Jet Set Radio Review
Let’s get scratchin’.
It’s been thirteen years since the Dreamcast was released, and many years since it’s heyday, but it’s still real to me damn it. Jet Set Radio was one of my favorite games on Sega’s ill-fated final console so I was excited, and apprehensive when I heard that they would be bringing an HD version to consoles and PC. I was excited to be able to play one of my all time favorites without dragging out the Dreamcast, and trying to find somewhere to hook it to my current TV, but with the way some recent ports have gone I was secretly worried they would screw it all up. My fears couldn’t have been more misplaced.
Jet Set Radio takes place in an alternate reality version of Tokyo where gangs of roller-blading graffiti artists have divided the city into sections, each ruling over their own turf. All is well until the evil Rokkaku Group, a corporation with the police in their pocket, move in and start trying to clear out the gangs. You’re a member of the GG’s, a fun loving crew who must defend their turf and get to the bottom of the takeover of the city. It’s a complete modern fantasy, and very Japanese, but I love the setup.
Tying everything together is the pirate radio station Jet Set Radio, whose DJ acts as the news media for the underground world these gangs live in. He is also the delivery mechanism for one of the best soundtracks a game has ever had. The Jet Set Radio soundtrack is, to this day, the only video game soundtrack that is in regular rotation on my computer and phone. Every song reminds you of the days before electronic music went the way of dubstep, and even before trance, instead focusing on uplifting beats, catchy tunes and cheery voice samples. Personally I usually listen to metal and punk but I could listen to Hideki Naganuma, who is behind about half of the songs, all day long.
Jet Set Radio plays out as a series of open levels that you can skate around in. Your character can grind on any of the many rails scattered around the level without any worry of having to balance. You may look at this game and see a cell shaded version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on in-line skates, and grinding from rail to rail may feel like it, but that’s where the similarities end. Jet Set Radio isn’t about doing tricks, it’s about marking your turf with graffiti tags. Spray paint cans will be scattered throughout the level and you’ll have to collect these to use when throwing up your tags. When you see an area where you can tag, designated by a floating arrow, you can approach and press the left trigger to start tagging. Small tags are completed with one pull of the trigger, but larger ones will throw you into a quick mini-game where you’ll have to use the left stick to match the gestures on screen.
Your skill comes into play as you’ll waste spray cans by messing up your stick movements. Also, a lot of the time you’ll have to finish tags quickly because the police will be chasing your down. That’s right, this all goes on while a periodically escalating police response tries to separate you from your tags. If you can cover all of the designated areas with your tags, which can be customized in the garage, without losing all of your health to police brutality you’ll complete the level.
The clever way the designers work in elements of platforming to what looks like a trick-sports game is one of the things that makes actually playing the game enjoyable. The translation to HD graphics is the other thing that makes this release so impressive. I was always a fan of the visuals in the original, but when I loaded it up to have a look it’s starting to look pretty fuzzy and dated. Not so with this new HD version, Jet Set Radio has never looked better.
The visuals were, however, the only thing that was touched up in this version. The weird control issues from the original have carried over to this version and, while none of them make the game unplayable, they will bug you sometimes. The camera can get a little sketchy at times too, but none of the issues ever take you out of the game.
There are no multiplayer modes in Jet Set Radio.
There was never any real doubt in my mind that the soundtrack and visuals of Jet Set Radio would stand the test of time, but the gameplay does as well. The HD graphics upgrade is very impressive, and well ahead of many current generation games in terms of quality. Jet Set Radio is still a ton of fun and you’ll be humming along the whole time wondering how you managed to get your hands on this game for only ten bucks.