Monday, 10 October 2011

Classic Game Review: Magic Mushrooms (Acorn Electron)

Magic Mushrooms - Acorn Electron
Also Available on: BBC Micro
The title of this game always makes me think of The Bangles
If you were ever the lucky owner of an Acorn Electron, chances are you were also an owner of several Acornsoft games. Acornsoft, Acorn's official software arm, were masters of the art of cloning, publishing many amazing but legally dubious "remakes" of various top games of the time. Amongst them were Snapper (based on Pac-Man), Arcadians (based on Galaxian), Killer Gorilla (Donkey Kong), Meteors (Asteroids) and Planetoid (Defender). When Acornsoft weren't profiting from other peoples' ideas, they also came up with some of their own. Their greatest moment is undoubtedly Elite, which they published for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron in 1984. Twenty years later, readers of Retro Gamer magazine voted it the best retro game of all time. Acornsoft were also behind one of my favourite games of my childhood, the little known Magic Mushrooms, and I thought it would be nice to revisit this game to remind myself of how great it was, or find out that it wasn't great at all and should have been left as a childhood memory.

The standard Acornsoft index screen in all its glory

Level one. Hmmmm, not a lot else to say about it.
Magic Mushrooms is a platform game in its purest form. You guide Murphy, a beer-bellied man with a large nose, who appears to be on a mission to rid platforms of the various hallucinogenic fungi that populate them. Once he's got them all, he must make his way to the level's exit platform before time runs out. Making life difficult for him is the fact that the platforms that he must traverse come in a variety of, er, platforms. In addition to the standard green brick platforms that appeared on several similar games of the era which don't do anything exciting, there are also wobbly platforms which make Murphy less stable on his feet, conveyor belts which have the effect that walking on conveyor belts would do, ice platforms which make Murphy slide in one direction until he reaches the end of it, and what I presume is glass, which disintegrates under his feet. There is no up or down button to use, only left, right and jump, but Murphy is able to use escalators to climb to higher platforms on each level, or bounce on trampolines to jump up to them. To get down, Murphy can either choose to drop down to a lower platform or, if the drop is too big, he can make use of a slide or land on a trampoline. As well as death by dropping from a not-so-great height, Murphy also loses lives by coming into contact with mutant tomatoes that wander around some of the levels, or by running out of time.

I've never understood why this level is called Fairground fun. Doesn't look much like a fairground to me.
Magic Mushrooms pretty much has all of the ingredients that make a proper retro platform game, and it seems to get the mix of them just about right. The game starts off challenging, and quickly gets impossibly difficult. I still don't think level 5 can be completed. Although the level layout is identical each time you play the game, the quantity and location of the mushrooms varies and this can drastically affect the difficulty of the level and the way you choose to play it. The game has a tight time limit, so you aren't able to dawdle too much while you plan your strategy and decide on the route that you are going to take to get around the level. In addition to approaching each level with some sort of strategy, your arcade skills come under the test too as you need to react quickly to situations and time your pixel perfect jumps to perfection. I would have liked another word for "perfection" there but none of the ones the online thesaurus suggested seemed right. Oh well.

There's only one route to take to complete this level.
Graphics in this game are good. They are big and bold and colourful, and it is clear what each item on the level is. There is next to no flickering as the sprites move, and it all feels very polished. The sounds all fit the game well. There's no music (which is good, as music on the Acorn Electron sounded terrible), but the sound effects are all fitting to what is happening and again, like the graphics, are polished and professional.

An extra feature is the game's level editor, and it is one of the best ones I've ever used. You can choose to edit any of the games built-in levels, which also makes the level editor a handy level select screen. You can also create your own levels from scratch, and thanks to the variety of different platforms and items available to use and the different gameplaying techniques that the game allows, you can quickly come up with some surprisingly entertaining self-made masterpieces. If only I could find my tape of levels I created years ago!

A masterpiece of my own making, in the making.

Playing my level. Turns out that it's impossible to complete.
Magic Mushrooms is instantly playable, challenging but fair. Some of the levels are frustrating, but the good far outweighs the bad, and Murphy's trippy trip to get collect all of the mushrooms he can muster is just as enjoyable now as I remember it.


EXTRA -  Magic Mushrooms on the BBC!
Magic Mushrooms was also released on the BBC Micro. Although I never played it on this system originally, I gave it a go while replaying the Electron version. Graphically, it is identical although sprite movement is smoother and the screen has a "bounce" effect when Murphy plunges to his death from a height. The game is even more difficult due to the faster movement of the enemies. As you'd expect, the sounds take advantage of the BBC's better sound chip, resulting in a more pleasant experience for the ears. Despite its increased difficulty, playability is pretty much the same on both systems.


An absolute bitch of a level. I'm convinced it can't be completed.

I don't think this level can be completed either.

This one can though, although it's not easy. Usually you always begin in the same place, but on this level, you start in any of a number of starting places.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

New to me: Number 4 - Boulder Dash (Commodore 64)

Boulder Dash's rather ugly title screen
Boulder Dash is one of those games that, for my entire life, has somehow eluded me (or is it evaded? It's probably neither). For unknown reasons, it's a game that I've never played despite it being released numerous times on numerous systems. So, I've decided that now is as good as time as any to dig it out (ho-ho!) and give it a go. The closest I've probably come to playing anything like Boulder Dash was a game called Rubble Trouble on my Acorn Electron. I say probably as, although I've had the game since the late 1980s, I've never managed to get it to work. I must have spent literally hours of my life staring at the"Bad Program, Rewind Tape," error message in the hope that I could just get past the bit on the tape that was causing the problem. For all I know, Rubble Trouble is nothing like Boulder Dash.

If you like the colour brown, you'll love this.
I've chosen to play Boulder Dash on the Commodore 64. This is because it was one of the systems it originally came out on*, and the Commodore 64 is a computer that I haven't had much experience of, so I might as well show it some love now. Plus the C64 has largely been ignored so far on my little blog thing. And also, C64 Boulder Dash is the only version currently available for purchase (it's 500 Wii Points on the Virtual Console - I think it was released on it back in 2008, but it'll probably still show up under new releases seeing as Nintendo nowadays only see fit to release a VC game if there's a full moon on the second Thursday of the month. And that's usually some crappy one on one fighting game for the Neo Geo).

Every now and again, the path will have this weird pattern in it. I don't have any idea why.

More fun with rocks and diamonds.
The aim of Boulder Dash is quite simple. You control Rockford who must collect diamonds hidden in caves. To get to the diamonds, you must clear a path. Littered around each cave are also boulders, and clearing a path below them will cause them to fall into it. Clear too much ground and you'll have a boulder avalanche on your hands. If any falling rocks, or even diamonds, come into contact with Rockford, he dies. Also populating each cave are what are apparently fireflies and butterflies and a strange green ooze. The fireflies and butterflies are lethal on contact, but butterflies produce diamonds when destroyed which is essential for completing some levels. The fireflies simply leave a 9x9 space when destroyed. The ooze will become diamonds if it gets prevented from growing any larger, again necessary for level completion. It'll become a load of boulders if it gets too large.

9 diamonds all for me!!!
To look at, Boulder Dash is nothing amazing. As a game from 1984, its graphics are quite primitive and aren't attractive, but seeing as they are meant to depict rocks and dirt, they actually fit the context of the game quite well. The colour palette changes for each level which ensures that you sense that there is a transition from one level to the next and gives each level its own feel.

As for sounds, the title music is quite unique, not memorable in the slightest, but again seems to fit the game. There is no in-game music, although having now played versions that do have music during gameplay, I prefer it without. Rockford sounds like he's sniffing his way through the levels, rather than digging the dirt out of the way, although the falling rocks have a satisfying rumble and crunch to them, and falling diamonds have a nice tinkling effect as they fall. Like the graphics, the sounds aren't amazing, and don't demonstrate any of the funky effects that the Commodore 64's fabled SID chip was capable of, but they really do fit the game.

Looking at this screenshot, you wouldn't have a clue what you need to do.

Those square things next to the diamonds are fireflies. Oh yes.
It's in the gameplay that Boulder Dash shines. The game is instantly playable but quickly becomes challenging. You need to combine skill and strategy to complete each level safely but within the tight time limits. The game is perfectly balanced in this respect. You can't tackle each level like a bull in a china shop, but you can't take too much time making up your mind where you want to go next. It's all about knowing when to pause for thought to plan your route and when to take a risk and plough through the dirt. Death never feels unfair as it is always caused by your own actions. Each enemy has their own attack pattern, and it doesn't take long to understand how to avoid them, and also how to use them for your own advantage. The movement of the ooze and slime is also quite random, meaning that you will have to rely on reflex skills to tackle them, rather than remembering how you've played the levels before. And although the concept of the game remains constant throughout, each level feels very different and throws a new kind of challenge at you. On the Commodore 64, the levels scroll smoothly and Rockford moves responsively, which all contribute to making the game extremely playable.

For a relatively early game, Boulder Dash packs a great variety of gameplay elements into it. It's a great combination of a puzzle game and an arcade style game and everything in it just feels right. I think what makes the game quite appealing, and could be quite an interesting topic of research, is the whole idea of being able to be destructive, but at the same time to collect as many diamonds as possible. Quite often, not all the diamonds are required to complete a level, but I think it could be quite interesting to see if an element of greed might encourage people to attempt to get them anyway. It's no wonder that the game is still regularly rereleased today, and it makes me wonder why it's taken me so long to discover it.


*Apparently, Boulder Dash first came out on the Atari 800. However, as that computer was pretty much non-existent here in the UK, I've decided to ignore this fact.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Retro Review: Toki: Going Ape Spit (Mega Drive)

This is the Japanese titlesceen. I can't find the PAL version.
Toki is one of those arcade games that wasn't particularly well known or even well regarded but which seemed to get ported to just about every computer and console known to man. Most of these were straight conversions of the original, attempting to replicate the arcade game to the extent that each respective platform's technology would allow. However, Sega's Mega Drive version was different. Instead of releasing a conversion, it looks like Sega released an interpretation of the arcade game. Quite possibly, the game's programmers had never played the original and based their version on some screenshots they'd seen in a magazine.  Still, seeing as the arcade version had its faults, maybe a re-imagining of the game wouldn't be a bad idea.
Toki: "Fancy a ride on my disco stick?" 
First though, the story. As I've never been one for reading manuals, I usually use the contents of the game to understand its plot. This is quite fortunate as I don't have a manual for this game anyway. So, according to the game, the story begins with Mr Toki standing in a field of flowers with his scantily-clad lady friend. He doesn't appear to be wearing much either. However, before Toki gets the chance to get his end away, the sky suddenly darkens, the music goes crazy, and a mysterious building appears in the background. Oh no! What's worse, a giant hand then grabs Toki's bird and whisks her away to the newly erected mysterious building.. And to kick a man while he's down, a strange wizardy person appears, turns Mr Toki into an ape, and then vanishes. Toki, now in his simian-form, walks off the screen probably wondering what just happened. We are then treated to the game's title screen. The title music is chirpy and cheerful which seems kind of inappropriate given the tragedy that has just unfolded before our eyes. If there was an Ofcom for video games, I'd write a letter of outrage to them. The game's options are fairly standard, although it is possibly to give yourself a ridiculous number of lives (9 lives, 7 continues) and set it so you get a new life every 7000 points. Which is what I always do.
Worst Date Ever...

One of the first of many annoying triangle rocks
So, onto the game. At first, things don't start off too badly. Toki moves responsively to your commands, and it isn't long until you come across power ups to upgrade his spit attack. These power-ups are varied and are also quite plentiful and seem to do quite a bit of damage. And it all starts off quite fun. However, it's also not long until you come across some initial frustrations, such as stupid spikey triangle rocks that keep appearing. It's impossible to jump over them, so you have to destroy them by firing at them. One or two wouldn't be an issue, but having them appearing regularly and for no real reason is just annoying. It's not as if getting rid of them requires any real skill other than being able to fire at them. All they do is stop your progress for a few seconds. This initial frustration then leads to other frustrations. Toki doesn't seem to be in a rush to rescue his damsel in distress and plods slowly through the levels. He also can't jump very far, and gets killed every time something touches him. This wouldn't be too bad though if you had a fair chance of avoiding some enemies. Unfortunately, you don't. Sometimes, you only discover that something is waiting to kill you when you've already begun your jump into it. Enemy avoidance becomes something of a memory test rather than a test of skill.

Most of the levels are standard platform stuff with little variation between them. There is the obligatory water level and ice level, but most of the rest are fairly similar. Water levels have always been a pet hate of mine, but fortunately they're piss-easy in this game and are done within a matter of minutes. The ice level though provides quite a challenge and is both fun and frustrating at the same time. You'll be glad you've done it when you've, er, done it.
Toki's science-defying breathing fire under water trick
At the end of each level is an end of level boss. Most levels (possibly all) feature three rounds followed by an end of level baddie. Early ones are very easy to defeat. Towards the end of the game, they get quite difficult, and you'll find that you'll probably lose most of the 100s of lives you've built up on them.

I like Toki... and I like Boomer. But which one's uglier. There's only one way to find out....

An example of the game's exciting colour scheme on level 4
One of the other problems with the game is that it is quite samey. There isn't much to differentiate the style of one level from another, even despite there being water and ice ones. Graphics are dull and murky throughout. It's as if the graphic artist had a constant hangover and couldn't cope with any colour brighter than dark blue, dark grey, dark green or dark brown, and their varying shades of darkness. There is one level featuring bright fire lakes and suchlike which he probably did after having a sober day. That said, the graphics aren't horrible - they just aren't exciting, and as they don't differ much from one level to another, you don't real feel that you are really progressing through the game and getting any closer to its end. The music also causes this effect too, as the same tune plays for every level, apart from on the water level and for the end of level baddies.
Level 2 features many unexpected pitfalls.
Toki: Going Ape Spit isn't a terrible game, nor is it a great game. The game is frustrating in parts but it isn't unplayable. It's not the most attractive of games, but it probably doesn't need to be. Does it improve on the arcade original? Nope. Playability-wise, I'd probably say it's on par with the original, but it's a different game that uses the arcade's characters and ideas. I would have thought that the reasoning behind re-doing the game was to iron out some of the faults of the arcade game. Unfortunately, this wasn't done. It was just that the same problems were replicated in a different game and, to be honest, I would have preferred an actual conversion of the arcade game on the Mega Drive as I'm sure the console would have been up to it.


I would have included more screenshots from the later levels of the game, but I couldn't face having to replay it anymore to get some which is a shame as they do improve a little as things go along. However, did you ever wonder what happened to that ugly kid out of Magic Pockets? The one the programmers called Kid? Well, it looks like he became a transvestite and appears as an end of level baddie in Toki. Take a look for yourself!

Kid from Magic Pockets in his Burger King jacket

Kid's new job. End of level boss in Toki.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Conversion Comparisons - Number One: Pac-Land

The Arcade Version's title screen. Thrilling!
Once upon a time a range of computers and consoles happily co-existed. They were all completely different to each other, each with their unique strengths and weaknesses and numerous quirks. Developers had to write code specific to each system, to enable their programs to take advantage of the respective platform's features and capabilities. This meant that one game could look and play completely differently on one machine to the next. The differences could be slight, or they could be massive. This situation gave fuel to the playground arguments about which system was best. And, er, I'm boring myself now. Basically, this section, named "Conversion Comparisons" will pick a game and look at how it fared when converted from its original platform. We start with Pac-Land.

Pac-Man jumps over a car driven by a pink ghost. As you do.
Pac-Land was one of the first true side-scrolling platform games, and was released in 1984 by Namco. It was a sequel to Pac-Man and took much of its inspiration from the Pac-Man cartoon. The general idea was to get Pac-Man from one end of the Pac-Land to another, collect a pair of magic boots from a fairy, and then go back home. And then, a little later in the day, do the same thing again. I'm not sure if the objective was for Pac-Man to obtain as many magic boots as possible for the Pac Family to hoard, but it seems plausible enough. Making Pac-Man's journey slightly more difficult were the ghosts, intent on attacking him from all angles and in all kinds of vehicles and disguises.  Pac-Man can only attack them after popping a power pill - otherwise he can only avoid them. Other hazards include seemingly endless bodies of water, collapsing bridges and bottomless pits. The return journey was easier than the outward journey as the magic boots gave Pac-Man the ability to float. Kind of. Pac-Land featured colourful levels, cartoony visuals (impressive for the time) and the theme tune playing constantly with accompanying sound effects. They all complimented each other perfectly, and the game, although simple, was fun and addictive and rewarded skilful playing.

Pac-Land was converted to many of the major platforms during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Here is a summary of some of the conversions from worst to best.

Title on Sir Lord Alan Sugar's compy.
1. WORST VERSION: Amstrad CPC - The Amstrad version features full colour graphics (very pink though) and plays fairly closely to the Spectrum version, which will appear in this list in the not-too-distant future. It has a good rendition of the theme tune but suffers from a couple of major flaws: unresponsive controls and no side-scrolling graphics. The problem with the game not having side-scrolling graphics is that sometimes an enemy will enter the screen from the right just as you're about to exit it. The unresponsive controls mean that avoiding this enemy is impossible. In other instances, making a split-second change of mind is impossible. The game feels slugglish and is frustrating to play, and is in my opinion the worst version of the bunch.

Amstrad: Pac-Land on the Amstrad is rather pink.
The Phantom is pure genius and Tangerine Dream is Fab, apparently
2 - Sinclair Spectrum - This is a very close second-worst. Graphically, it does away with the colours of the Amstrad version, replacing them with drab dark blues and yellows, which makes it look like Pac-Man is wandering about the streets of Pac-Land at night. Its rendition of the arcade game's theme tune is identical to the Amstrad's version, and quite impressive it is too. Unfortunately, the game also replicates the Amstrad's flip screen technique, and therefore suffers from the same problems that not having side-scrolling levels causes. What prevents this from being the worst version though is that the controls feel ever-so-slightly smoother and a bit more responsive. Even so, Pac-Man will come to an unavoidable end much too often and it won't be long until you give up on helping him find magic shoes to hoard. Incidentally, both this and the Amstrad version feature a slightly modified version of the game's theme for the return journey, which is commendable.
Sinclair Spectrum: The street lamps in Pac-Land make everything look yellow
The rather beautiful title screen of the NES version.
3 - Nintendo Entertainment System - This version does away with the cartoony graphics from the original, and makes it look a bit like Pac-Man is travelling through a giant Lego version of Pac-Land. The sprites, both for Pac-Man and the enemies, are about half the size of those in the original, and are dwarfed in comparison to the backdrops. The music is OK, whereas the sound effects are quite close to the arcade's. What lets this game down though are the controls. For some reason, Namco thought it would be good to use the NES controller's two A and B buttons to control Pac-Man left and right, and any direction on the D-pad to jump. Why??? Doesn't the very design of the control pad make it obvious which buttons should do what? The D in D-pad stands for directional, which gives you a clear idea of its purpose! You kind of get used to the stupid controls after sticking with them for a while, but when you come across an obstacle that requires some sort of split second decision, you'll suddently forget that you're meant to be using the controller back-to-front and press the wrong button. There's probably some way of reconfiguring the controls, but there shouldn't really be any need to do so for a game which by default should have clear controls. In addition, the levels appear to have been messed around with a little bit, and the game doesn't really feel much like you're playing Pac-Land. It's not awful, but it could have been much better.

NES: I don't know why, but everytime I look at the graphics for the NES version, I feel thirsty.

These title screens get sexier and sexier, don't they?
4 - Commodore Amiga - Graphically, this is one of the best looking versions of the game, with sprites and backdrops that closely resemble those of the arcade game. The music is also pretty good too, and the fact that the game doesn't require a fire button means that you can use the controller's trigger button to jump, rather than having to push up (having to push up to jump in Amiga games was always a pet hate of mine). The level layouts are also fairly faithful to the arcade version's layouts, and unlike a lot of the other versions (Amstrad, Speccy, NES and C64), you are able to stand on top of vehicles, a feature of the arcade game. However, letting this game down is its scrolling. For some reason, Pac-Man's journey to retrieve magic shoes from the fairy at the other end of Pac-Land is literally not a smooth one. The scrolling is terribly jerky, and seems to get worse when there's more going on. At some points, it feels like you're playing the game in slow motion. This disrupts the arcadey flow of the game, and almost ruins what could have been a perfect conversion.

Commordore Amiga: Looks nice, but if you could see this moving, you'll be tearing the disk out of its drive and flushing it down your toilet in minutes.

Another gorgeous title screen.
5 - Commodore 64 - Of the 8-Bit home computer versions, this is by far the best. Although the graphics aren't as colourful as the Amstrad's, which is partly down to the Commodore 64's washed-out pallette, they are drawn much closer to the arcade's, and the screens scroll. And, unlike the Amiga version, they scroll smoothly, and this is what puts it just ahead of the Amiga version.Which begs the question, if it could be done on the C64, why couldn't the Amiga do it? The game does still suffer from some frustrating deaths, and you aren't able to stand on top of vehicles, which takes something away from the fun of the arcade game, and the level design is slightly different from the original. Even so, this is a very good conversion of the arcade game and is miles ahead of the versions on the computer's contemporaries.

Commodore 64: I love how these old Commodore 64 games have always looked old.

Woah! The Commodore 64 graphics may be washed out, but this certainly isn't!
6 - Atari Lynx - This is a very faithful conversion of the arcade game, probably the most faithful of the bunch, incorporating virtually all of the original's features, even the parallax scrolling, It plays well on the small screen, but is perhaps a little too tough and doesn't feel as whizzy as its arcade parent.
Atari Lynx: Pac-Man on the small screen.

Quite simply the most beautiful title screen in existence. Ever.
6 - BEST VERSION: PC Engine/Turbografx - Simply the best version of Pac-Land is the one released for the PC Engine. Although the colour scheme has been tampered with a little, and the music is a tiny bit different, everything else from the arcade game is pretty much intact. The game does give the option of playing it with the bizarre control system used on the NES version, but makes it easy to change to what they call "Lever control". This is the version that feels most like the arcade version, and pips the Lynx version to the post simply by being more fun to play.

PC Engine: Pac-Man has a power pill just above his head, and is ready to gobble up the ghosties. Unfortunately, he ended up getting squashed by the two cars as I was fannying about trying to get a screenshot.
Here's a video demonstrating each of the above versions of the game in action!

An Extra Treat!!!
While waiting for the home computer versions to load, you were treated to a rather funky map of Pac-Land. And, here they are. Exciting!

The Amstrad Loading Screen

The Spectrum Loading screen. Looks like the artists gave up half way - look at the house towards the top right, 
The Commodore 64 loading screen in a wonderful watercolour style.

The Commodore Amiga loading screen - plush and full of colour and life. I'd like to move there right now.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Review: Crazy Taxi (PlayStation Network)

Game: Crazy Taxi
Released: 1999 (arcade), 2000 (Dreamcast), 2010 (PlayStation Network/XBox Live Arcade)
Version Reviewed: PlayStation Network

The happy couple looking happy.
These last few weeks have been quite eventful. Prince William has married the rather lovely Kate Middleton, Bin Laden is sleeping with the fishes, hundreds of millions of Europeans have consulted Google Maps to find out where Azerbaijan is after the Eurovision Song Contest, Nick Clegg got his ass kicked in the local elections, all kinds of crap is going down in northern African countries, a footballer is annoyed that news of his affair has been made public after a gagging order was put in place to protect his anonymity, and Ryan Giggs is suing Twitter for unknown reasons. But, the main news for the last month or so has been that Sony's PlayStation network has been unavailable after an "external intrusion" brought it down.  It's mostly back now, and order has almost been restored to the world. Its downtime is now nothing more than a hazy memory, a period in time when gamers whose balls have yet to drop took to the blogs and forums to whinge and moan and threaten to get an Xbox 360 (the PSN's EU and US blogs are great sources for pre-pubescent rants), websites made up news based on vague rumours and Sony demonstrated their complete lack of PR skills. But, there have been some positives. For me, apart from becoming obsessed with attempting to grow tomato plants in my Homebase mini greenhouse, I've gone almost a month without getting verbally abused by 12 year old kids criticising my skills on Black Ops, or saying derogatory stuff about my "momma". I've also not had the PlayStation Store luring me in to buy games that I'll never play, Instead, I've actually played some of the ones I downloaded from it before the hackers got busy. And one of those games is Crazy Taxi. For those who don't know (not that anybody ever reads this blog - I think I'm writing it to myself!), Crazy Taxi was an arcade game published by Sega back in 1999 and ported over to the Dreamcast a year later. When Sega went rogue shortly afterwards, the game also appeared on PlayStation 2 and Gamecube. And now it's available once again, for download on the online services of Xbox and PlayStation (when it works).
Crazy Taxi's no nonsense title screen. Taken through my camera, hence the crappy quality.
Drop off number one. Done.
The idea of the game is simple. You take on the role of a cabbie, whose job is to pick up passengers and drop them off at their destinations. The faster you do it, the higher your score, and the more passengers you can subsequently pick up and drop off. Extra tips can be earned by performing a Crazy Jump (flying through the air, usually off some sort of ramp), Crazy Drift (skidding around corners), Crazy Through (driving closely past other vehicles without hitting them). You are guided to your passenger's destination by means of a green arrow, which Sega apparently got a patent for. Take too long and your passenger would give up and get out of your car, and then mysteriously disappear into thin air. The distance to your passenger's destination is determined by the colour of the circle that they stand in. And that's pretty much it.

Options - they're not as wonky in the actual game
The arcade original featured one sunny San-Francisco style city and started you off with 50 seconds. You would earn extra time by picking up passengers, and more time when dropping them off. The aim of the game was simply to last as long as you could before running out of time. The Dreamcast port included an extra city in a similar sunny location in addition to the arcade game's city, the ability to set whether you wanted to play for 3, 5 or 10 crazy minutes or by arcade rules, and a bundle of mini-games to test your skills/patience called Crazy Box. As the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade versions are based on the Dreamcast port, all of these features have been faithfully included. Even so, there have been a few changes made, some good, some not so good. But, before getting on to the changes, let's look at what hasn't changed.
Intact from the original are the game's locations, characters and menus
As already described, the game's features, modes and options haven't changed. The characters, taxis and city maps are still the same and the game plays identically to how it did a decade or so ago. However, that decade hasn't been too kind to Crazy Taxi. When I first played Crazy Taxi in 2000, I was amazed by the smooth visuals and arcade-style controls. In the rerelease, the graphics and textures, despite being given a HD makeover, do seem a little rough in places, especially in the "downtown" areas of the cities. The game has always suffered from pop-up (where the scenery suddenly appears as you approach it rather than gradually form) and this is now more noticable than ever seeing as newer games don't have this issue. Also the controls make the car feel a bit awkward to control. Of course, the controls are exaggerated, as is the whole premise for the game, but the car just doesn't really feel like it responds as it should. This may just be because I've played a lot of other sandbox driving games since Crazy Taxi's original release and the controls are now simply dated. That's not to say the game isn't fun to play - it's great fun. It's just not as much fun as I probably remembered it being. However, there's another reason for it not being as fun as it was - somebody's being tampering with the game.......
Some hi-def driving action right here
As mentioned earlier, there have been some positive changes. Firstly, the graphics through gameplay are now in glorious High Definition, and even though this emphasises the game's dated textures, it still makes thing look quite nice and shiny and new(ish). Unfortunately, Sega don't appear to have tarted up the graphics on the title screen and menus. In fact, they seem to be in a lower resolution than they were on the Dreamcast. The other change is the addition of an online leaderboard which suits the game really well and takes it back to its arcade roots.

And now the negatives, and although these seem mostly cosmetic and superficial, they actually make a great difference. Many people complain about in-game advertising nowadays, but in the original Crazy Taxi, advertising was implemented brilliantly. Some of the destinations in the game were real world places: KFC, Pizza Hut, Fila, Tower Records, etc. Because of licensing issues, these locations have now been replaced by generic locations. For example, KFC is now Fried Chicken Shack, Pizza Hut is now something else. The buildings clearly look like KFCs and Pizza Huts, but with different names. They look a bit like when companies go out of business and a no-name buyer purchases the building but just changes its name and signage and attempts to cash in on the previous owner's brand image - a bit like how loads of old Woolworths stores reopened with names like Wellworths and Alworths and just appear to be a budget, knock-off versions of the original, using loads of the old furnishings as they can't afford to renovate the stores. Going into them feels weird. These new stores feel like they've sucked the life out of what the stores used to be. And the city in Crazy Taxi kind of feels the same. It's as if its been hit hard by the recession and been taken over by cheapo pound shops and nasty takeaways. It just doesn't feel like the vibrant, living city that it was years ago. The well-known brand names gave the city some personality, which the city now lacks.

Also related to licensing issues (in other words, Sega not wanting to spend lots of money) is the change in soundtrack. The original Crazy Taxi featured music from The Offspring and Bad Religion, and this contributed massively to the appeal of the game. The choice of music was a perfect match for it. Music, more than anything else, evokes memories, apparently. You hear a tune, and you instantly associate it with something; you visualise an event or recall an era. Something seems wrong when you begin your game and don't hear the familar "yeah yeah yeah yeah" from the start of The Offspring's All I Want. Instead you're treated to generic pop punk tunes. Although the music is clearly similar in style and isn't terrible, it just doesn't feel right. In a game like Crazy Taxi, where the music was such an integral part of it, changing it takes a lot of the game's appeal out of it.

Of course, the complaints above are just the whinges of a thirty-something who isn't happy that a game isn't how he remembers it. It's a bit like when you go back to your old school or into an old workplace and see that things have changed. Your instant thought is, "It was better when I was here," despite this probably not being the case. And I think that's the effect that the PSN version of Crazy Taxi has had on me. I've allowed some cosmetic changes to affect my overall opinion of the game (wooooh! I managed to get effect and affect the right way round!). It can't be denied that Crazy Taxi is definitely a fun game and still has the classic easy to play, hard to master qualities that made it a hit first time round. For people downloading it for a blast from the past, they may be disappointed as some of the past has been left behind. For those new to the game, the changes won't really bother you and at £7.99, Crazy Taxi represents quite good value for money.