It's hard to meet anyone who doesn't know about Crazy Taxi. The game was an arcade staple near the turn of the last century and almost single-handedly put many Dreamcast consoles in many otherwise console-free homes. In fact, apart from Sonic the Hedgehog, Crazy Taxi is probably the most widely-known mass market product Sega produced in the last decade.
So, upon the game's release for the Xbox Live Arcade, we felt it necessary to take the taxi for a spin and see how well the old girl has held up. Today, practically half the games made feature an open world in which one can drive recklessly, so the idea of a single game existing for that sole purpose feels somehow archaic. And yet, Crazy Taxi is arguably the mother of them all. Is it still awesome? Yes and no.
First the "no." There are few games made ten years ago or more that don't immediately look and feel as if they're ten years old, and Crazy Taxi is not one of them. The game is still eye-catching, but nowhere near the level of visual intensity and realism we have come to appreciate in modern games, and controlling the game can, at times, feel like you're turning a steering wheel covered in molasses. (Ever tried that? It's CRAZY!)
As is the custom with Dreamcast ports to the XBLA, Crazy Taxi is a no-frill affair presented almost exactly as you would have encountered it on Sega's final console, and the distance between when that console was new and now is telling. So much innovation has occurred in exactly this game space that, as full of thrills as it may be, Crazy Taxi feels irreconcilably dated. And yet, considering much of that innovation took place precisely as a result of the impact of Crazy Taxi, it's hard to play the game - even now - and not get some of that glitter on you.
If you give it a chance, Crazy Taxi will grab you and refuse to let go. It is the very definition of a classic game: simple to learn but difficult to master. At each turn you'll think to yourself that you can do better next time - and you will. Each round, as you ferry paying customers across the living landscape of one of gaming's first "open worlds" (a fictionalized San Francisco), you will discover new shortcuts, learn new strategies and discover simple yet energizing thrills.
That's where the game, in spite of its technological limitations, really shines. While lacking some of the artistic brilliance of, say, early Mario games which help allow that series to resist feeling dated, Crazy Taxi, though gameplay alone, manages to feel almost timeless and just as much fun as it used to be. The fact that driving games are even more fun now does not in any way diminish what Crazy Taxi brought to the table.
The only serious disappointment here is the lack of the original music tracks like The Offspring's "All I Want" which blared "Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah" every time the game started. Those who have never played the game will not miss these tracks, but those of you looking to scratch that nostalgia itch will be sorely disappointed.
Bottom Line: In spite of dated graphics and other technical whizbangery, Crazy Taxi will remind you why you love driving games - and who started that fire. It's a game that's fun to play in short bursts that will become longer and longer the more of them you devote to it.
Recommendation: Worth the $10, even without the good music.
This review is based on the XBLA version of the game.
Game: Crazy Taxi
Release Date: November 24th, 2010
Platform: PSN, XBLA
Available from: XBLA