Some things age well: fine wines, antique furniture, Michaela Strachan. Others don't: breast implants, Yop, corpses. Crazy Taxi, sorry to report, belongs in the latter category.
At least that's in the case of Crazy Taxi: Fare Wars for PSP. SEGA has bunged the original Dreamcast game and its sequel onto a single UMD, throwing in a multiplayer mode, some new mini-games and a replay feature. This might sound appealing if you remember Crazy Taxi with fondness, but be prepared for disappointment.
For those too young to remember Crazy Taxi at all (there are some, you know. The other day we had a pint with someone who was born in 1987, NINETEEN EIGHTY-SEVEN, and he'd never heard of Morecambe and Wise) here's how it works. You take on the role of a crazy taxi driver - that's crazy in a wild and wacky way, not crazy in a some-day-a-real-rain-will-come-and-wash-all-this-scum-off-the-pavements way. Speaking of which, whatever happened to 'spring 2006'?
Anyway, you drive round a busy cityscape picking up passengers and racing to get them where they want to go. You're guided by a giant arrow suspended from the middle of the screen - this was is what life was like before TomTom, youngsters. When you drop off a passenger, you collect the fare and seconds are added to the countdown clock. You can earn extra money for driving dangerously and performing stunts.
In days of yore, playing on Ye Olde Dreamcaste, this was great fun. It felt fast and furious, the handling on the cars was great and it was highly enjoyable to play with a friend, taking it in turns to beat each other's high score. The game also looked pretty, bright and smooth enough to make you forgive the odd bit of pop-up and the way everyone's elbows were made of right-angles.
Lost in translation
But Crazy Taxi doesn't translate well to the small screen. Environments are flat and full of pop-up, there are jagged edges everywhere, NPCs can be seen running through brick walls. Forgiveable seven years ago, not so much now.
Graphics aren't everything, of course, but the gameplay is nowhere near good enough to make up for all that. Everything feels incredibly slow and the vehicles are hard to handle. The PSP's analogue nubbin doesn't respond as well as it should and the brake/accelerate/reverse system, which uses both shoulder buttons and two shape buttons, is fiddly.
There's no tutorial mode, so to learn how to perform tricks you need to play through the mini-games. These involve things like popping balloons within a time limit and pulling off long jumps. They vary wildly in difficulty but are all dull. They don't really teach you the moves, either - you just get a "hint" in the form of a short line of text and have to work out the rest through trial and error.
There are ad-hoc battles for two players. You can compete to see who earns the most cash within a set time limit, attempt to beat the other player's score for an individual fare or go head-to-head on the same map. In the latter mode, you can bash into your opponent's car to nick their passenger. Unfortunately you each need a copy of Fare Wars to try this out and SEGA only sent us one, so we can't say whether it adds much to the game.
At least they've tried to make it good value. You do get both Crazy Taxi games, although there's not much difference between them. The maps in the first game are based on San Francisco, the second on New York. The handling in Crazy Taxi 2 is a bit inferior, as was the case with the Dreamcast versions, but that's about it. The mini-games and multiplayer modes would be nice additions if the game was fundamentally more fun to play.
Unfortunately it's fundamentally rubbish, and even with the extras it's not worth 20 quid. It might have been a better idea to re-release Crazy Taxi on XBLA - the visuals might still have been dodgy, but the control system would work better and there might still be a sense of speed and excitement. Plus you wouldn't have to put up with the PSP's loading times, which are a problem here.
Most importantly you could demo the game first, taking a few steps down Memory Lane before realising you'd made a terrible mistake and turning back onto Burnout Alley. The problem is arcade-style racing games have come a long way since Crazy Taxi. Extras such as the option to save replays aren't going to make up for the fact that driving a trundly car down a badly-rendered road in a seven-year-old game just isn't very enjoyable.
Even huge fans of the originals are likely to be disappointed by Fare Wars. You can pick up both Dreamcast games on eBay for less than half the price, and you'd be better off doing so. Maybe Crazy Taxi simply isn't as good as we remember, maybe we've just played better games since, maybe this is a bad conversion. Probably all three. In any case, don't bother.
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