How weird are arcades?
No, listen, how weird are Scottish arcades?
There's something unique in the way illicit-feeling, mundanely 'adult' activities like bingo and slot machines are soundtracked by Daytona USA's indelible opening theme and crunch and thud of beat 'em up attract sequences, or of how the palm tree lined, perma-summer worlds of Outrun or Crazy Taxi offer only brief escape from the most likely dismal Scottish weather. Unfortunately, due in large part to increases in home console technology, many arcades seem to be committing less space to video games and games that would have once been arcade blockbusters like Mortal Kombat or Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds are sadly foregoing arcade releases completely as arcades appear to concentrate on a small variety of proven genres like racing and lightgun games.
While Sega were not the only video game company to dominate arcades through their last great gasp of the mid to late nineties, it's certainly hard to imagine an arcade that lacks the booming soundtrack of The House of the Dead or that has at least one wall dominated by one of myriad Sega racing games like Sega Rally or SCUD Race. It's for this reason we hope to concentrate on Sega arcade games for the time being.
Crazy Taxi was originally released in 1999 and was created by Sega's AM3 division. Crazy Taxi is perhaps one the most archetypal Sega games imaginable due to it's high-sugar, dayglo Californian aesthetic and its simply adorable pop-punk attitude. Casting the player as one of four selectable cab drivers, each with their own unique convertible taxi, players must find fares and drive them to their requested locations (including KFC and something people used to call Tower Records) while battling against a dwindling clock and a city full of traffic and convenient ramps. If the player manages to successfully drop off a fare, the player is given money and bonus time dependent upon their performance. Players can also perform stunts in order to increase their score, because apparently launching off ramps over a crowded intersection makes people more likely to tip their cab driver, although the best taxi driver I ever had played Slayer really loud and only asked if it was okay ten minutes into the journey (it was). None of Crazy Taxi's drivers are that cool, even Gus.
The cabinet we found in Portobello was in pretty good condition. The wheel, pedals and shift stick were all responsive, the sound was good enough to clearly hear the sound effects and Offspring/Bad Religion soundtrack and the screen wasn't suffering from any discolouration, ghosting or other ill effects. This particular cabinet was of the upright variety with the player provided with a narrow bench to perch on while playing. Although this set up might sound slightly uncomfortable, it's certainly conducive to the edge-of-your-seat pace of the game and completely unnoticeable when things get underway. I understand that sit-down cabinets and cabinets without the bench also exist, but I have yet to see one of these and would love to hear from anyone who has seen one.
While the thrill of playing Crazy Taxi arcades has perhaps been slightly diluted by ubiquitous ports and sequels on formats ranging from Game Boy Advance to Xbox Live Arcade, as well as the liberal reapplication of some of the game's ideas in titles like Grand Theft Auto III and Saint's Row, playing it in arcades does allow the visceral thrill of shunting the cabinet's gear stick around and slamming your foot down on the accelerator.
Please check out our video for a glimpse at some of the other Portobello arcade games we're going to be looking at. And also a police van.