Category Archives: Racing

Podcast 22: Crazy Taxi (#100)

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Racing, Arcade, Sandbox Released: 1999 Developer: Hitmaker

Here at 101 Video Game Towers we often enjoy games that somehow turn mundane activities into fun adventures. Yes, you may have a good time being a space fighter pilot, or the heroic saviour of a post apocalyptic wasteland, or even a low-level gangster in the 1980s clubbing someone round the head with a baseball bat, but it can also be just as satisfying walking a dog, fishing or running a railway business.

Despite this fine pedigree there must have been some consternation when, during a meeting at Hitmaker HQ, the Big Boss pointed with his fat cigar at a lowly, nervous looking  programmer and demanded he make a game that recreates the thrills and spills of driving a taxi.

The advertising was very subtle.

Still, they don’t call Hitmaker ‘Hitmaker’ for nothing. They know how to make hits. In case you haven’t noticed it’s literally their name. Hitmaker… a maker of hits. If they didn’t know how to make hits their name would look stupid and boastful. Which it certainly isn’t. Though they did change it a couple of years ago to Sega AM3 which suggests they tired of putting so much pressure on themselves and instead became extremely early risers.

Anyway, all it took to turn mini-cabbing into a successful game was to add a bit of *pause* ‘Crazy’ (raise eyebrow when reading the word ‘Crazy’).

A taxi flying into the air? How crazy.

Welcome to the 22nd 101 Video Games Podcast! Listen as Ian and Lewis discuss Crazy Taxi on the Dreamcast, the disappearance of Tower Records, how pretty much anyone can’t help but like Offspring while playing this game even if they don’t usually, what a British version of the game would be like and once again reminisce about wasting time at university.

So, as someone with some kind of throat problem once said, ‘Hey, Hey, Hey its time for Crazy Taxi!’

Click below to listen directly through this site:

Or download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

Podcast 22 Crazy Taxi

OR subscribe to our podcasts through iTunes by clicking the link below:

In many ways Gena is Ian's perfect woman - beautiful, cool and, most importantly, she can drive.

Ian & Lewis

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under 1999, Arcade, Dreamcast, Hitmaker, Podcast, Racing, Sandbox Game

#82: Burnout 3: Takedown

Format: Playstation 2 Genre:Racing Released: 2004 Developer: Criterion Games

Now we’re getting near to the end of our list of 101 games, a few people have been asking me whether I’m running out of games to talk about. Far from it – in fact the tricky part is trying to work out which games to leave out. Between us we’ve got a list of about 45 ‘possibles’ for inclusion, so over half of them won’t make it past the audition.

From the very beginning though, Burnout 3 was a definite for the list. In fact, I even mentioned it on the first ever post as one of the ‘two or three [racing games] that I’ve really enjoyed” and that “rank up there as some of my favourite game experiences”. Nothing has changed in the two and a half years since I wrote that post: Burnout 3 is still one of my favourite racing games of all time. (Blimey, two and a half years, have we really been writing this blog for that long? It was only meant to take a year!)

As the subtitle suggests, the key gameplay element of Burnout 3 is ‘takedowns’ – ramming other cars off the road to earn ‘boost’. Whereas the first two games in the series put more emphasis on other ways of earning boost, like powersliding and driving on the wrong side of the road, Burnout 3 focused firmly on the takedown mechanic, and was a helluva lot more fun as a result.

In Burnout 1, filling your boost meter was an arduous task, but Burnout 3 was happy to throw boost at you like the US government throwing money at an ailing investment bank. This meant that every race whipped by at blinding speed as a sucession of nail-biting bumper-to-windscreen encounters with rival cars – and in the brilliant ‘Road Rage’ game mode, the game abandoned all pretence of racing entirely, instead encouraging you to take out as many opponents as possible within the time limit.

However, it’s the inspired inclusion of ‘aftertouch’ that really makes this game. Whenever your car gets ‘taken out’, the pounding soundtrack is replaced by an insistent heartbeat and the game switches to slow motion as your car pirouettes through the air. But, brilliantly, you still have the power to move your car – ever so slightly – while it’s spinning across the road, giving you the ability to gently nudge the wrecked chassis directly into path of your oncoming rivals, or even in front of the git who took you out in the first place.

Aftertouch came into its own in the utterly fantastic Crash Mode, where the aim was to cause as big a pile-up as possible. Playing Crash Mode with a bunch of mates was good for hours of entertainment – and interestingly, it’s one of the few multiplayer games I can think of (certainly in the pre-Wii era) where my female friends enjoyed playing just as much as the guys did.

Who’d have thought the gender divide could be bridged by multi-lane car crashes?

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.gamefaqs.com)

Leave a comment

Filed under 2004, Criterion Games, Playstation 2, Racing

#73: Gran Turismo

Format: Playstation Genre: Racing Released: 1998 Developer: Polyphony Digital

Last month, after a year of carefully preparing the case for why we should upgrade to high definition, I finally persuaded my girlfriend that we definitely,  definitely needed an HDTV. She was a little sceptical at first, but after we’d watched a couple of World Cup matches in glorious HD she agreed that the new telly was a huge improvement over our old (nay, ancient) 32-inch CRT TV (which incidentally was so heavy that it bent the shelf we had it on).

However, it was only when I connected up my Xbox 360 to our spangly new TV that this welcome new addition to our flat began to show its true colours. Flipping over the settings on my Xbox from standard definition to 1080p was an absolute revelation – I swear a chorus of angels struck up outside the window as heavenly light played across the screen and angelic trumpets heralded the dawn of a new era. It was like the scales had fallen from my eyes and I was seeing the true colours of the world for the first time. All those fuzzy edges I’d taken for granted suddenly disappeared, to be replaced by an image as crisp as a freshly pressed shirt manufactured by Walker’s. Truly, ’twas an awesome sight.

I experienced a similar revelation when I played Gran Turismo for the first time: I’d already been wowed by Ridge Racer and its ilk, but GT was in a class all of its own. At the time, I remember watching the GT replays with my jaw on the floor, astonished that the innocent little grey box under my telly was pumping out photo-realistic graphics that were barely distinguishable from watching racing IN REAL LIFE. Of course, a quick glance at the screenshot above proves that this clearly isn’t the case, but at the time it was simply amazing, and leaps and bounds ahead of anything else out there.

I’ve never been a huge fan of driving games, but I was absolutely hooked on Gran Turismo, and the ability to collect cars and tune them up was the clincher. In fact, GT was more like an RPG in which hunting for rare swords was replaced by hunting for rare cars, experience and levelling up was replaced by tuning engines, and grinding through low-level enemies was replaced by grinding through the lower circuits. Looking back, it feels like about half of my time playing GT was spent on those first few circuits, completing the same courses again and again to raise enough money for some new addition to my favourite car. But somehow it was still fun.

What I loved about the tuning system was that the modifications you made had a real effect on the way the car drove, and it was easily possible to overtune a car to the extent that it was practically undriveable. I remember one time I tuned my beloved Subaru Impreza to the point where the acceleration was so quick and the suspension was so stiff that it took off every time it went over the slightest bump, which meant I spent most of my laps ricocheting off cliff faces and ripping through grass, whooping like an American GI dishing out nylons and chewing gum to sexually repressed British housewives. And I don’t whoop very often, so this game was definitely doing something right.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.gamefaqs.com.)

2 Comments

Filed under 1998, Playstation, Polyphony Digital, Racing

#66: Emergency Call Ambulance

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Racing Released: 1999 Developer: Sega

Failing to complete a level in most arcade racing games results in little more than the inconvenience of having to insert another credit. But failing to complete the first level of Emergency Call Ambulance results in nothing less than the death of a ten-year-old child called Jack.

In what has to be one of the most macabre game set-ups ever, this coin-op sees you take the wheel of a Chicago ambulance with the aim of rushing various patients to hospital without them expiring en route. A heart-rate monitor at the top of the screen reveals the patient’s condition, and a little inset in the top right shows you what’s going on in the back of the ambulance. Take a corner too wildly or collide with another vehicle and the patient’s condition worsens – take too many hits and they kick the bucket.

Unfortunately, the floaty handling of the ambulance combined with the tight time limit and abundance of other road users means that it’s almost impossible to actually get the patient to hospital without them moving on to a better place. In fact, this game has to rank as one of the hardest driving games of all time – in the many, many times I’ve played it, I’ve never once got onto the second level. (Although perhaps that says more about my driving skills than anything else.)

It’s almost heartbreaking to hear the long ‘beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep’ as the heart-rate monitor flatlines and you know you’ve failed to save Jack yet again, but there’s something compelling about the game that kept me coming back time after time.

“If only I hadn’t hit that car on the last corner… I know I can save him this time. Don’t worry Jack, I’m coming!” [Inserts coin]

Of course, I’m kidding myself – if I really cared about Jack I’d leave the machine well alone and let someone a bit more skilled in the driving department deliver him safely to hospital.

Still, the fatal [no pun intended] allure of this game is that it gives you the opportunity to be a hero, and how many driving games can you say that about? That’s what makes it so addictive – every driving game from Gran Turismo to Pole Position gives you the opportunity to win a championship, but how many driving games give you the chance to save a life?

Or, in this case, cause the repeated death of a critically injured child through reckless driving.

In many ways I’m glad I never got past the first level; apparently a later level sees you transporting a badly burned woman who’s pregnant with triplets… It’s bad enough my conscience has to deal with the death of a ten-year-old – I’m not sure I could deal with the deaths of three unborn children too.

(I apologise in advance for the poor quality of the video clip by the way – it was the only one I could find on YouTube…)

Lewis

(Images from The Killer List Of Video Games: http://www.arcade-museum.com/)

Leave a comment

Filed under 1999, Coin-Op, Racing, Sega

#56: Out Run

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Racing Released: 1986 Developer: Sega (AM2)

Back in the very first post on this blog, I said that all racing games before about the mid-nineties were “pretty rubbish”. I stand by that comment, but with two obvious exceptions: Chase HQ, which we’ve already covered, and the mighty mighty Out Run.

Out Run was amazing. The graphics were phenomenal (for the time), and it had a fantastic sense of speed – the gorgeous scenery whipped by you at an eyeball-spinning rate. Add in the wonderful music (which I’ll come back to in a minute) and you end up with one of the best arcade games of all time. And it was way ahead of its time too – things like branching levels were pretty much unheard of in games in 1986, and even the behind-the-driver viewpoint was a new and exciting concept (it had been pioneered by Pole Position in 1982, but by 1986 had only been used in a handful of games – many racing games still had a top-down view).

Blue skies - check. Palm trees - check. Ferrari - check. Yep, definitely Out Run.

The whole thing had a kind of holiday feel to it (which was probably helped by the fact that I mostly played it in beach-front arcades whilst on holiday with my parents). There you were in your Ferrari Testarossa, cruising along sun-drenched highways with an unnamed blonde woman at your side and not a care in the world… except the odd Volkswagen Beetle and generic truck of course, which had a nasty habit of getting right in your way at a crucial moment and triggering a spectacular crash.

I’ve got to admit though, watching the smug git of a driver get totalled was a source of secret satisfaction to me, even if it meant a Game Over screen. He was obviously a smug git – I mean, he had a Ferrari.

Thankfully, despite what the map screen suggests, not all corners in the game were at right angles.

Out Run‘s graphics may have been astounding, but its crowning achievement was without doubt its music. The game gave you the unique option to choose which background track you’d like before you started the race, and all four tunes were absolutely brilliant. My personal favourite was ‘Magical Sound Shower’, which is still as intensely catchy today as it was nearly 25 years ago (scroll down the page to have a listen). It’s a real tribute to Sega’s sound engineers that they were able to come up with such infectious tunes with the limited technology available to them.

Yeah, 'Passing Breeze' is good, but let's face it, it's no 'Magical Sound Shower'.

There are very few games that stand the test of time. The games industry moves at such a blistering pace that games can look horribly dated within a couple of years, but there’s something about Out Run that means it still looks fresh today. Maybe it’s the eternally blue skies so beloved of the designers at AM2… whatever it is, Out Run remains a stone-cold classic that reigned supreme in the arcades right up until the 3D big boys (Ridge Racer, Daytona) came knocking at the door in the nineties.

But then again, Ridge Racer didn’t have ‘Magical Sound Shower’…

And as a special treat, here’s the legendary S.S.T. Band (Sega Sound Team Band) performing ‘Magical Sound Shower’:

Lewis

1 Comment

Filed under 1986, Coin-Op, Racing, Sega

#52: Wipeout 2097

Format: Playstation Genre: Racing Released: 1996 Developer: Psygnosis

This is a kind of an embarrassing thing to admit now, but when I first played Wipeout 2097 it seemed one of the most achingly cool things I had ever seen. But I bet many of you felt the same way when you first played it back in the heady days of 1996/97.

The original Wipeout game was a landmark release for the Playstation. It was the first non-Japanese game for the console. It was amazingly popular, going to number 1 in all format charts. Most importantly though, it was a game that was not for children. It was squarely aimed at an older, fashionable, ‘buying the latest Chemical Brothers album and clubbing at weekends’ audience. Wipeout was developed with that kind of person in mind. It was even promoted in nightclubs! Imagine!

Nowadays of course we’re used to video games aiming for such markets, but back then, along with Playstation’s whole marketing strategy, it felt like a breath of fresh idea and that video games were finally growing up. Wipeout 2097 stuck to the same formula. Of course in hindsight some of those ads and games now look painfully adolescent and end up looking faintly childish, but hey, in 1996 I was an adolescent and easily impressed.

In 1996 we were enjoying the height of Britpop, TFI Friday was allowing us to pretend we were hanging out in a showbiz pub with Danny Baker, we had a young, fashionable, handsome man called Tony Blair who was almost certainly going to be Prime Minister next year and the Playstation had established itself firmly as part of UK youth and popular culture, with Wipeout 2097 as the jewel in its trendy crown. If you wanted an image to symbolise the 90s, it would be a pre-election victory Tony Blair playing 2097 against Ginger Spice in her Union Jack dress, while Chris Evans and Liam Gallagher look on, downing pints.

The cars ran on blue future power.

It had a soundtrack featuring artists like Orbital, The Prodigy, Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers and many more. You could even pop the game CD into a normal player and just listen to the music. Gosh it was cool.

The game itself was pretty fun too. 2097 was a definite improvement on the first game. The cars handled so much better and there was a weight to the weapons and cars which didn’t really exist in the first one. The courses were crazier and graphics much more impressive. And you could actually destroy other racers. Hah!

Although 2097 was also available on the Sega Saturn and PC it was seen firmly as a Playstation game. Indeed 2097, along with many other games, showed the graphical limitations of the Saturn and helped to seal its tragic, but deserved, fate.

Even though I’m no longer a teenager, not so easily impressed and can recognise cynical marketing campaigns when I see them, there is still part of me that thinks you can’t get any more cooler than the beginning of a race in Wipeout 2097, Firestarter pounding on the sound track and the robot voice counting down the start ‘3… 2… 1… GO’.

Ian

A Wipeout 2097 t-shirt. No, I didn't own it. Even I wasn't that taken in by the marketing.

3 Comments

Filed under 1996, Playstation, Psygnosis, Racing

#29: Super Mario Kart

Format: Super NES Genre: Racing Released: 1993 Developer: Nintendo

I don’t think I really need to say much about this one, do I? It’s Mario Kart, everyone’s played it, the Super NES version is the best. End of post.

super_mario_kart_box

Although having said that, I quite enjoyed the GameCube version… and one thing that the later versions of Mario Kart had that the original didn’t was a four-player mode, which seems so essential to the game that it’s almost inconceivable that it wasn’t in there from the start. Anyone remember Street Racer? It was one of the first Mario Kart clones, and its big claim to fame was that it featured a four-player mode, but in almost every other respect it was identical to Mario Kart, albeit significantly more ropey. It sticks out in my mind for having some of the worst character designs I’ve ever seen, including ‘Biff’ (‘a 19 year old typical school bully figure from America’) and ‘Surf Sister’ (‘a young Australian girl with a degree in mechanics’). It’s enough to make you weep.

super mario kart water

Anyway, the main reason that Super Mario Kart is The Best VersionTM is that the multiplayer was perfectly pitched. The Balloon Battle fights were nail-biting affairs that hinged on pixel-perfect deployment of the torpedo-like green shell combined with sheer panic as your opponent unleashed the dreaded Red Shell of Doom. Later versions were a lot more forgiving and the arenas (particularly on the N64 version) were much too large, which meant that a lot of the tension was swept away. As much as I love the GameCube version, the Battle Mode was – dare I say it – actually quite dull (although the Racing Mode was excellent).

super mario kart two player

Speaking of racing, the single-player mode of Super Mario Kart was arguably its weakest link. Perhaps unfairly, I basically saw it as necessary chore to be endured to unlock the multiplayer tracks – let’s face it, racing against the computer will never even come close to racing against friends. However, special mention has to go to the Ghost Valley and Rainbow Road tracks, which are some of the best-designed tracks to have ever been etched onto silicon. Rainbow Road in particular has a way of dragging you back for one more go, even though it’s teeth-grindingly difficult – I think it taps into the inner masochist hidden inside all lifelong gamers.

super mario kart donut land

I’m sure everyone has their favourite version of Mario Kart, but for me the first one will always be the best, and I’m sure almost everyone of my generation will agree with me. I mean, just watch the video below: it’s gaming perfection. All hail Mode 7.

Lewis

5 Comments

Filed under 1993, Nintendo, Racing, Super NES