The arcade version of the game includes one level, and an additional "Original" stage was added for the console versions. Both levels are based in sunny coastal California locales, with steep hills and other strong similarities to San Francisco. North of the map, past the baseball stadium, a high rise city can be found for further adventure. For both levels, the player has a choice of four drivers and their cabs, each of whom has slightly different attributes: Axel is the well-balanced cab choice, BD Joe has the fastest floored speed but least controllability, Gena has the best acceleration/deceleration and braking and Gus has the heaviest cab, enabling him to drive well off-road and even onto most oncoming traffic.
The main objective of the game is to pick up customers and take them to their chosen destination as fast as possible. Along the way, money can be earned—the game is primarily a score attack title—by performing stunts such as the "Crazy Through"—near-misses with other vehicles; both risk and reward are higher when driving against the flow of traffic—and "Crazy Drift"—extended, barely-controlled skidding. It pays large dividends to avoid all other traffic in general. A really severe head on collision can send the cab up into the air, where it will come down facing the wrong direction. Hence, you lose precious time on your route.
The game is possibly most famous for its large green arrow that appears at the top of the screen once you pick up a customer. This arrow always points in the direction of your next destination, and you just have to drive in that direction and stop in the "stop zone". This might seem like cheating, however, with the complexity of the levels and streets, learning to navigate without the arrow would be very difficult and would take a long time. The arrow does not plot your route, but rather sends you in the right direction.
When the destination is reached, that customer's fare is added to the player's total money earned, while "Speedy", "Normal" or "Slow" ratings are awarded depending on how long the player took to complete the journey. If the player is too slow in reaching the objective and the customer's timer runs out, a "Bad" rating is given before even reaching the destination, and the customer jumps from the taxi. There is no penalty for a "Bad" rating, but time will have been wasted attempting to deliver this customer. However, there might be sufficient time available on the main clock for the player to pick up another passenger with hope to make up for their loss. On the arcade version, if a player earns a "Bad" rating, the next fare starts at $0.00.
For each level, one can play under different time conditions: three-minute, five-minute or ten-minute settings, or the "Arcade Rules" used in the original coin-op version of the game, also included in the home versions. In the three time-limited settings, play continues for the designated period of time, after which the cab automatically stops and no more points can be scored. Under Arcade Rules, the player starts with an initial time limit of around a minute, which can be extended through time bonuses earned for "Speedy" and "Normal" deliveries, as well as by making good use of whatever time is left over after making a delivery. Expert players, able to memorize the best route from pick-up to delivery, can thus continue playing for long periods of time – however, as time goes on, the "best" passengers will have been taken to their destinations, leaving fewer potential customers remaining. Thus, as the game continues, the challenge increases.
All versions, except the Windows version, are also notable for their soundtrack featuring Bad Religion and The Offspring.
Console versions of the game also feature the "Crazy Box", a set of minigames that features challenges such as stopping by hitting a pole, picking up and dropping off a number customers within time limits, bowling using the taxi as a ball, and popping giant balloons in a field. These minigames are meant to enhance one's skill at maneuvering the cab; in gameplay this skill will be rewarded by earning more money through "Crazy Throughs" and "Crazy Drifts"
In "Crazy Box" mode, newer challenges can be unlocked by clearing three horizontal or vertical rows. Among these 'unlockables' is a minigame where the player must drive through the winding lanes designed like bowling alleys, knocking down 'pins' as they drive. The player is awarded points for each knockdown, and Grand Slams for a 'strike'.
As well as generic destinations such as the city's police station, rail terminal and lookout point, passengers may also request to be taken to Pizza Hut, Tower Records, the FILA sportswear store, Levi's store or Kentucky Fried Chicken. There are also vans on the roads with the WOW! logo visible on the side. Each of these chains are modeled as a location in the game. Although this is one of the most prominent examples of product placement in video gaming history, it is generally looked upon relatively favorably amongst gamers, perhaps because it gives a sense of realism to the fictional city in the game.
All product placements were removed from the later PSP release, and replaced with generic store names, such as "Fast Food Chicken Restaurant."
In 2002, Strangelite ported the game to Microsoft Windows. The Windows version had a different soundtrack. It did not sell well and was eventually released as part of the xplosiv budget range. It also suffered from frame rate problems on faster PC's, with averages reaching 15FPS on the lowest settings.
The soundtrack for Crazy Taxi is composed entirely of punk rock music from the bands Bad Religion and The Offspring. The following list is for the Arcade, Dreamcast, PS2, and GameCube versions:
In the GameCube and PlayStation 2 versions there is a line in the song "Way Down The Line" that is altered.
The following list is for the Microsoft Windows version:
Used for the credits song.
Used for the character selection screen.
Uses the beginning of the song as a loop for the high score entry.