Smashing Drive is Namco's arcade-to-home translation of a simplistic racing game that casts you as a cabbie trying to score big bucks in bustling New York City. What superficially keeps Smashing Drive from being just another Crazy Taxi clone is your checker cab's ability to pick up a variety of useful yet outrageous power-ups. Actually, Smashing Drive plays more like a standard racing game than like Crazy Taxi. You don't pick up fares, but instead you will be challenged to race through checkpoints in an effort to add seconds to your ticking clock, beat your rival, and top the best overall score. That all sounds fine, but Smashing Drive has virtually no lasting value whatsoever and just isn't much fun to play even as long as it lasts--that is to say, the new Xbox version essentially shares all the failings displayed in the GameCube port released some weeks ago.
Smashing Drive includes three main modes of play: arcade, survival, and two-player. The arcade mode is the standard game in which you race against just one computer-controlled cabbie, in three different levels and their three subroutes, picking up such items as the turbo boost, 4x4 tires, glider wings, and the crash bumper. There are three shifts to play through, corresponding with the easy, medium, and hard difficulties. Playing through each of the shifts and finding all of the shortcuts is relatively simple if you have any experience with racing games, and it is eased greatly by the game's infinite continues. Beating all three of the standard courses can be done in about an hour, which unlocks the final bonus stage, adding up to an extremely short-lived single-player experience.
You can then attempt the survival mode, which is identical to the arcade mode except that the car damage will end your current run instead of simply leaving you as a limping wreck. The head-to-head mode lets you and a friend challenge each other, which can be slightly more entertaining than facing the computer-controlled cabbie if you can find a friend patient enough to play. At any rate, the game doesn't seem very well designed for two players, as there is generally just one best route to take, and the lead player will usually end up nabbing all of the power-ups. All things considered, Smashing Drive offers at the most a single afternoon's worth of entertainment before most players will feel as though it's overstayed its welcome.
Smashing Drive's visuals are jam-packed with movement but otherwise none too impressive. While there's a lot of variety to the brief levels, there's not much here that draws you visually--everything seems flat and hollow, and the cars and pedestrians all look blocky. However, you'll be able to find many hidden risky routes or shortcuts. You can race straight up the side of buildings, peel out across the top of passenger jets on an airstrip, and even fly off ramps over passing ferryboats. While none of these look very good, finding them and watching the mayhem as they unfold can be satisfying the first time through. Smashing Drive's graphics may be substandard, but they do their job and let you properly locate and explore the ins and outs of each of the game's creatively conceived shortcuts.
On the other hand, knocking cars about as you race through busy streets is all too simple--you almost plow right through them--and this calls undue attention to the simplicity of the game engine itself. There are basically no physics at work. Your car is stuck in automatic gear, and there's never any need to apply the brakes. As a small consolation, Smashing Drive does run at a smooth, steady frame rate, even during the head-to-head mode.
The graphics aren't half as bad as the game's audio. When you're coasting along, the game is strangely silent--you can't hear your beefy cab's engine at all, and you can hardly hear its tires screeching. Generic crash effects and explosion effects accompany the many acts of vehicular violence, which are the least noteworthy of the game's audible traits. One of the most-often-used power-ups, the sonic horn weapon, encourages you to blare an aggravating device that blasts everything out of your way, with a honking sound that would seem out of place even in a game about 18-wheelers. But the worst culprit is the game's grungy garage rock soundtrack, which is just as disappointing as the game's short duration. The production values of these tracks are abysmal, and a single song loops every 30 seconds or so during each level. Listening to the same amateurish tune over and over again, even for the short while it takes to finish the game, will practically be enough to drive you mad.
Perhaps the best thing to be said for Smashing Drive is that its often-used formula is still somewhat entertaining today, if only for a little while. Games such as Crazy Taxi and the Rush series have shown that driving games need not necessarily be about simply racing around a track, and Smashing Drive, with its wacky courses, still makes a decent arcade game. However, its far-too-short life span, accompanied by its lukewarm presentation and God-awful soundtrack, ensures that few players will get more than a couple of hours' worth of enjoyment out of the home version. Given that, it's impossible to recommend purchasing the game and rather difficult to even suggest giving it a rent.