Day 158: Astro Taxi 2

Posted: 2011/04/16 in Indie Games

I’m purchasing an Xbox Live Indie Game (XBLIG) every day, seeking out the quality titles that got lost in the shuffle and are not well represented in the top 50 lists on the Xbox Dashboard. Today is day #158, and today’s game is “Astro Taxi 2”.

Astro Taxi 2’s production values are lower than most games reviewed on WMD, but it has something going for it that makes up for that and more: compelling gameplay. Astro Taxi 2’s retro gameplay is decent in singleplayer, but it’s even better in multiplayer.

First, from the developer (Hoelkosoft):

“Astro Taxi 2 is a 2D Flying game which takes you into the year 2061 where you are the first Astro Taxi Pilot. Bring all your passengers to their destinations and prove that travelling with an Astro Taxi is the fastest and most secure possibility to travel. Play the new duel mode and beat your friends or play the party mode with up to 8 Players and be the king of your Astro Taxi 2 party.”

One of my favourite games on the Commodore 64 back in the day was Space Taxi, and Astro Taxi 2 is not hiding the inspiration that game provided (“Astro Taxi” being about as close to “Space Taxi” as you can be without actually infringing on its trademark, if its trademark is still registered 27 years later).

The core gameplay of both spaceborne Taxi games has you landing on platforms to pick up fares. In Astro Taxi 2, you move with the left thumbstick and engage your landing gear with either the “B” button or by pressing in the right thumbstick (for those who prefer never to take their hands off the sticks). That’s the extent of the game’s controls, so it’s the epitome of a pick-up-and-play game. There are other things to consider though: once you engage your landing gear (necessary to pick up a fare) you lose your ability to thrust to the left and right, you only have the ability to thrust up (to slow your descent). It’s important to make sure you have the right amount of momentum to land on the platform, or to have no lateral momentum and be right above the platform, before engaging your landing gear. Astro Taxi 2 is more forgiving than Space Taxi in where you land on the platform (in Space Taxi, land too close to the would-be passenger and they would march off in disgust, whereas Astro Taxi 2 lets you land anywhere), and the need to refuel has also been removed from the newer game. Both games penalise you by turning your taxi into a flaming wreck if you land too quickly. Astro Taxi 2’s simplistic presentation does have a few cute touches, such as in-game billboard ads for the developer’s other games released on the indie games channel.

I don’t review clones of games, but I’m happy to purchase and review a game that takes an idea, runs with it, and makes it better, and Astro Taxi 2 does just that by adding competitive local multiplayer (for two players simultaneously, and up to 8 players in a round-robin). This is a feature that I always wished for when playing Crazy Taxi, a “Crazy Dispatch” multiplayer mode where cabs raced each other for fares. Astro Taxi 2 gives us a taste of what that might be like. It’s been said that there’s no such thing as a bad multiplayer game, as the competition and/or camaraderie it fosters is itself enjoyable without regard to the game, but Astro Taxi 2 offers an intriguing limitation: race too fast and you’ll likely crash, too slow and you’ll likely lose.

The obvious similarities between the two games, but with at least one key feature added and some other gameplay elements modified, makes the game seem more like an homage than a copy. Astro Taxi 2 will not win any presentation awards, but there’s something compelling about the simplistic gameplay (especially in multiplayer). 80 Microsoft Points lets you relive, or experience for the first time, a game that’s simple and enjoyable and that I found I came back to repeatedly throughout the day despite already having played more than enough for doing today’s review.

Note, there was a first Astro Taxi, of which the reviewed game is a sequel. “Astro Taxi” was a singleplayer-only affair, but for those who enjoy the solo gameplay for another 80 Microsoft Points you can get 30 more levels. If that weren’t enough, “Xmas Taxi” adds yet another 24 levels, these all Christmas themed, including a Santa hat for the taxi itself. However, if you choose to purchase only one then the local multiplayer modes make Astro Taxi 2 the definitive one and the one I am recommending in this review.

Click here to download “Astro Taxi 2”, and then please come back after playing to rate the game.



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Comments
  1. You can imagine my surprise, after purchasing the game today, to discover that there’s an official Space Taxi 2 sequel that was released in 2004, with the participation of the original game’s author: http://www.twilightgames.com/spacetaxi/spacetaxi_info.htm

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