Hardlight Studios — the same people whom previously released games such as Sonic Dash (our review) and Sonic Jump Fever — are back once more with a mobile reenvisioning of another SEGA classic, this time tackling the classic madcap arcade racer: Crazy Taxi. Rather than being a straight port of the arcade original — which already exists on the iOS (our review) — Hardlight Studios set about to creating yet another freemium experience, coupled with a control scheme more inline with the limitations of touch based devices. The question is — with all the other successful mobile recreations Hardlight Studios has already produced — can they hit another grand slam with Crazy Taxi: City Rush (out now, free), or will this finally be the day their pinpoint accurate lightning finally stops striking?
You’re the hopeful young taxi driver aiming to become the next biggest man in town, but in order to do so you’re going to have to convince the local legends — Axel, BD Joe, and Gena — that you’ve got what it takes to get people to their goals by any means needed. Furthermore, when your mentors here say ‘no matter what the cost’ they seriously mean it — in the most literal of all ways possible — as your customers expect you to bash, slide, crash, jump, and do whatever else it takes for them to get somewhere as fast as possible. You are, however, going to need more than just crazy good skills — or even a reckless abandon for anything resembling safety — in order to succeed at this journey, for you’re also going to need to save up your cash in order to craft the ultimate tricked out cab ride!
Of course even the most tricked out taxi ever won’t help if you don’t already have those mad skills to begin with, and thus the most important thing you’re going to have to do first is learn how to drive your car like a true homicidal maniac winner. Among these skills is the ability for players to change lanes by tapping either the screen’s left or right side, which is the primary method of both avoiding oncoming cars and snagging coins. While players generally won’t have to avoid cars just to survive — as you can usually just ram them off the road, slowing yourself down in the process — it should be noted that certain extra heavy vehicles can bring your taxi to a complete stop if you slam into them.
Meanwhile, if you hold down on either side of the screen — instead of merely lightly tapping your device — your car will go into a power slide that makes your turn onto the next available junction going in that direction. A successful turn will generally not preserve your current position, instead dropping you onto the furthest possible lane inverse to whichever way you went (ergo, a left hand turn would leave you on the right). While I never had issues turning exactly when I meant to — and City Rush was even usually lenient about how late a turn could be started — the game does have some issues with occasionally falsely thinking you wanted to turn, instead of merely changing a lane.
For those times when you eventually do miss a turn — preferably legitimately, rather than due to the aforementioned controller issue — you can whip your taxi around in a U-Turn by swiping down on the screen at any time. Furthermore — in order to help you make up lost time should misfortune ever occur, or sometimes just to violently plow through anything in your way — turbo boosts can also be accessed via a button on the bottom right. Although City Rush — as would be expected of any Freemium game ever produced — does indeed feature a monetization scheme, I am happy to declare right away that it has absolutely nothing to do with artificially limiting a player’s access to this vital feature.
When a customer’s destination is finally reached — or whenever there happens to be an additional customer needing to be scooped up — a green flashing box will appear, which will cause the player’s taxi to begin sliding to a stop when reached. Although the Taxi will eventually come to a halt on its own, smart drivers can – in order to save valuable time — speed this process up by quickly tapping the screen after the break icon appears. Thankfully your taxi’s breaking function will always — assuming the player managed to actually touch the green target box– immediately begin this vital parking sequence, even if the taxicab had otherwise just began a full out turbo boost mere seconds beforehand.
Anyways, using these controls a player will — as previously mentioned — attempt to earn the money needed to create a taxicab worthy of being the number one transportation service in a town gone mad. Now where as players needed a roughly twenty minute solid game play session in order to get an S-Ranking in the arcade original, Hardlight Studios has taken a slightly different approach here to better fit the mobile gaming lifestyle. Although City Rush still forces players to deliver customers in an all out race to beat the clock — with bonus time still being awarded after every pick up and drop off — here each game play session features a mission based sequence, rather than true sandbox style play.
In a move similar to games such as Robocop (our review) — yet ultimately far more generous — the world of Crazy Taxi: City Rush is divided up into three zones, each of which contains seven vital stages that must be completed in order to reach the next area. Each of these missions will require a progressively better taxi than the one before them, although — unlike Robocop — City Rush’s story based missions themselves are each fully replayable whenever the player sees fit. However — as to do otherwise would easily drive anyone completely bonkers — you are not expected to endlessly replay any story mission until you’re finally ready for the next one, leading us to City Rush’s many other stages.
Each of the game’s current three areas — with additional towns promised to be coming soon — contain a variety of randomly occurring missions, with fluctuating rewards and difficulty, as well as an assortment of fixed missions that may or may not be repeatable. Amongst this latter group are single use missions that challenge players to solve long and tricky paths, once-per-day races that award more money with each successive day they are played in a row, and even a stage about driving through cars with a fully loaded tank! The only thing needed to ever try any of these missions — no matter how under geared your Taxi might be — is a single unit of gas; which self restores at a rate of one unit every fifteen minutes, or whenever you either watch a promotional video or buy more via IAPs.
When you finally have this money on hand you can use it to upgrade your taxi’s wheel quality (affecting spin out), the number of turbo-boosts your taxi has, how potent each turbo boost is, what your taxi’s normal max speed is, and how badly crashes affect you. The other thing you can spend this money on are various style upgrades to your taxi, which — despite doing nothing to otherwise help your performance quality — will increase how much customers pay you after a stage successfully ends. After all, what’s the point of getting halfway across town in less than twenty seconds if — when you finally arrive — everyone has to witness you climbing out of the most homely looking clunker ever seen?
Eventually — however — you will have to abandon your phat ride when you finally earn access to the town’s next region, because — after all — the people there are a more defining sort with even greater demands placed upon your wheel selection. Whereas Robocop’s guns — that could take forever to upgrade — essentially became worthless once you reached the next area, your old taxis will never become truly forgotten when playing City Rush. Rather than eternally collecting dust, you can now begin renting them out to lesser drivers in the area for both cash and fame (the game’s leader boards are based on how many people you have successfully moved, and the results of rented taxis add to this).
You are — of course — at this time probably beginning to wonder how Crazy Taxi: City Rush’s monetization scheme plays into all of this, as there’s no way anyone would ever offer something like this sans an attempt to turn a profit. While SEGA certainly has one — to be sure — I am happy to say right now that it’s nowhere nearly as hardcore as Robocop, where everything was carefully calculated to ensure that all vital upgrading took forever. In fact, during the single week that I have spent with this game so far, I was able to successfully reach City Rush’s third — and currently final — region, all without paying to purchase any of the game’s more premium priced features.
Anyways — getting back to point — the game’s premium currency is the diamond, which can be earned via completing achievements — the completion of special stage challenges — and naturally by being purchased. These can in turn be used to refill your tank, speed up the delivery of upgrade installations, buy special taxis that have far better than normal starting stats for a region, and even buy special drivers that earn money a bit faster. While you won’t really ever earn diamonds fast enough in order to buy many premium items sans money, City Rush’s cash grinding thankfully never once began feeling like a chore.
That said — although one can’t necessarily earn diamonds themselves in bulk — there actually is a way to earn stuff for free in the game sans grinding, and also without filling in any of those wretched surveys that never actually pay out to begin with. Each customer you successfully deliver — even if you lose the current stage — has a chance to accidentally leave behind something they were carrying, which then gets added to your collection. Whenever you have all of the current target items — with any extra items being stored until they’re eventually needed — the mystery trunk will open up and award you either with cash, diamonds, or drivers/cosmetics (so long as you’re high enough to use them).
Anyways — game play matters aside — Crazy Taxi: City Rush is a very beautiful and stylish looking game, with cartoon charm positively oozing out of every single orifice available. This is further accompanied by an appropriately catchy soundtrack that invokes memories of the original, but furthermore gives players the ability to use their own songs by making a playlist called “Crazy Taxi” (although this sometimes creates audio errors). Perhaps — however — it is during the story levels where the devs have truly outdone themselves: with tales of gangster hairdressers, football stars seeking helping catching up with a kicked ball, and even an entire sequence about sailors using only Shenmue quotes.
In the end you have a skill based package, since no amount of upgrades will ever compensate if you choose to slow yourself down by plowing into everyone on the road, that effectively captures the heart of SEGA’s demented arcade style racing original. Although the timer on gasoline does mean you’ll either have to wait in order to play more — or pay up — I can guarantee you that City Rush was always a delight to play, and will never leave you feeling as if you were paying in order to skip the game’s wretched parts. If, however, someone should feel that City Rush — by virtue of not being exactly like the original — was not what they were looking for at all, then SEGA’s still got your back as a fully functional — and also high quality — port of the original is already available as well.
iFanzine Verdict: Hardlight Studios has done it yet again, successfully reinvisioning yet another SEGA classic — this time around: Crazy Taxi — into yet another hi quality, and extremely generous, freemium based mobile gaming experience. Combining nearly flawless controls — specifically built for touch screen devices — as well as an overflowing bucket of cartoony style, City Rush is certainly a worthy follow up to AM3’s original! Considering just how much love Hardlight Studios managed to pour in Sonic Dash, I predict a long and prosperous life for this title that — with its absolutely free price tag — you’d be utterly remiss to not immediately track down on the iTunes Marketplace.