If Nintendo and Sega hadn’t been engaged in a dirty console war during the time Crazy Taxi was kicking off, 4-Color Taxi is what I imagine the series might have looked and played like if ported to the original GameBoy.
Played from a top-down view of a monochromatic city, you cruise around wildly as the world’s most desperate taxi driver, picking up passengers and dropping them off as quickly as humanly possible before your shift ends and it’s decided whether you’re valuable enough to be allowed to keep your job. The twist is that nobody knows or is willing to tell you exactly where to take them, giving you only a general idea of what direction you should be heading and letting you figure out the rest. It’s a fun change from the usual guiding arrow, though does become a bit of an issue in larger levels without any sort of map or landmarks to help you get a feel of the layout.
It doesn’t help that the whole game is shown in multiple shades of green or orange, which while an awesome aesthetic does mean the whole game sort of blurs together, making routing out paths in your head rather a challenge. More frustrating is that you are constantly accelerating, only ever slowing down if you run into a wall and even then having to wait for the game to realize it and allow you to reverse. I imagine 4-Color Taxi was designed like this so as to work better on mobile platforms, but it meant I was constantly crashing into things and having to take the long way around, as any sort of u-turn is all but impossible without sustaining significant damage.
I did get used to having to think several steps ahead of where I was so as to make sure I didn’t lock myself into the wrong road when the time limit was so tight, but it feels like an arbitrarily difficult choice that I’d have greatly prefered not be mandatory. What I couldn’t get used to unfortunately was the second set of levels, which switch to an orange color palate and introduce a swath of new mechanics to have to deal with such as hyper-accelerating paths or other cars to avoid. The jump in difficulty for these levels far exceeded anything enjoyable, and I found myself putting the game down more and more instead of rolling through levels as I had in the first half. It feels difficult for the sake of it, in a game that I don’t think needed to be substantially challenging to be fun.
4-Color Taxi is uneven and has some disappointing design decisions to be sure, though for every misstep it makes it’s still essentially exactly what it looks like, and if that sounds at all cool to you I think it’s worth looking into. It has a very unsurprising, nostalgic feel, being pretty much exactly what I expected and even if not perfect, for the price of a soda I couldn’t say I didn’t have some fun.