a setting for something like this as you're gonna find), so you can imagine how exaggerated its hills and valleys are. Your taxi sails through the air like it was born to do so, and your fares throw larger and larger amounts of cash at you when they're airborne. The lack of any real visible consequences for your actions (aside from the obvious loss of game time) really help to set a player's mind at ease and let the relaxation set in. Sure, you're rushing around the city like a madman... but at least you're comfortable in doing so.

A new addition to the home release of the Taxi is the refreshing "Crazy Box" mode, which takes the tweaked physics engine of the regular game and applies it to other varied driving games. You'll drive down a bowling alley, complete with oversized pins. You'll cruise down a skier's long jump ramp and sail off the edge. You'll navigate a teeny stretch of road, complete with sharp turns, instant death on either side and a relentless time limit. Every one of the challenges in "Crazy Box" are comical, educational and fun as hell. It's a great way to introduce new players to some of the more advanced methods of game play, (such as quickly shifting from drive to reverse and back again, turning the wheel and pressing the gas just as you shift back into drive, and performing a sharp, precise turn or "crazy drift") while giving experienced players a set of new challenges and a chance to brush up on their abilities. After completing each of the "Crazy Box" challenges, you look and feel like a Crazy Taxi pro. It's exactly what the home release needed to set it apart from its arcade cousin and to intrigue the more demanding home market... never mind the incredibly funny bonus feature you unlock by completing each of the different tasks.

In addition to an easily established (and notably improved) premise, the control scheme on my familiar white Dreamcast controller is damned close to perfection. The number of commands necessary to play a game of Taxi are relatively small: you just need to steer, accelerate, brake and shift. The Dreamcast pad, however, functions as though it were sculpted with this very game in mind. The left and right triggers are your brake and gas, respectively, and are pressure sensitive, which means you have much more control over your pedals. You're not going full-on or full-off all the time, which makes the handling of those tight corners and precise halts much easier. The analog stick is a flawless de facto steering wheel, to the point that I can't imagine controlling the game with a regular wheel any more. Likewise, the "A" button switches you to reverse and the "B" button guns it back into drive... both buttons placed logically in the exact spot where your thumb should be while holding down the right trigger. This placement makes shifting, accelerating and the various advanced play mechanics introduced in "Crazy Box" much more natural and easy to accomplish. I wish I could say more games paid this kind of attention to their control schemes and button layout.

Visually, there is legitimately no distinguishing the game from its arcade counterpart. They're honestly identical, which was really a big feather in the Dreamcast's cap at the time of the game's release. In today's world, alongside graphical masterpieces such as Gran Turismo 4 and Project Gotham Racing 2, it doesn't stand a chance, but at the time it was really inspiring to see. Each of the four selectable drivers are well crafted and easily recognizable, even in the heat of a tight deadline. They each cruise around in their own original cab, styled to match their personality (the younger punk rocker drives a sleek, skinny taxi with fashionable checkerboard placed strategically around its body, while the older, hairy-chested cabbie rides in a 50's-era classic roadster) and come fully equipped with their own custom license plate. There's a good selection of different vehicles out sharing the roads with you, from competing taxis to economy cars to mini vans and U-Hauls to fully scaled passenger busses. I'd be lying if I said you'll never see a duplicate out on the road, as they're all pretty abundant, but there's enough variety that you won't be distracted by the same car lined up, bumper to bumper, all the way down the road. Likewise, there's a large variety of potential fares, from punk rockers (complete with mohawks) to priests to pregnant ladies and old bags. Same as with the civilian vehicles, the civilian fares are all relatively abundant, but varied enough to keep you on your toes.

Finally, the audio... which is just completely over the top. Seriously, the amount of effort that went into acquiring, licensing, writing, recording, mastering and implementing the various audio aspects of Crazy Taxi is just mind-blowing. Everything from the musical score (provided by The Offspring and Bad Religion, respectively) to the driver / passenger voices and interactions (which vary depending on the individual) to the sound of oncoming traffic, rubber on asphalt and screaming civilians is spot on. There's not a single fault. If I weren't convinced about the quality of this title before, the strength of the audio pushes me over the edge. Just a tremendous effort from all involved that deserves some serious recognition. The egocentric, charismatic cabbies speak like... well... like egocentric, charismatic cabbies. The passengers behave like you'd imagine crazed, yet excited, people fearing their lives would speak. The speedy, racing mainstream punk rock soundtrack perfectly accompanies the rushed, frantic pace of the game itself. Absolutely flawless.

In short, Crazy Taxi was everything Sega needed to re-establish themselves in the home market. It's an undeniably entertaining, original, exciting package. It's a superb experience, whether you're playing alone at home on a Friday night or taking turns with a large group of friends. Where it's lacking in depth, it makes up with replayability and a tight control scheme. It's no longer the best looking game on the market but the audio is still top of the line, even today. If you've got a Dreamcast sitting around at home and you haven't picked this game up yet, now is most certainly the time. If you've got a Dreamcast sitting around at home and you ARE the owner of a copy of the Taxi... go pop it in again for old times' sake. This remains one of the single greatest things Sega's ever churned out.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9.5


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