Sunday, 8 December 2013

Gravity Games #3

Space Taxi (1984)
By: John F. Kutcher / Muse Software Genre: Action Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Commodore 64 First Day Score: $182.77
Also Available For: Amiga


One of my favourite games in my early days of Dreamcast ownership was the splendid Crazy Taxi. I bought it on launch day and spent countless hours scooting largely ungrateful oafs around the various locales the game-world offered. I remember thinking what a simple-yet-addictive idea it was and was surprised it hadn't been done before. It turns out, however, that it had been done before - quite a long time before, in fact. Indeed, I was recently made aware of this unusual title released way back in the early years of the C64 which is kind of the same thing. But not in 3D, obviously. And the fact that it's set in space. And that you 'drive' a flying taxi. Apart from that it's the same game! Almost.

The second 'easy' stage - The Beach...
It's actually a side-viewed game which takes place over 24 flick-screen stages which are divided equally over three difficulty levels - Morning Shift (beginner), Day Shift (intermediate), and Night Shift (expert). Each screen consists of several numbered platforms with various obstacles and hazards around them. Upon starting the game a passenger will materialise on one of the platforms. Once you've manoeuvered your taxi over to him using its four thrusters, you need to lower the landing gear, guide it down gently, let him climb aboard, and he'll then tell you to which of the other platforms he wants to go. Once you've visited each platform at least once, the next passenger will ask you to go 'up please' which allows you through the now-unlocked portal thingy to the next screen where the same job awaits! There are of course a few things that make the going a little trickier.

The pesky falling stars here are deadly...
If your taxi touches any part of the scenery you'll obviously lose a life and you can lose customers if you touch them or land on top of them too. Your taxi also has limited fuel. Some screens have an 'F' platform which refuels it - it's odd they're not on every screen really, but your supplies last much longer on the screens without one. There are time-limits as well - one starts running down as soon as a fare appears, giving you limited time to collect him, and the other starts running down once he's aboard meaning you can't hang around while ferrying him either. Both are represented by money and contribute toward your overall score at the end of your 'shift' or, as is more likely, upon game over. If you do manage to finish all the screens you'll then be treated to a special bonus 25th screen but it's not likely too many players will make it that far.

A narrow cavern AND control-messing towers...
Not only do the stages get more and more intricate and need some very precise flying, but there are also some hazards such as stars falling from the sky, balls bouncing around or being fired, radar towers that interfere with your controls, moving platforms, and several other things which all make the going much tougher. On the plus side, this is only fairly loosely a 'gravity' game as the gravity effect isn't really very strong (but it is there), although there is a stage with a black hole which ups the gravity factor a tad! Whether this is a 'real' gravity game or not is largely irrelevant though; my main concern was simply whether it was any good. To determine that, the first thing to look at with this type of game is the controls, and I thought there was a problem.

This stage 'grows' new platforms as you play!
At first anyway. I kept crashing when trying to pick up passengers, you see, but it turns out deploying the landing gear cuts out two of the thrusters. Ooops! Things are therefore faultless in that regard and the graphics aren't bad either, for such an early game at least. The backgrounds are all black but stages are well designed and nicely coloured. The thing that Space Taxi was most famous for, though, was its sound. There little music - just a couple of jingles - and few effects, but there is some speech - a real rarity for the day. All of it is spoken by your passengers - they shout to hail you, tell you where they want to go, and are polite enough to thank you too. There are even several different pitches of voice used to indicate a variety of customers!

Not the best looking stage but it's good fun :)
It must've sounded amazing in its day, although obviously the quality is a bit ropey these days so I was pleased to find it's certainly not the only reason to play this rather unusual game. Believe it or not, I had nearly as much fun playing this as I did Crazy Taxi on my DC. The first stage has a very appropriate name - Short n Sweet - but it's immediately enjoyable and the difficulty curve is superbly graded, gradually introducing more detailed screens with smaller gaps and passageways to navigate, as well as the hazards of course. The stages do get tough but they're varied, appealing, and hold a good few surprises too! It might sound strange if you haven't played this game before - it is after all a simple, slightly obscure title from its host system's early years, but Space Taxi could well be among my favourite C64 games now.

RKS Score: 8/10

Special Note: Thanks to Red Parsley Twitter follower, trickman, for bringing this splendid little game to my attention!
 

4 comments:

  1. I loved this game. It is very basic but the controls are spot on and is sooo addictive.

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  2. Yep, agreed on both counts. I'd never even heard of it until a few weeks ago but I sure glad Mr. Trickman mentioned it to me :)

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  3. I don't know about the game but I think you're are awesome

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  4. Thank you dearest, you are awesome too :)

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