Who would like to be a taxi driver? Maybe work as a driver for Lyft or Uber? In Sega’s Crazy Taxi this professional is profitable. The game’s earnest attitude is infectious.
I recently spent some time playing Crazy Taxi on the GameCube, as well on a stand-up arcade cabinet at my local Barcade in Jersey City. The console version has three modes of play. Original, in which one drives and taxies around in a level made specifically for the console versions of the games; Arcade, the same stage as the one found in the 1999 arcade release; and Crazy Box a mode that functions as the game’s challenge mode and tutorial.
Arcade mode is the one that I’m most familiar with and that I enjoy the most. I’m familiar with this stage and its layout, its streets have a realistic design and are easy to navigate. The Original mode stage adds replay value, yet it’s also obtuse and hard to memorize. Its deluge of brutalist buildings and intricate street grid might have been designed by Le Corbusier if he was obsessed with cul-de-sacs and one-way streets. In this mode the navigational arrow uses to guide players to where they need to go becomes a hindrance. It can’t account for the sharp turns and tightly sandwiched streets.
The Crazy Box mode is straightforward. A challenge is given and to complete it players need to learn to perform the special driving tricks required. The higher the challenge level the more demanded from the player. One needs to understand and master skills, like the crazy dash and crazy drift, that require multiple button combinations and strict timing. I didn’t know that these moves existed until I finally played the console. Mastering these skills is the key to success in the game and the way to get a coved and elusive high ranking (I’m talking about Awesome and Crazy) at the end of a stage. Achieving a high ranking is dependent on delivering NPCs to their destination quickly. The player is awarded more money and extra time the faster they do this task. Ample use of the special moves while trying to promptly complete routes is exhilarating and addictive.
Don’t get complacent though, just because you can perform a cascade of crazy dashes isn’t a guarantee of a good ranking. You must know the shortcuts and stage layout because the direction arrow, as previously stated though it’s designed to help you, often leads to the wrong direction on the map. Learn the streets.
While being a crazy taxi driver you drive priests, college students, and local everyday psychos around a lively San Francisco doppelganger of a city. The game is so true to its name that even pregnant women want you to drive recklessly. The drivers and the NPCs are diverse in presentation, the omnipresent blue sky above the stages, the cheeky soundtrack courtesy of Bad Religion and The Offspring, and a given player’s nostalgia make the city feel like a place known and lived in. All these things in combination will crank up serotonin, dopamine, and endorphin levels.
One of the neatest things about Crazy Taxi is that it’s a game whose theme and central premise place the player in the role of a service worker. It’s a glorification of taxi drivers and I’m all for it! Taxi drivers are cool because cars are groovy and getting people to where they need and want to go on time is awesome, and time is one of the most important “common senses” in our capitalist society. I remember playing this game in 2002 on my GameCube and thinking that my father, who was a taxi driver in NYC, had a cool job. As a child, I looked up to my father and thought that cars were cool. Naturally, I thought what can be cooler than driving all the time and getting paid to do so!? When I first saw Crazy Taxi, I felt that my admiration of my dad’s job was validated. Now I look back and marvel at how media can inform, shape, and normalize preconceived beliefs. Unfortunately for my dad and taxi drivers, outside of the Crazy Taxi series,and maybe HBO’s Taxicab Confessions,this professional is not given the dignity that it deserves.
Sega’s Crazy Taxi celebrates the dignity of a working-class job. How many people played this game when it was released, on the arcade and later consoles, and went on to at some point in their lives for whatever reason to drive cab drivers? And how many of these people took a pregnant woman to the hospital for a check-up during one of their routes? But I digress.
Crazy Taxi is in essence a child’s fantasy of what driving a car would be like as a job, and it is tremendous! Driving is ubiquitous in video games as a form of gameplay, but now it’s mainly relegated to being a fast travel method, or at best becomes a strict simulation as in Grand Turismo or Forza. The Burnout games tried to capture some of the madness of Crazy Taxi. In Burnout the appeal and sometimes the literal money shot is crashing and destroying your vehicle and others. The car, a machine designed with a specific purpose is reduced to just being a toy in the minds of privileged game developers. It’s fun, but it lacks imagination and is devoid of any awareness of society besides conspicuous consumption-fueled spectacle. Burnout is not a series about people, Crazy Taxi is.
Crazy Taxi sees the automobile as its original designers did as a tool for leisure that both individualizes and socializes speedy travel. The game’s developers Sega AM3, later shortly known as Hitmaker before being merged in 2004, also mused that cars are a tool to make money, and in the world of Crazy Taxi the rad chauffeurs can make more money than a CEO of a small company in only a few minutes of playtime.
Crazy Taxi rewards good performance with more gameplay. This is an arcade game after all and mastering the controls and learning the stages, memorizing which passenger to pick up at a specific place and time will award more playtime. Getting from point a to point b can be stressful. Few games solicit such a strong feeling of panic as the timer ticks down and the passengers holler “speed up!” even though you’re driving 80km on a 35km street while cutting traffic and plowing through public parks. The absurdity is profound. The only thing to do is embrace the crazy and get those NPCs to their hot date in now obsolete consumer goods stores. Though these stores are now defunct (R.I.P. Tower Records), our insatiable debouched consumerist and convenience-driven appetite has only gotten worst. Upon closer inspection, our planet and the working class are personified as the drivers in the game. Crazy Taxi is punk rock.
An often-forgotten design choice of the game is that you are not rewarded when you hit other cars, though this happens a lot due to the random nature of how the cars generate and behave in the world. Crashing into a car is often penalized since it slows the player down. Optimal play in Crazy Taxi is fast, reckless, yet also avoidant of other vehicles. You get rewarded for just barely missing cars as you are frantically driving to your destination. Here is where the ideal state of play of the game lies: drive crazy but no matter how reckless you’re driving please be mindful of others. A tough balancing act for sure, to be good at this game requires refined reflexes.
Though Crazy Taxi presents us with a real-world setting and puts us in the role of a person performing a real-world job the game is still a fantasy. A fantasy that has taxi drivers make over 3,000 plus dollars in just a few minutes (excellent choice of numbers by the designers) even though in the process we are the worst (or best by the game’s logic) drivers the world has ever seen!
All that being said, though the GameCube version plays great, Crazy Taxi is best experienced in the arcade. Its best suited for breezy short sessions of play. The Soundtrack is evocative but can get repetitive when playing for longer than 30 minutes. The original soundtrack is 7 tracks long so you will hear each song a lot. Eventually, you will be ya ya yaing even when not playing the game.
Crazy Taxi is an adrenaline rush. Its blue skies, labyrinthine world, and speed make it an enjoyable experience in 2022. It puts respect and treats those that take us places as superheroes.