This is a curious one. I didn't play Space Taxi back in the day. In fact, not only did I not play it, I didn't even hear anything about it. I can honestly say I didn't know the game existed until a few years ago.
When I finally did play it, my first thought was, "Why am I just finding out about this game now?"
Space Taxi is old. Really old. In fact, it's celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. That's probably why I'd never heard of it... it was released way before I got my C64 and before I started reading computer magazines. That's a bit of a shame because I suspect Space Taxi passed most people by. I was still playing on my Atari 2600 at that point.
For those that did miss it, let me fill you in. Space Taxi sees you driving a taxi. In space. There, that was easy, wasn't it?
Ooooh, alright. I'll go into more detail. As a Space Taxi driver you have to pick up passengers and take them to their destinations. The quicker you do this, the bigger your fare. Later levels feature very complicated screen layouts with very difficult landing pads to touch down on, testing your driving/flying skills to their limit.
You have a choice of five shifts to work. Morning, day and night shifts represent easy, medium and hard difficulty levels, while the two 24-hour shifts make you play all the levels through, one straight through from 1 - 24 and one in a random order.
That's quite a range of options for a thirty-year old game. It's great, because it means you get to play the game however you want. Most games would just give you the 24 levels one after the other and be done with it. Here, you can practice levels in a convenient block before taking on the challenge of playing the game right through.
Space Taxi has some other nifty features that would certainly have been noteworthy in 1984. The first of those features is speech... and it has a LOT. Every passenger shouts "HEY, TAXI!" to summon your attention (just in case seeing someone beaming onto a landing pad doesn't grab your attention). Each passenger will then tell you where they want you to take them.
Speech in games was a bit of a novelty back then, but even moreso when it wasn't a gimmick. Space Taxi's speech serves its purpose very well, because split-seconds count if you want to get a high score. As soon as your fare announces his presence, the fee you will receive ticks down and if you don't ferry them to their destination on time, you get nowt. With that in mind, not having to look at the screen to read instructions saves you valuable time.
The other impressive feature is the use of gravity and inertia in the control method. Later games such as Thrust would get computer gamers more used to such subtleties (arcade gamers had, of course, wrestled with the concepts for some time), but Space Taxi had to be one of the first to use such nuances at home, so effectively.
To dismiss Space Taxi for its basic looks is a huge mistake. Its true beauty lies within, in the form of a hugely playable and challenging game. Anyone that picked it up back in the day would have probably played it for weeks without so much as a hint of boredom creeping in. It's not an obvious pick as a showcase for the C64, but it's a worthy one.