Jet Set Radio was developed and published by Sega. A XBLA version was provided by the publisher for review purposes
Jet Set Radio has been part of the graffiti zeitgeist for a long time. Since 2000, we were wowed by its unusual (at the time) approach to graphics with cel-shading. It looked like a living breathing cartoon and it was heralded for that. We got the sequel in the form of Jet Set Radio Future in 2003 and it perfected the art.
Now 12 years later, Jet Set is back but is it for the better? Let’s just say it’s had some growing pains on those rollerblades.
For those who haven’t played the original, Jet Set Radio takes place in the future town of Tokyo-to. The police rule the streets and radio stations while street gangs are trying to reclaim it for their own. Professor K reports all the findings on his pirate radio station while kicking out the jams. As you start the game, the lively nature of Tokyo-to takes over. You’ll suddenly feel like you’re in a world that’s pretty unlike any other. It was unique back in 2000 and it’s still pretty cool now.
The object of the game is to rollerblade all over spots in Tokyo-to and tag them with your graffiti. Making your mark as the GG gang while avoiding rival gangs and ‘the filth’ or the police as people say. It’s a cool story that fits the 00s and that nature of going “against the man” and marking your gang territory. We also dressed pretty cool with headphones and sunglasses with neon colors.
In every level, there’s tags to mark and people to meet to join your gang. That truck? That billboard? Make sure the GG marks everywhere. Along the way, when you meet someone new, you’ll have to do a challenge where you replicate their moves. Pass and you’ll have a new cohort to join your gang in sending your message.
Each time you find a new tag, you’ll do a little Quick Time Scenario where you’ll move the analog stick in the right direction for the proper tag. Failing and you’ll lose spray paint. Make sure you don’t mess up or you’ll lose points which you earn through tags and tricks. It was pretty obtuse with its controls and lack of a second analog stick on the Dreamcast. Now, it feels a lot smoother and much more modern with its controls.
The game looks like its Dreamcast counterpart but a little bit cleaner. Not to say the polygons are super smooth but definitely not as jagged. You’ll definitely feel the graphics or you’ll think they look super old compared to Jet Set Radio Future’s pastel look at times. Some people are not fond of the nostalgia trips but since the game is stylized, it makes the trip a little more unique rather than pixels you’ve seen before.
One thing that has remained perfect in its transition is the music. It’s as bombastic and great as it always was. A beat hasn’t changed and you’ll feel in the world immediately. From the Japanese techno groups to hip hop groups like Jurassic 5 are all here. Sega said they got 98% of the music back for HD version and I didn’t really notice whatever 2% was missing. It might have been songs you may not have heard or songs that went by you.
But what about the gameplay? Well, it’s remained the same for better or for worse. It still retains the same flavor and the gameplay is virtually unchanged. While that may be good for people who loved it in the past, it’s definitely become more frustrating in its twilight years. The sense of momentum isn’t there, feeling pretty slow nowadays when you compare its faster sequel that came after. You’ll miss the grind but because the game lacks the speed you’re used to.
Elements such as a time limit in order to complete all the goals WHILE avoiding enemies can be a pain. Especially when the enemies get harder and harder in the later levels. Ninjas in the later end of the levels make things just worse where they’ll just be straight up unfair to you. Unlike having free reign to complete the goals you want. It’s literally ‘do everything or fail it all’, which just isn’t fun. You want to be able to explore Tokyo-to, not feel confined.
I couldn’t help but think, “I’d rather be playing Jet Set Radio Future”. Mostly because it’s a faster paced game and takes the foundations of the original and makes it better. While it’s cool that we have Jet Set Radio, you can feel the 12 years of age that’s come with it. If you already played the original, you’ll see no problems here. But if you’ve never played the series or played the sequel that came free with your original Xbox, you’ll see this as a pretty big downgrade.
While yes, this game harkens back to your Dreamcast living days but you can see the growing pains its gone through. Maybe this’ll spark an interest in porting the sequel and maybe a new game in the series. We can always hope since while it may be frustrating, it’s still a cool world to go around in.
Give it a try if you want, but just remember the wheels haven’t been greased in a while.
Jet Set Radio was developed Blit Software and published by Sega. An Xbox 360 copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.