Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Vault: Crazy Taxi (Dreamcast)

Crazy Taxi
Format: Dreamcast
Genre: Arcade
Expect to pay: £2 - £10

"Alright! Let's go make some crrrrrrrazy money!"

This was the phrase that greeted players as they fired up a game of this Sega classic, which was expertly ported over to the Dreamcast completely intact by Hitmaker. In it, you take control of the titular Crazy Taxi and head out into the fictionalised version of San Francisco to earn fares by taking people where they want to go within an increasingly tight time limit. Only, this is Sega's version of SF, so everything is ultra bright and colourful and over exaggerated.

There are various ways to play the main mode, from a time limit that is topped up based on how much money you bring in, to fixed length modes which vary from 3 to 10 minutes, which are great if you can only play for a little while and just want to try and beat your (or your friends/siblings) score. Then you choose from one of the four characters who each have their own car - all rounder Axel, speedy BD Joe, nippy Gena, and built-like-a-tank Gus. Each car has its own characteristics but it doesn't make a major difference to the gameplay.

As well as the city that was ported across from the arcade cabinet, Sega wisely decided that some extras were needed for the home version, so we get a second Original city to drive around and the Crazy Box mode. Crazy Box is a series of challenges that are quite addictive when you get into them, and without these extras the game would have been really short. The main game is so well done though and the many different ranks you can earn will keep you coming back in an attempt to better yourself.

Certain Offspring songs will always be associated with this game whenever I hear them for the rest of time, as they contributed a total of three songs to the game. Bad Religion also provided four of their own but for some reason these aren't nearly as memorable to me. There's another type of licence prevalent in Crazy Taxi in addition to the music though, in the form of Pizza Hut and KFC restaurants as well as other real word franchises that you have to ferry your customers between.

Crazy Taxi 2 came out a few years later and was basically more of the same but with cites based around New York instead of San Francisco. I'd say both games are about equal in terms of gameplay but you can probably find the original slightly cheaper as more copies were made. There was a Crazy Taxi 3 released for the Xbox but unfortunately I never got around to play it so I can't honestly say whether it was any good or not.

Crazy Taxi is full of that special magic that made Sega games so good back in the day.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Vault: Quantum Redshift (Xbox)

Quantum Redshift
Format: Xbox
Genre: Racing
Expect to pay: £1 - £10

Nintendo has F-Zero, Sony has Wip3Out, and Microsoft has... Quantum Redshift? Let's be honest, it's not exactly a brand you would automatically associate with the company like the other two. That's because it didn't exactly set the world on fire when it was released. Nevertheless, Curly Monsters have put together an extremely solid future racer here, one which still looks good today. The tracks have a nice solid sheen to them and the most important factor for a game like this, the speed is most definitely present and correct once you get past the lowest difficulty setting.

Quantum Redshift does things a little differently from most other racing games in that the main tournament mode isn't the same fixed journey through all the tracks every time. In fact it is dictated by your choice of character and this also decides your difficulty level at the same time. It will probably take a while to get used to the handling of your craft anyway so you may not win on your first try, so don't be discouraged. After the first few easy characters are out of the way, the races can get extremely tough, and you will probably have to keep restarting them as I did.

You don't pick up individual weapons as in Wip3Out, instead each craft has it's own weapon and the red pickups on the track power it up, from level 1 to level 3. The same is also true for boost and shields, so you need to strategically decide whether to go for a short burst of boost for example, or build it up to level 3 and then release a longer burst. Winning races earns you cash which can be spent on upgrading your boost, weapons and shields, and also unlock new characters each with their own journey through the various tracks.

Quantum Redshift can be picked up incredibly cheaply - from as little as 1 or 2 quid which really is a bargain. It will take you quite some time to finish the tournament for each character, if you do manage it at all for the harder ones. What's more, I can confirm that it is fully compatible with the Xbox 360, so if your original Xbox has broken (like mine) you can still enjoy the game on your current gen system.

Quantum Redshift is a worthy alternative to F-Zero or Wip3Out

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Vault: Chibi Robo

Title: Chibi Robo
Format: Gamecube
Genre: Action/Adventure
Expect to pay: £15 - £40

As fantastic as I most definitely think Nintendo is, they do tend to wheel out the same old mascots over and over again. How many games have you seen Mario in lately, and Link is almost as bad. For that reason it's great to see them developing a new IP every once and a while. On the Gamecube, they did this with the Pikmin franchise, and they also did it with Chibi Robo, an enthralling and charming adventure game starring a diminutive, cute (chibi) robot whose job it is to clean up the Sanderson household and help out any poor souls (human or otherwise) in need.

When you start the game your repertoire of abilities is severely limited. You have a toothbrush, a built in chibi-copter and that's pretty much about it. The capacity of your battery is extremely low and therefore you won't be able to stray very far from your Chibi House before your juice will start to run out and you will have to return or seek out a power socket. To remedy this you need to earn happy points - these are cashed in back at the Chibi House and when you bank certain amounts you will earn a new higher capacity battery, thus allowing you to explore further and further into the house. Your pal, Telly Vision, with his freaky cross eyed stare, will explain everything to you.

At the start of the game these happy points come mainly from doing housework - either by cleaning up stains using your toothbrush, or by picking up stray sweet wrappers or biscuit crumbs. I know, it doesn't sound like fun does it? But it is thanks to the brilliant and charming way it's implemented. As Chibi walks around different musical notes emanate from the floor, and you also produce other little riffs when you use your tools such as the toothbrush.

As well as the Sanderson family (which include a little girl who spends most of her life dressed up as, and pretending to be, a frog) there are many toys around the house, all of which have a life of their own and most of which have more than their fair share of problems that need sorting out. There's a Buzz Lightyear style space ranger, a princess, a pirate and many more. They all have their own areas of the house, such as the living room, the kitchen, the basement, the attic, the parents bedroom, the kids room and the back garden, and exploring everywhere and doing everything will take a considerable amount of time - especially when you consider that you only have a limited amount of time before that particular section of the day comes to an end. The day is divided up in to several sections and once the time limit expires you are automatically returned to the Chibi House.

Because Chibi Robo was released very late in the life span of the Gamecube, it was largely overlooked as most people had already moved on to one of the next generation systems. It is a great shame that the game didn't do as well as it deserved, but it has managed to get a sequel on the DS, Chibi Robo: Park Patrol which is equally as good. The game can be quite expensive though, on ebay recent auctions have gone for as little as £15 and as much as £40. If you can find it at the lower end of the price scale I would recommend it.

Here's Chibi, staring wistfully into a cup of coffee.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Vault: Wacky Races (Dreamcast)

Wacky Races
Format: Dreamcast (also on PS2)
Genre: Kart Racer
Expect to pay: £5

There have been a few worthy contenders to Mario Kart's throne as king of the kart racer, most notably Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing. A title which is slightly less renowned but just as good in my opinion is Wacky Races on the Dreamcast. I must point out that while a Wacky Races came was released on a number of formats, it was quite a different game on most of them (PS1, GBA) and should be avoided. The Dreamcast version (and its PS2 port) is the one worth looking at.

Borrowing quite heavily from the structure of both the aforementioned racers, Wacky Races puts you in a open world environment with various sub levels that you can drive up to and enter various challenges, which are unlocked by earning stars from earlier, easier challenges. You will begin with straightforward races around the many colourful tracks which aren't too challenging. Periodically you will have a boss race against another character such as Professor Pat Pending in his convert-a-car, and you will unlock them as playable characters if you manage to complete all of their challenges. Then comes the Wacky Championship, which is all of the races in a particular environment back to back (5 races in all). After that you have to complete the Golden Muttley challenges, which is somewhat harder but doable with a bit of practice and skill. It's basically the same as the red coin challenges in Diddy Kong Racing, where you have to collect 10 objects scattered around the track as well as finishing in first place.

There's more to come... Battle Arena challenges are what they sound like, destruction derby style events where you have to shoot the other characters with your weapons until you are the victor. Finally you have the Team 00 challenge, which is four elimination races (you lose, you're out) followed by a rather tough face off against Dastardly and Muttley. These can be challenging and frustrating but if there's one thing you can say for this game, it isn't short of things to do.

Each character has their own set of weapons but they can all be divided up into certain types, such as defensive shields, offensive weapons and speed boosts. You start with three abilities and three face buttons to map them onto, but as you progress you will earn more and will have to choose which are the most useful. Graphically and audibly the game is still very impressive today, with bright, cell-shaded graphics that mimic the look of the old cartoon perfectly. The voice actors sound just like the people who did the original voices, but I'm not sure whether they've actually sampled the old cartoons, got the original voice actors to come in and record new lines, or managed to find new people who can do very good impressions. Whatever they did, it works.

Throw in split screen multiplayer and a simple arcade mode if you don't fancy getting into the championship mode and you have a lot to see and do. I had great fun playing this game and picked it up extremely cheaply too. Give it a spin!

The graphics are vividly coloured and still manage to stand up well to most of today's offerings.