ChinaTaxi Review

Taking inspiration from the renowned Song Dynasty era painting Along the River during the Qingming Festival by Zhang Ze Duan, Keyloft turn in an auto-run 2D platformer that’s beautiful to look at yet patience-sappingly tricky and frustrating to play. If you’re game for a challenge though, ChinaTaxi (Out Now, $0.99) is not without its charms — chief among them an irresistible, zany energy and spattering of absurdly over-the-top cartoon violence.

ChinaTaxi centers around the exploits of an endearingly hapless duo of sedan chair carriers, Johnny and Burger, whose ramshackle on-foot taxi service operates in some of the most danger-fraught locales ancient China has to offer. It’s a tough job – but someone’s got to do it, and at least you, the player, are on hand to help ensure this pair of accident prone oafs don’t wind up killing themselves or their patrons as they hotfoot it through 30 stages worth of blisteringly paced side-scrolling action.

The goal of each level is the same: pick up three fares and carry them across the hazardous terrain to their destination — the city gates — while also collecting as many gold coins as possible and avoiding the likes of stampeding herds of Qinchuan bulls, ginormous holes in the ground, unusually irate alpacas, rolling boulders, roving zombies, and more. Johnny and Burger trot along automatically, and you jab up and down arrows to jump over some obstacles and duck ‘n’ slide under others. Unusually for a game like this, there aren’t (m)any power-ups to be found, but collecting a hundred coins does render you temporarily indestructable.

Other than the fact that double-jumps are irritatingly hard to pull off, I really enjoyed ChinaTaxi’s initial handful of levels; the gameplay has a nice frenetic quality to it and the bawdy, slapstick-esque violence on display as Johnny and Burger get battered and bruised is definitely good for a giggle or two.

Unfortunately, a few levels in Keyloft start to rely on dubious tactics to boost the game’s difficulty — such as deliberately positioning coins or would-be passengers in such a way that if you attempt to pick them up, you’ll instantly hit an enemy and fail the level — forcing you to play the (rather lengthy) stages over and over ad nauseum in the hopes of memorizing the layout of these traps and pitfalls. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good challenge, but repeatedly running afoul of these intentional design tricks and dying unfairly soon gets tiresome and seems at odds with the pick-up-and-play accessibility most auto-run platformers on iOS deliver, not to mention ChinaTaxi’s own invitingly cartoony style.

While some gamers will no doubt relish the challenge, overall, I’d say the devious level design and incredibly steep difficulty curve run the risk of frustrating players to the point they’ll simply give up, exit out of the game, and play something more forgiving and rewarding instead.

iFanzine Verdict: From its lovingly-crafted and eye-poppingly gorgeous visuals to a delightfully wicked sense of humor, there’s a lot to love about ChinaTaxi. It’s just a shame that the game’s devious level design and incredibly steep difficulty curve mean it’s unlikely to pick up many fans among iOS’ all-important casual audience.