If you ever played Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi, Ridge Racer, or Tekken, you might remember playing mini-games during loading screens. Perhaps you've wondered why they weren't more common, and the answer is: patents.
Patents give you rights over certain ideas which means others can't use them without your permission (read: giving you money) unless they want to risk getting sued.
In 1995, Namco patented loading auxiliary games while the main one had yet to. This meant that for 20 years, no one could make such things as mini-games during loading screens without striking a deal with Namco. Some games side-stepped the patent by loading a tiny part of the game, like Fifa, but most preferred to stay clear from loading screen mini-games.
The problem with this is that Namco wasn't even the first one to come up with this, as invade-a-load would let you play a mini-game based on Space Invaders while the actual game loaded. This preceded Namco's patent by a decade, which would have invalidated their claim to the patent if brought to court.
I bring up patents because it's important for the next game: Crazy Taxi.
Sega release an arcade driving game known as Crazy Taxi in 1998. You'd pick up a passenger and get points by grazing cars, using ramps, and delivering them to their destinations as fast as possible. A score attack game where the better you played, the longer you could go on for, and that was well received by critics and players.
In order to guide players, the game used a 3D arrow that'd point towards their objective, and Sega decided that was something worth patenting, along with things like having pedestrians run out to avoid being hit by you.
But that didn't stop Fox Interactive and EA from trying to use it in their own games.
The Simpsons: Road Rage
You pick people up, and drive them to their destination as fast as possible while dealing with arcadey physics (sounds familiar). But instead of having a giant 3D arrow to guide you, you have a giant 3D hand to point in which direction to go (except in the GBA port, where you'd get giant 2D arrows).
But this wasn't enough for Sega, who decided to sue for what they considered to be an imitation. In the end, the case was settled out of court.
Having defended Crazy Taxi from a giant like Fox, you'd think that the franchise would be safe from "unauthorized" clones, right? But that isn't the case.
Super Taxi Driver 2006
With that name, it's easy to see where this is going. Super Taxi Driver 2006 (henceforth STD06) is a wacky taxi driving game where you gain more points by grazing cars and using ramps, and, of course, there's a giant 3D arrow. BUT... this time your car can deform if you hit things, and you have to pass through some emblems to ensure you don't run out of gas.
STD06 was developed by Team6; you might not have heard of them, but they've released quite a few racing games. Their better-known titles are the Wii version of FlatOut, and FlatOut 3 itself - sadly, neither is particularly well regarded.
So, you might be wondering how they snuck in a Crazy Taxi clone when Fox couldn't, but Team6 didn't sneak a clone - they actually sneaked three. Before STD06, they released Taxi Racer: London 2, and Taxi Racer: New York 2. Contrary to what the "2" usually implies, they aren't actually sequels.
The trick to avoiding the US patent issue is to not release the game in the United States. What those three games share in common is that they were all published in Europe.
But how does STD06 actually play? Is it a fun advancement of the formula, or is it just tricking people into thinking it has something to do with Crazy Taxi?
STD06 has a higher polygon count and higher resolution textures when compared to Crazy Taxi, but truly the game is the perfect example of "art style matters". Character models look funky, the cities are on the drab side, and the font looks like it was intended as a placeholder. Cities don't have as many destructible, and you won't find ramps just lying around, but your car can deform after taking a beating.
Gone is the Crazy Taxi flair, voice-overs are non-existent during missions - you won't hear a pip from either passengers or driver. No complaints about reckless driving or taking too long to get to your destination. Passengers won't tell you where you're going, either, so don't think about memorizing routes for better times.
The music certainly isn't Crazy Taxi, but maybe someone out there likes it.
You start off by choosing a character, with two girls and one guy to choose from, but regardless of who you pick, the initial cutscene will show the guy in the taxi. After that, you'll find that this game actually has a mission-based structure where you unlock cars and other such things as you go.
The actual vehicle handling is ok; the main issue is its simplicity, and a weird collision system that can make it so that you crash into inches-high sidewalks, and where vehicles can be sent flying. You have nitro along with a hand brake, but being mapped to a button rather than a combination of them, lowers the skill ceiling.
The main problem is that the game feels lifeless. Besides the drab world there's no grazing system nor ramps to use, no jump button, nor do you get points for air time. That, bundled with reduced traffic, the complete absence of non-client pedestrians, and the lack of voice acting, make for a monotonous experience.
Having fuel be a limited resource that requires players to drive through emblems to fill up was likely an attempt to add some variety. But, compared to the tipping system that made players drive dangerously and seek out ramps, looking for some emblems so that we can keep doing exactly what we were doing before isn't compelling.
There are taxi battle missions in order to spice things up. These missions have a taxi hounding you and crashing into you any time they can, making it hard to deliver your passengers, This was especially harrowing when it came to picking them up, as they actually had to walk to the car. But that was about it for the variety on offer in this game.
While Crazy Taxi doesn't have a lot of staying power, basically anyone who plays it is bound to try at least a few times to improve their score. This isn't something I see happening with STD06, as you'll probably pick it up for a few minutes, get tired, and proceed to ignore its existence unless it happens to be the only game you own.
Even after the patent expired in 2018 we haven't seen many clones surfacing - other than Chaos Taxi, I'm not aware of any serious attempt. Even Sega hasn't touched the franchise in 15 years - outside mobile versions and ports of the original game.
Perhaps Crazy Taxi was the kind of game that was meant to be a short-lived fad, or maybe it's pretty hard to make a good Crazy Taxi game. The patent meant we got fewer games, but who knows if they'd have been fun. Sometimes, less is truly more.
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