The universe of good computer game ideas may be large, but it is nowhere infinite. Ingenious ideas don't grow on trees, but they are rather rare like pearls. So it is not surprising that programmers – and those who wish to become one – often fall back to trusted and tried concepts instead. When one's own creativity is added to it, the original hopefully turns into an original clone. In this gaming universe, one well known means of transport is Space Taxi, which inspired a number of clones.
The print magazine PC Action featured some freeware games on their cover DVD back in 2004. Among them was Airtaxi 2. This review covers the rather similar first part, just called Airtaxi, which dates back to 2001. So by now, it can almost be considered retro. Of course, Airtaxi is an unofficial Space Taxi clone. Both feature a thrust-based, floating means of transporting passengers which, considering inertia and obstacles, has to be guided towards landing platforms. Between those so-called pads, passengers are transported back and forth until an escape hatch opens at the top of the screen in order to proceed to the next level.
Different from the original, the Airtaxi doesn't need to be refueled, but in return, there are also no tips from the passengers. The levels are freely selectable and using an editor, they can be adapted according to one's needs. So the player is free to do whatever she wants. For casual players who want short episodes of flying a taxi, this may be right. Although more skilled players are addressed as well, since the challenge is mostly not crashing the vehicle anywhere in spite of tardy controls. The basic game features 15 levels which can be extended with further 5 through an add-on. Including the latter, the game offers three different basic settings: a forest made of gian trees, a wall-like structure and bricks with horror imagery, such as skulls and pentagrams. In the forest level, the text on the pads is hard to read, as a light font has been used on a light background. This is probably because the game is intended to show background graphics, but those were not visible in the version I reviewed.
On top of that, the game screen is mostly static. The only animation comes from the passengers waving a flag. The levels of the original Space Taxi also had different animated obstacles, such as balls or laser beams, which enriched the gameplay. Different from that, the main challenge in Airtaxi lies in maneuvering through narrow passages. The pixel-exact collision detection which mercilessly and instantly punishes each tiny touch kills many more nerves than necessary. Landing on a pad has to be performed so smoothly that by comparison, the complex landing of a Falcon 9 rocket on a floating platform in the middle of the Pacific ocean turns into child's play. Also, don't even think about retracting the landing gear too early, because otherwise, the Airtaxi will collide with the ground just due to gravity.
Fortunately, using the editor, you can change the levels so that at least collisions at too narrow or twisty passages can be mostly avoided. A nice soundtrack contributes to the entertainment. This little piece of music is really well done. On top of that, similar to the original, there are digitized speech samples; the waiting passengers are calling: "Hey, taxi".
Frequent taxi flyers do not receive the benefit of bonus miles, i.e. any sort of long-term motivation such as scores, highscores or extra levels are missing. The game is only intended for quick lunch break aerial trips. It may have been one of the major draws and contributions to the cult status of the original to challenge oneself to finish the complete game. This took quite a bit of skill and time. Though who can blame Airtaxi on this one? Certainly, the developer never had the intention to surpass the original.
In any case, the copied game concept is a bit like a handsome man: nothing can disfigure it. To keep with this metaphor: Airtaxi, in spite of my appreciation for free flying lessons, is not good enough for a place in my wardrobe, but maybe some die-hard Space Taxi junkies will have pity and save it from the bin.
Translated by Mr Creosote