Nearly twelve years ago, Sega unleashed Jet Set Radio onto the world. It was an oddball title on the odd man out of the console wars, but quickly got a huge fan following due to the amount of unique charm that was packed inside. Speed up to today, and Sega have re-released the classic on modern consoles as a digital release with a nice coat of HD paint. The only thing is, we have seen a lot of advancements in the industry since then, and Jet Set Radio may be a gem better left in the past. How does this hip skating romp measure up all over again?
Taking place in the land of Tokyo-to, Jet Set Radio is all about the beats. Music inspires almost everything within the game, as well as the underground rivalries of street gangs and spray paint. After our main protagonist Beat recruits Gum and Tab to form his own crew by the name of the GGs, they must take to the streets and tag their territory. Professor K is our DJ ringleader of sorts, and acts as a bizarre captain when it comes to sending the skaters on their missions.
To throw a wrench in the plan, the maniacal Captain Onishima has had enough graffiti in Shibuya-cho, and has enlisted his forces to rid the streets of all of these harmless yet vandalism-proned teens. Yeah, the whole concept for the game is bizarre, but the characters are all rich in personality and keep the game feeling lively and loud for the entire experience. The story also is rather forgettable as a whole, but Beat and crew make up for that by embracing their roles as “rudies”, donning some awesome gear and careless attitudes to keep everything light and focused.
Skate, tag, and run. Those three things are all you really need to know to play Jet Set Radio. Each stage starts out by throwing the player in a certain district, where you must tag a set number of highlighted areas before the timer runs down to zero. Players can grind along rails, nail tricks, and tag all of the appropriate targets while their inline skates are strapped on, which boosts the number of overall points accumulated before the objectives are complete.
To rain on your parade, Onishima and his men will begin to take notice as Beat and friends tag objects, leading to a game of cat and mouse. Normal goons really do nothing but slow the player down, but Onishima has a pistol at hand, and will quickly diminish your life bar if you don’t quickly dodge and briskly move away from the area. The player can mark Onishima if he stumbles, adding to their score a bit, while leaving an enraged and now painted officer in the dust. The SWAT team and other armed goons also cause a bit more chaos and can deplete your life bar quickly, so constantly moving is a must if you want to survive. It’s all good fun, but the complexity of the game really comes in with the actual graffiti itself.
Some tags can be quickly done while in air or on rails, but larger areas require more effort. When a large wall is in need of paint, the player must utilize the analog to spray in strokes. Move the analog clockwise, then down, then up, and then around again to finish a mural. That’s just an example, but as you spray, the amount of paint cans you have in stock will deplete, which will send you back to gather more that can be found littered throughout the street. With officers always on your tail, a lot of tensity is added to the situation, and marking a large object in time is certainly rewarding for those who can get through with their masterpiece before the foes run in.
When it comes to the tagging, the controls are mostly tight and simple to execute. Skating however is a bit harder to explain. You see, this game is built for speed and is solid to that extent, but jumping can be a bit loose as it’s easy to go over a target due to how precise the inputs need to be. If you go in thinking you are playing a Tony Hawk game, you will quickly hit walls and thromp around like a walrus. With a little practice, this scheme grows easier, but never really feels as fluid as it should be. I know, Jet Set Radio is an older game and was built for the Dreamcast controller. That said, it’s age still shows regardless and new players might find themselves in foreign territory trying to properly pull off all of the flashy techniques and tricks inside.
Visuals and Audio
Back in the year 2000, cel shading was around, but Jet Set Radio was the first to really the first title to truly use it to it’s own advantage. The cel shading makes the colors explode and keeps everything visually stunning, and the HD only furthers that timeless aesthetic. The graphics don’t look too much different, but they didn’t need too much improving. The characters are all full of funkadelic flavor, and the world of Tokyo-to is hard not to want to get lost in. With all of that said, I encountered a few hiccups, with the game lagging out at times after achievements or awards were earned. Now, this may not occur with everyone, but the slowdown can hinder some exciting moments within Jet Set Radio, so hopefully we will see it addressed with a patch in the future.
What can you now say about Jet Set Radio’s audio? The soundtrack is made up of a blend of acid jazz, rock, techno, J-Pop, and several other genres, and still resonates as one of the most original and enjoyable music compilations to date. Hearing Professor K spew his dialogue is still humorous as well, tying into this poppy and chaotic land of Tokyo-to to perfection for one experience that every gamer owes it to themselves to try.
Jet Set Radio is a legendary gem, make no mistake about it. The controls are not going to win it any awards and the few bugs from time to time lead to a some frustration, but those are easily forgivable those who go in with either an open mind or a set of eyes ready for a nostalgia trip. I planned to speak highly of the art style and boast more about that awesome soundtrack while wrapping things up here, but JSR fans already know about that. While it’s not my personal favorite Dreamcast classic, no one can deny Jet Set Radio it’s place as one of the most influential games of all time and for better or worse, it’s still a one of a kind classic that should at least be played once by all of you rudies tearin’ it up on the streets.