Genre: Drive-em-up | Developer: Hitmaker | Year: 2000 | Platform: dreamcast

This week, I finally got my CRAZY!!! license – the second hidden license class in the game, and the highest attainable. Cabbie: Gus1. Current high score: $24,064.47.

Crazy Taxi is a perfect driving game.

I feel the word “arcadey” is used in racing games as kind of a derogatory (or at least limiting) term – implying the player into a rather casual world of automatic transmission, bereft of the subtleties of traction, weather and centers of gravity. Head empty. Gas pedal, steer left and right.

Crazy Taxi shows you what arcadey should mean. At every single second of gameplay, there is something difficult, unrealistic and amazing you could be doing. Dashing. Drifting. Limit Cut. This simulation may seem janky at first, but it’s entirely robust and consistent, it just doesn’t simulate our world – it simulates a world in which cars and the people driving them are actually cool. The punishing game timer makes every millisecond count – forcing you to use some disgusting backdrift to get a few feet closer to the passenger you want to save them the shoe leather, or to use the map geometry itself to instantly stop for a dropoff. Everything counts, including the stopping and starting. (Hitmaker knew what they were doing with that KFC sign. Come on.)

The map embodies this – what certainly feels like a fleshed-out rendition of LA turns out to be nothing more than a big loop from a birds’ eye view. You can easily loop the whole city in 4 minutes. And yet, there is such variety here – the unforgettable starting hills that you sling yourself down, the winding road around the coast, that one parking garage with aspirations of being a sensible shortcut, the open hills of the church grounds, the mother of all hairpins on the way to the stadium – threading the needle on the highway, the downtown area that feels choked and sprawling despite being only about four blocks. The breath of fresh air as you escape the traffic at the lookout tower, accelerating yourself like a rocket back up the hills to the university to do it all over again. Each of these areas is different, rewarding different skills in your crazy toolkit – the escape from Downtown Hell marking a dramatic and decisive point in the attempt at the best license. Abandoning any attempt at realism in the layout creates a circuit that both amateur and expert players can intuit and delight in.

As for the poor intermediate players… Hitmaker wanted to create a game where skilled players could earn a long time for their credit. The handling of the taxis and the “tricks” possible wasn’t enough – you can learn the city layout and the Limit Cuts to take you through it in half a minute, that’s the beauty of the game. Therefore, as a grim measure in difficulty, some passengers want to take you backwards, and they don’t warn you beforehand2. This is almost always a disaster – now you have to do a big 180 degree turn as cars pile up around you, the time limits and traffic feel much worse the other way, and passengers don’t respawn. Yeah, you might think you’re a modern genius taking green after green back and forth across the highway, but you’re barely treading water – and soon you’re going to be left out of options sheepishly taking some fool all the way back to Fila. You’ll fuck up just like your last run did. It all just happens again, way down the line.

It might initially seem like dumb luck to go forwards – but whether it’s some PRNG shenanigans or intentional design, it’s possible to learn the patterns and keep your momentum (or at the very least know in advance which way to point your car)., a fantastic resource in all respects, has tons of information on these patterns – when 9 is yellow and 5 is red, take 3 (or 7 if you feel sexy) – and if it seems at once like too much to learn, that’s because it is. But, run after run, I found myself learning more and more of the patterns, tipping the odds more and more in my favour. I grew the confidence to burn a few seconds to try to get a good passenger instead of the ones that I knew would bury me. An initially simple silly driving game where the guy goes Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah suddenly offers a huge skill gap to slowly climb and master. What could be more “arcadey”, which actually turns out to mean “good”?

The Crazy Box is a fantastic tutorial disguised as a challenge mode. Each box in the grid is doing its best to teach you fundamentals and subtleties, even while you think you’re doing silly shit like popping balloons or delivering two handfuls of grannies to their homes (which happen to be two inches of concrete directly overlooking a bottomless water pit). I’m much less a fan of the Original map, though it’s better than I remember. There’s plenty of variety, but not so much flow – full of weird cul-de-sacs and strange turns, it reminds me of Edinburgh, so I’m not a fan. Pressed a little for praise, I think it would reward someone who would prefer to memorize a strange, complex city layout (and deal with an arrow that just straight up lies to you) over passenger patterns.

  1. As will tell you, there’s nothing like a strong Gus. You can make up for his low top speed with Limit Cuts, leaving you with a small, heavy powerhouse cab that handles very well. Thread your way through traffic or plough right through it – With Gus, It’s Your Choice™. 

  2. There is an evil troll that takes the shape of a pregnant woman at the railway station. You may think – pregnant lady, hospital, slam dunk, let’s go, no-one compares with me. But in reality, five will get you ten that she wants to go back to a dark and mad place called “Popcorn Mania” (???). Caveat venditor.