Anyone with even a passing interest in video games in the late ’90s or early-2000s is likely familiar with Crazy Taxi. Part of the game’s ubiquity is down to the fact you really couldn’t get near an arcade in those days and not hear The Offspring’s Dexter Holland belting out the chorus to “All I Want,” but the game’s wide appeal also owed a lot to its easy-to-grasp premise: Deliver the most passengers to their destination within the time limit to score the most cash. Simple.
I’ll put it another way: My mom never really played video games, outside of dabbling in Tetris on her Game Boy Pocket. But I do have distinct memories of her playing Crazy Taxi with me on our Sega Dreamcast. The game is zany, lighthearted and immediately eye-catching, the way the best arcade games tend to be.
It’s for those reasons that Crazy Taxi caught on in its day, but it’s because of other factors that I believe it’s stood the test of time. On the surface, there’s not much a novice would probably think to uncover, outside of perhaps committing the map’s various destinations to memory. This is how I personally experienced Crazy Taxi for most of my life; it was merely a little joyride, helped along by its earworm soundtrack that cemented my love for Bad Religion.
Only a couple years ago did I begin learning to improve my skills. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what motivated me to get better at the game — I might have happened across a world record run on YouTube or something, like the one above. I probably never broke B rank as a kid, which means my highest score was below $4,000, and here were folks topping $100,000, stretching that 70-second starting timer to two hours like it was nothing.
So I dug a little deeper, completing the game’s Crazy Box tutorials which teach players a number of techniques to get better at the game — though, crucially, not all of them.
One of the things that differentiates Crazy Taxi from contemporary arcade driving games is its two-gear mechanic. You’ll spend the whole game shifting between just drive and reverse — that’s it — though executing those shifts in key moments, like, say, quickly snapping from reverse to drive right before taking off, will greatly or entirely reduce the length of time necessary to accelerate up to top speed. Doing this in a reverse fashion (sort of; it’s a bit more complicated than that) will make your cab stop on a dime. And doing a similar trick while turning will kick the back out and send you into a Crazy Drift.
Learning these techniques might seem like a lot, but again — you’ve only got two gears to worry about, so with a little bit of practice, they’re not that difficult to get the hang of. Executing them with any degree of consistency will double your high score instantly if you hadn’t been doing them before.
But there’s one trick the game doesn’t really bother to teach you that completely blows it wide open — the fabled Limiter Cut. Essentially, laying off full throttle, shifting into reverse, pausing for a breath and shifting back into drive while moving will boost your cab well past its ordinary top speed, and you’ll go faster and faster every time you do it. Master the Limiter Cut and suddenly you begin to see how a six-digit run becomes possible.
There’s no official word on this, but I’ve always suspected the Limiter Cut was never an intentional aspect of Crazy Taxi’s design. The physics are set up in such a way where silly things happen when you shift a lot, in tandem with throttle position and brake pressure. The Crazy Drift and Crazy Stop were obviously intentional, but the Limiter Cut always struck me as a happy accident — a consequence of the game’s madcap physics. They’re amusingly janky, though it’s a good kind of jank.
Tricks like the Limiter Cut speak to the crux of why Crazy Taxi is such a rewarding game. The barrier to entry is low, but the skill ceiling is astronomically high. I got back into the game in the past week, sinking in hours on my Dreamcast every night without even trying, and almost every night I’ve broken my personal best. I can’t think of a single other game, of any genre, I’ve had that experience with. When you’re in that zone, you really do feel like you’re always getting better.
All the while you’re improving your mastery of the game’s physics you’ll also build your understanding of the map and make mental notes of where certain customers are.
As far as I can tell, there’s not necessarily one route to success in the game’s Arcade course. The map doesn’t sprawl in all directions like the open world of a modern game; instead, it’s linear, but it loops. Once you’re able to start predicting where customers will go, you can suss out an ideal route that works for you and start lapping the place, rather than wasting precious seconds turning around. Personally, the faster I can blow by the bus terminal, a personal choke point of mine, the better.
The combination of technique and strategy is what makes Crazy Taxi so wickedly clever, satisfying and addictive, nearly 21 years to the day since its first home console release. I don’t think I’ll ever have it totally figured out, but unlike the case with many games, that hasn’t dissuaded me from getting as good as I can be. That’s the mark of game design that’s truly timeless.
Crazy Taxi is available across a number of platforms, from retro hardware like the Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360, to modern formats, like iOS, Android and via Steam on the PC. Subtle differences in the conversions might make some techniques easier or harder to pull off, but my advice is however you can play the game, play it. If you think you know it, you may be surprised.