Image via Panik Arcade.

Yellow Taxi Goes Vroom Just Gets It

How Do I Get Up There: The Game

As a glassy-eyed 30-year-old man old enough to remember the way an N64 cartridge smelled when you blew the dust out of it, I’m always at least a little interested when the indie scene goes full-tilt into itching my nostalgia. Sometimes it works out – what with your DUSKs and Pizza Towers, but rarely does the feat materialize with regard to the 3D platformer. Retro shooters are so universally easy to emulate that their Renaissance has spawned an entirely new genre of indie titles, but jumping around a 3D space isn’t just hard to make fun, it’s hard to innovate on very much.

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With 3D platformers, and 3D collectathon platformers, specifically, the results of indie studios are usually met with a more tepid response than their boomer shooter or 2D counterparts. A Hat In Time was a sort of breakthrough, but since then? I mean, there are good games to be sure. Great ones even. The problem is 3D collectathons are so niche and so specific to their era, with a lifespan of only two or three years, that nailing the atmosphere and innovating on the genre is no easy feat. But this new weird, wonderful game, Yellow Taxi Goes Vroom, is kind of doing both.

Image via Panik Arcade.

Yellow Taxi Goes Vroom has the look down well enough, what with its everything-came-from-a-low-poly-sphere models and pixel art textures. Things move and bounce and bend in delightfully uncanny ways, and the colors are eye-searingly saturated. But where it really counts is in the game feel and mechanics, and that’s where things go to 11.

As the game’s marketing loves to tell you: There’s no jump button. Your little taxi can drive around and zoom into ramps and other vaguely ramplike objects to get some air, but if there’s no oblique angles you better start hunting if you want to get elevated. Sounds annoying, right? It isn’t! That’s what’s so crazy – this obtuse form of exploration that feels so odd as to seem unintended becomes second nature. And it’s unlike any other platformer I’ve ever played.

Remember craning your figurative neck up at platforms in Banjo Kazooie and wondering to yourself how you’d ever get up there? Imagine that, but without the ability to jump. I’ve trekked halfway across the map just to get the elevation needed to begin such an ascent. Once your little taxi is a single pixel underneath an adjacent platform, it’s over. You’re going to have to go back and try again.

But trying again and again means you’re coming more to grips with the game’s movement. Then you realize you can “tech” some of its unique moves, like canceling out of your dash move for what I’m going to unceremoniously call a ‘kinda’ jump that can even be performed mid-air. But all of these moves begin with finding the right part of the environment as your anchor. If you don’t have a good ramp to begin an ascent from, all the movement tech in the world isn’t going to get you there. It’s sort of marrying exploration with platforming in a new way: by making the environment itself worth constant second glances and reconsideration, just in case there’s a new angle from which to try that tricky jump you’ve been stuck on.

Image via Panik Arcade.

It doesn’t always work – I’ve tried to get to a collectable the “wrong” way for far too long without realizing it, just because the world can’t be designed around something as simple as “Mario’s maximum jump length.” Because you can tech and dash at weird angles and half-cheat your movement, things that are maddeningly out of reach might be easier to get than you thought, and something you’ve been trying at for thirty minutes might just need you to peek around a corner for a better approach.

Still, mastering the movement of this freaky little game has been very intrinsically rewarding, just for the fact that I know it’ll make future levels far easier and repeat playthroughs more enjoyable. There’s no need to 100% things to finish the game, but there’s a lot of content to chew on, so I’ve really relished taking my time and bashing my hood against the wall.


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Author
David Morgan
David is a pediatric asthma researcher at Cincinnati Children's Hospital by day, and Prima Freelancer by night. He always finds time for the games he loves, and then some more to tell you all about them.