Hitmaker / Sega
For no other reason than that it’s still just as awesome now as it was when it released, I’ve been playing a ton of Crazy Taxi lately. The arcade legend turned Dreamcast hit is famous within retro gaming circles for having some of the most addictive gameplay ever conceived, paired with stunning graphics and a killer soundtrack, Crazy Taxi would continually climb the Dreamcast’s sales charts to become the third best selling title for the system in North America. Released at the tail-end of January, 2000, Crazy Taxi only added to its console’s short but sweet dominance over video game culture as it was yet another example of an arcade perfect port spinning within Sega’s incredible swan song system. But what was it that made the game so fun and addictive? After all, driving a taxi around a city with the sole goal of picking up passengers and dropping them off at various destinations doesn’t exactly sound like a blast. So how did Sega take a seemingly mundane job and turn it into a title that would sell over one million copies in the United States alone? Let’s take a look at the reasons behind Crazy Taxi’s rise to Dreamcast dominance and why it continues to garner adoration from enthusiastic gamers today.
Simply put, the secret to Crazy Taxi’s success lies within its commitment to lucid ideas. In others words, its brilliance is in its simplicity. Start “working” for three, five or ten minutes, cruising around beautiful, California-like locations while looking for customers to pick up. Once inside your cab, your client will instruct you on as to where they wish to be dropped off by way of a photo of the destination, accompanied by a large green arrow (hovering above your cab) that points towards the drop-off point. Places that people often desire to be let off at include churches, hotels and markets, alongside licensed properties such as KFC, Pizza Hut, and Tower Records. Adding these real and easily recognizable places into the game was a brilliant move that only helps to immerse the player deeper into the experience as they notice stores and restaurants that they’ve actually visited, not to mention that it was one of the first, really prominent forms of product placement within a video game. Dropping your customer off as quickly as possible is the surest way to earn the most money. In Arcade or Original mode, the player will start working with an opening time limit of one minute. So long as customers are dropped off continually and satisfactorily, the player’s time limit will continue to be extended, allowing for more gameplay. Bonus money, or tips, can be accumulated throughout the drive from pickup to drop-off if stunts are performed – these include accelerating off of ramps and driving quickly and closely past other vehicles on the street (near misses), though colliding with traffic or buildings will predictably slow you down. Once a designated destination is in site, the player must stop within the appropriate space to make a successful drop-off. If your time runs out while travelling from one point to another, your current customer will hop out of the cab without paying you a red cent, and if your master time (located at the top left of the screen) expires, it’s game over.
Crazy Taxi also features a bonus mode called Crazy Box that pits the player up against a selection of challenges such as jumping over things and popping balloons with the vehicle, but I found the majority of these tasks to be hit or miss (mostly miss). That said, completing all of the Crazy Box challenges is the only way to unlock the couple (there really aren’t many) of secrets that the game contains, so they’re worth attempting for the completionist. The majority of the game takes place within Arcade or Original mode, both of which look really sharp. Arcade is (as the name suggests) faithful to the map that’s provided in the arcade version of the game, whereas Original mode was developed from the ground up for the Dreamcast, offering a much larger playing field that producer Kenji Kanno hoped players would “feel lost” within. Cruising around the game’s two different locales is such a blast that it’s often tempting for me to completely ignore expecting customers, all in an attempt to explore more of the scenery at my own pace, not to mention that every time I pass by a Pizza Hut, I seem to manifest one of their pies for dinner later that night. Righteous.
The graphics in Crazy Taxi still look incredible today. For a game that launched over two decades ago, it can hang with the best of them in the aesthetics department. Everything from the design of the cabs to the environments they’re motoring through all look really impressive and showcase a ton of detail. Crazy Taxi gives off a feel of paramount polish – a love letter to the wow factor being presented in arcades at the end of the 90’s.
Deemed exceedingly unique and important was Crazy Taxi’s gameplay at the time of its release, Sega applied for a patent to protect the new innovation that Kanno had introduced. The concept of picking up passengers in a vehicle and delivering them to different destinations by way of arrow navigation was especially niche upon introduction, and Sega knew it. So it was no surprise that the company was a little miffed when Electronic Arts published a blatant copy of Crazy Taxi in the form of 2001’s The Simpsons: Road Rage, a game that involved picking up and dropping off passengers within Springfield. The reality of the video game industry is that developers take cues from their peers all the time – it’s one of the reasons why we have various kart racers that probably wouldn’t have come to fruition without 1992’s Super Mario Kart, for example. That said, the wasp’s nest that EA had lobbed a rock at swarmed out in the form of a yellow jacket militia called Patent 138, the very license that Sega had filed to protect Crazy Taxi’s unique gameplay from being emulated. Sega sued Electronic Arts, Fox Entertainment, and Road Rage developer Radical Games for infringement of the patent – an extremely ironic circumstance given that EA had sworn off of developing for Sega’s Dreamcast console, mostly due to the two companies falling out of favour with one another throughout the nineteen-nineties (but that’s a rabbit hole for another time). The case was eventually settled outside of court for an unknown amount, but I’m willing to bet that Apu had to sell a lot of squishies to cover the damages. Considering that the majority of video game fans absolutely love to vilify Electronic Arts, this was a triumph for Sega fans everywhere and a major brain fart that had squeaked out of EA.
At this point, Crazy Taxi’s soundtrack has become the stuff of legend, as just about everyone and their cousin associates the game with popular rock bands The Offspring and Bad Religion. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!” blares out of your television’s speakers as The Offspring’s All I Want, courtesy of their 1997 album, “Ixnay on the Hombre”, welcomes you to another spin around the city, on a mission to make some more crazy money. Not to be outdone by The Offspring, Bad Religion’s Ten in 2010, plucked from their 1996 offering, The Gray Race, is another suitable fit for the game’s frantic and fast paced gameplay. The two bands make up the only two groups featured on Crazy Taxi’s soundtrack, but when most of your playtime only lasts between five to ten minutes, a more diverse selection of music really isn’t warranted.
As one of the seventeen Sega All Stars titles to be rereleased for the Dreamcast during its time of prominence, Crazy Taxi has solidified its spot as being one of the most fun and innovative games available for the system. A simplistic, yet brilliant gameplay mechanic paired with a surprising amount of replay value, Crazy Taxi never fails to deliver a fun, albeit short, ride. With barely anything new to unlock as you progress through its rankings, the game doesn’t give you all that much to stress over, but I think that only points all the more to its charm. Crazy Taxi translucently presents itself as a game that wants to keep you occupied for a few jovial minutes before returning you to your more serious gaming, offering a laugh or two before you resume your controller tossing tantrums (again, I blame Banjo-Kazooie). An awesome arcade respite that always promises a good time, Crazy Taxi’s unique brand of entertainment is one that can be enjoyed by anyone.