Just before 8 p.m. Eastern last night, I received several texts from different people about the same subject. Loosely summarized, they all pretty much read "holy shit Adam, did you see what Sega just did?" I had not seen what Sega just did, because rather than watching The Game Awards, I was streaming House, M.D. on Peacock while devouring Chicken Tikka Masala from my favorite local Indian joint. (Yes, I lead a truly charmed life.) Anyway, had I been tuning in, all that delicious curry would've spilled out my mouth as Sega announced not one, not two, but five ambitious-looking games, all based on its classic IP. And one of them, The Drive audience will be most interested to know, was a new Crazy Taxi.
This is a big deal, but not totally a surprise. Bloomberg reported in April of 2022 that Sega was working on a new Jet Set Radio and Crazy Taxi to "chase Fortnite riches," a nauseating proposition, as part of its new "Super Game" initiative. We don't exactly know what a "Super Game" is yet because nobody's had a chance to play one, but reading between the lines, it sure seems like a game, possibly of the free-to-play variety, with ample streams of monetization.
I don't know how Sega plans to realize that vision in the context of Crazy Taxi, a game historically about risking life and limb, as well as those of your passenger and all other motorists in your vicinity, to complete fares as quickly as possible in the allotted time limit—preferably to a soundtrack of The Offspring and Bad Religion. I'm not saying there's not a way for Sega to do it, just that I hope in the process, the elegant simplicity and addictiveness of Crazy Taxi's gameplay isn't lost.
See, Crazy Taxi is sort of like the Tetris of driving games, in that it couldn't be more content-light, but every playthrough is different, and each time a run ends, it's extremely difficult for me to pull myself away from starting another. The objective is simple and the cabs themselves easy to drive, but the variety of techniques at the player's disposal to maximize their fares give the game an exceptionally high skill ceiling. It's easy to jump in but hard to master, the calling card of every great credit guzzler.
As I study what little footage of the work-in-progress new entry Sega's released, I'm anticipating how that gameplay might be made a little more complex. In one clip, we can see cop cars chasing down our lawless cabbies, while in another we can see multicolored flames emanating from one of the taxis as it drifts, evoking how boost is built in Mario Kart. It's also clear that there are multiple taxis on the move in some of the footage, which makes sense, because it'd be hard to deliver a multiplayer "Super Game" if players couldn't fight each other wheel-to-wheel for business.
I understand modern games need an abundance of gameplay mechanics and systems to keep players' attention today, and that's why Fortnite makes you build a house during every gunfight. I don't agree with it, necessarily, but it is what it is. Let's just hope these additions don't chip away at the core of what's made Crazy Taxi, and its sequels to a lesser extent, stand the test of time.
It's encouraging to see at least three of the four cabbies from the original entry—Axel, Gina, and B.D. Joe—returning for the reboot, with up-to-date models of their iconic rides. Gus was always my main, though, so I hope he's not far behind. While the game itself still clearly has a ways to go in terms of development, and the environments appear to have a bit of that "hire this man" energy of seeing anything retro dumped into Unreal Engine 5, the self-reflections on Axel's cab, visible in the tailfins and the chrome bumper, look positively glorious. They have me salivating at what a proper new Daytona or Sega Rally could look like, with state-of-the-art graphical techniques. (Daytona Championship USA doesn't count—we don't talk about that one.) Hopefully that's a topic we can return to in earnest next time Sega resurrects some more oldies.
Another question is what team Sega has tasked with resurrecting Crazy Taxi. The company's two most prominent studios concentrate on Sonic and the Like a Dragon/Yakuza series. Now it's publishing five titles, similarly ambitious in scope. For what it's worth, Sega COO Shuji Utsumi told the Washington Post that Jet Set Radio's original creators are involved with that game's modern reinvention, and hopefully, the same is true for Crazy Taxi. Guess we'll have to wait and see. It's been 21 years since High Roller—what's a couple more?
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