Yellow Taxi Goes Vroom delivers imaginative 3D platforming without a jump button

Yellow Taxi Goes Vroom
(Image credit: Panik Arcade)

I'm falling to my death again and I'm completely okay with it. It's hard not to smile while playing Yellow Taxi Goes Vroom, Italian micro-indie outfit Panik Arcade’s debut game. This automotive collectathon platformer is bright, loud and constantly riding a fine line between genius and idiocy, starting with its core concept: What if a platformer didn’t have a jump button?

It feels like an experimental game jam project from, replete with that slightly raw but exuberant vibe. While not a huge game (maybe around six hours to reach the ending, and then several more for post-game exploration and secret hunting), it feels just long enough to properly explore the concept, even if there’s the occasional rough edge and corner cut, like limited character animation and the meager story being delivered through still images and text narration.

As the title subtly hints, you play as a yellow taxi in this vaguely N64-styled collectathon: Vehicles notable for going vroom, but seldom seen jumping. All you’ve got are controls to accelerate, brake, turn left, turn right and dash, like a cute little arcade racer. A couple powerups aside (which are added to the world a la Mario’s Switch Palaces), that’s all you’ve got from start till credits roll. No jumping. So, off you drive, to ramp off things and collect shiny objects.

It’s a lovely little world to drive around: a vivid assortment of scenic islands, dense cityscapes, neon arcades and more abstract strangeness like the dreams of Morio, the legally distinct portly Italian creator of the Yellow Taxi. Levels fall into three main categories. There are ones dedicated to exploration at your own pace, ones with a ticking timer that you refill with pickups or by delivering people to their destinations Crazy Taxi style, and a couple stages (my least favorite, but over quickly enough) with fixed overhead views that experiment with mechanics like limited controls or even a little bit of stealth.

They’re all lively, bustling spaces full of wandering NPCs and moving parts that remind me a little bit of the Katamari games and their mad sight-gag dioramas. Each map is accompanied by a banger of a soundtrack too, not limiting itself to any one style or any kind of retro restrictions. Levels demanding faster movement are accompanied by high-BPM, propulsive numbers with a dash of Eurobeat, while more exploration-friendly levels channel a bit of Grant Kirkhope’s (Banjo Kazooie, etc.) style. A lot of the melodies are still bouncing around my head.

It’s not often I call ‘spoiler’ on basic game mechanics, but here we are. A lot of my fun with Yellow Taxi came from cracking the puzzle of how to move around its world, a process mostly involving trial, error and a few great Eureka moments. It’s a part of the game I found especially satisfying and smart, so rather than spoil it, I’ll just let you skip this part, if you’d rather jump in and work things out yourself. Spoilers below the video!

‘No jumping’ Is a bit of a lie, but Yellow Taxi keeps up the facade for a while as you search for convenient slopes and ramps to boost off in order to cross gaps. Then you discover you can get extra air-time by swerving hard as you hit a ramp’s edge, but that only gets you so far. The game constantly teases you with shiny coins and green cogs (the primary collectible needed to unlock more levels) in areas just within sight, but out of reach. The game eventually tells you the trick, but you’ll probably figure it out before then just by fumbling with the controls. You can jump. Kinda. Interrupting the charge-up on a dash (by hitting the button a second time) flips you on your roof, giving you a short bounce, but with little forward momentum. Enough to hop up low ledges, but there’s items in the sky, along high ledges, and even out of bounds on some levels, always tempting you further out.

Then you find you can cancel the charge by reversing for a high backflip. A proper jump!… just not forward. Then you figure out how to double-backflip! And side-flip! And now you’ve got almost a full platforming hero’s toolkit. Minus ‘jump forward’, that is. Even with this knowledge, the controls are still strange enough (again, it controls like an arcade driving game) to require some brain-rewiring, as you figure out how to chain flips, hops and ramp-jumps to get you the height and angles needed to reach each new collectible.

Spoilers end!

While it tickled my brain satisfyingly, I can see some people bouncing off Yellow Taxi before they get a feel for its movement. Another potentially divisive area is the humor—while never edgy, the rapid-fire goofs are crude in a way that would make a 10-year-old chuckle. No fart joke is too easy. One level is a whole world of dogs, absolutely littered with cartoon poop-swirls. There’s a gym full of vacuous muscle-bros who call each other ‘king’ and need taxi rides because they’ve never heard of leg day. 

The villain is a corporate invader named Alien Mosk selling tainted fuel to the people that causes their cars to explode. Oh, and his company? Tosla.

It’s seldom mean-spirited, so it’s easy to smile even when some jokes fall flat. Yes, you run over people all the time and they fly off with a cartoon scream, but they'll pop back to where they were standing just a couple seconds later. There’s a variety of dogs to pet (and drive around), skeletons that deliver terrible puns, and plenty of mechanical gags. Guy on the beach wants to be driven somewhere cooler? Take him under the water twenty feet in front. It’s endearingly goofy, with the game’s longest running gag coming in the form of a lawyer from the publisher turning up to deliver disclaimers around any referential jokes. Two identical copies of him appear at the entrance to Tosla’s HQ.

While a good time almost all the way through, Yellow Taxi has a few scratches on its paint. The physics can feel a little inconsistent at times, especially when scraping up against walls. The checkpointing is a little strange too, with special NPCs placed on lower floors to teleport you back to your last activated checkpoint if you fall from somewhere high—an odd choice, when a ‘reset’ button would have worked just as well.

But these were just momentary speedbumps, and for the most part I was bopping along to Taxi’s screwball antics start to finish. I plan on scouring its worlds for every hidden item and figuring out just how much further I can get without a jump button.

Dominic Tarason
Contributing Writer

The product of a wasted youth, wasted prime and getting into wasted middle age, Dominic Tarason is a freelance writer, occasional indie PR guy and professional techno-hermit seen in many strange corners of the internet and seldom in reality. Based deep in the Welsh hinterlands where no food delivery dares to go, videogames provide a gritty, realistic escape from the idyllic views and fresh country air. If you're looking for something new and potentially very weird to play, feel free to poke him on Twitter. He's almost sociable, most of the time.