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Monday, August 8, 2022

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Smashing Drive is an uncomfortable but memorable ride

Smashing Drive was one of those games that tricked me in my younger days. The cover makes it looks like a more outrageous Crazy Taxi, but it’s absolutely not. Whereas Crazy Taxi was a game about picking up and delivering fares in the shortest amount of time possible, Smashing Drive just requires you to get to the end of a route before time expires.

I’m not certain the deception was intended. The developers seem to suggest it was a coincidence. Regardless, I was disappointed the first time I played it back when I was a young teen. Despite that sting, it sat in my brain for all these years. There’s something mesmerizing and memorable about Smashing Drive, like watching a circus train derail. Your brain knows you should be horrified, but it just can’t look away from all those dismembered floppy shoes.

Smashing Drive on the Sidewalk

There’s not really that much “taxi” in the concept of Smashing Drive. There’s some subtle indication that you picked up a fare and are delivering them to their destination, but they never really show their face. You are also paid in points for how quickly you deliver them, but it’s just a simple scoring system. Technically, Smashing Drive is a follow-up to another arcade game called Radikal Bikers, in which you delivered pizza on a bike. The traffic behavior and the transportation occupation itself are where the similarities end, however.

I guess the whole yellow cab thing is just an excuse to have you drive recklessly through New York City. To quote Futurama, “No one drove in New York. There was too much traffic.” Strangely, your cab looks sort of retro-futuristic when none of the other cars do. It’s like you’re driving some hardened cab designed to force its way through the congested streets. Then you pick up some of the power-ups and that illusion is made complete.

There are buzz-saws that let you rip into shortcuts, turbo boosters, glider wings, a cow-catcher, monster truck tires, and loudspeakers that just clear everyone out in front of you. Interestingly, a lot of the pickups are situational, you need them to get through certain areas with ease. Other times, they enable you to take shortcuts. What it comes down to is incorporating them into the fastest possible route which is, admittedly kind of enjoyable.

Smashing Drive Fiery Shortcut

What isn’t enjoyable is how slowly you drive. I don’t even mean that the sense of speed is sluggish, your top speed is really about 62MPH. It’s a bit strange for such an over-the-top game to crawl along like this. To be fair, it helps you watch out for traffic, of which there’s an abundance, and you can respond more readily to the sighting of an open shortcut. Adding to this, hitting a wall isn’t even an inconvenience. There’s no real grinding against barriers, you just sort of glide alongside them. Considering some of the shortcuts are narrow and winding, it’s helpful that you aren’t harshly punished for touching a wall. It’s just weird to see in any kind of driving game.

The least forgiving part is the traffic. Getting through gridlock slows you down, so it heavily incentivizes finding power-ups and shortcuts. Your cab takes damage from hitting other cars without protection, but I don’t think I ever fully wrecked my cab. You have a competitor driving with you, but I’m not sure it’s even necessary to beat them to the finish. I’m uncertain because, after a point, I forgot that they even existed. They take damage, too, but no matter how much I beat on the other cab, I couldn’t take him out. They seem largely superficial.

Smashing Drive Cow Catcher

What’s mesmerizing about Smashing Drive is how there’s a bizarre undercurrent to the whole thing. Unless you’re driving on the road, you’re constantly being assaulted by its bright visuals. You drive through a burning building, jump across rooftops, then suddenly you chase King Kong up the side of the Empire State Building. It’s a good fit for arcades because it’s a garish and eyecatching game. Something that beckons you to inject your quarter.

You can also tell it was built for arcades because the soundtrack is obnoxious and excruciating. Three of the four routes you take have a single track that plays on repeat, and maybe that would be fine alongside the din of a quarter hole. However, when you can clearly hear it repeating incessantly, it just drills into your skull. They’re all very short, so you’re subjected to hearing them loop and loop and loop. Their asinine lyrics just beat you over the head. “Stay on the sidewalk, Grandma?” Don’t tell her that, that’s usually where I’m driving.

Smashing Drive King Kong

I wouldn’t really try and convince you that Smashing Drive is a good game. I mean, I chose it for my Kusoge column, so that should tell you all you need to know. It’s just the sort of Kusoge that I think is worth playing. Getting through its four routes took me maybe 45 minutes, so you’d be out the amount of time it takes to warm up a pot pie in the oven. Maybe just make sure to turn down the music. If you’re still down for more after you finish the fourth route, there are high scores to achieve by optimizing your routes, and bonus stages for reaching a certain score threshold in three of the routes.

There’s just a dream-like quality that Smashing Drive presents, and after the first few tracks, it’s hard to look away from. The destruction, the strange and unique shortcuts, the loose mechanics all compile into something indescribably strange. It caps off in the “Dusk and Wired” route, which takes you from midnight to morning, then you drive up the Statue of Liberty and your ultimate victory. It’s a lot.

So, while it’s kind of a crappy game, I really couldn’t think of anything that compares to Smashing Drive. It urgently wants to entertain and will do almost anything to grab your attention. It reminds me a bit of Cruis’n Blast with its garish visuals and goofy inclusions. For that matter, I wouldn’t say no to a modernized take on Smashing Drive. I say that about a lot of games, but I don’t remember the last time I said, “This is awful, can I have some more?”

For previous Weekly Kusoge, check this link!

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