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Hitmaker

(Sega; US: 24 Nov 2010)

In 1999, I jetted off to Heathrow airport along with my new bride where we planned to begin our backpack tour of Europe. We’d purchased a Eurorail pass and planned to hop from hostel to hostel until we ran out of money, sampling the many cultural and gustatory delights of Europe.


As it turned out, I spent quite a lot of time that trip in the various video game arcades of Europe, thanks to my hopeless addiction to Crazy Taxi, the gonzo driving game that dominated arcades at that time. Apparently. Crazy Taxi was as big a hit in Europe as it was in the U.S. because that game was everywhere.


And I was good at it. Really good. I left a string of high scores from Dublin to Prague, and in my mind, I was a traveling freelance video game savant. I imagined the locals whispering in my wake as I left yet another arcade, “Have you seen the American play? He drives the craziest taxi you’ve ever seen!”


All of this is by way of introduction to Sega’s new iteration of Crazy Taxi, available for $9.99 download from PSN and XLBA. The game appears to be a direct port of the old Dreamcast game, which was a remarkably faithful adaptation of the arcade original with some new modes and options thrown in.


Fans of the coin-operated original can stick to the Arcade mode, in which you basically dart like mad around a virtual San Francisco picking up fares and delivering them—with maximum velocity and vehicular mayhem—to their destinations. The console port adds options to drive for three or ten minutes. Or you can stay with the original system, in which you earn additional play time by delivering your passengers quickly.


The “Crazy Box” mode flips the script entirely with specific challenges geared toward the game’s special move combos such as Crazy Boost and Crazy Drift.


Unfortunately, Crazy Taxi circa 2010 is basically an exercise in nostalgia, albeit with the graphics ramped up to 720p. This is an old-school arcade title, all about providing maximum rush for three minutes or so until the next quarter—or equivalent currency—comes due. Once you’ve made the circuit of the city map, there’s not much to do except work on your moves and improve your scores. (The game maintains local high scores and an online leaderboard.)


I also found the steering to be way too sensitive on the PS3. The slightest flick on the analog stick sends your taxi caroming into a turn—a big problem in a driving game that rewards precision driving through traffic.


The good news is that you can still more or less crash your way through the game. Playtesting with my seven-year-old, it seems that this essential thrill of Crazy Taxi hasn’t lost its appeal. He’s spent many happy hours banging around the city, which makes me fear the teenage years even more than I already do.


One final gripe: the original game had a seriously bad-ass soundtrack with songs by The Offspring and Bad Religion. Apparently, licensing issues have arisen, as this new port is scored with the sort of vanilla punk loudness you get in those third-tier driving games jamming the bargain bins at GameStop.


The return of Crazy Taxi is ultimately a pleasant, slight, and speedy trip down memory lane. Though it must be said that this potentially is a good choice for littler gamers with a predilection for extremely irresponsible driving. I’m amazed at how much the boy seems to like it, and he’s already better than the old man with those hypersensitive controls.


But I’ve still got the high score in Barcelona, kid.

Rating:

Glenn McDonald writes about popular culture from his home in lovely Chapel Hill, NC. His humor essays have been described as "grammatically consistent" and "remarkably frequent". He is editor of the Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me daily news quiz at NPR.org, and a film critic at the Raleigh News & Observer. He lives virtually at www.glenn-mcdonald.com.


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