Jet Set Radio (HD) Review

by

Jet Grind Set Radio Future Grind Radio Set Future Future Radio

Date Released: Fall 2012
Date Reviewed: December 5, 2012
Genre: 3D Platformer
Players: 1 Player
Length: 7 hours for main game, 25+ for extra content
Replayability: Very good

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Introduction

Jet Set Radio is the unique 2000 platforming game where players take control of a rebellious group of spray-painting, rollerblading teenagers who intend on seperating the government’s corrupt and overblown power over the people of a fictional variation of a futuristic Tokyo, Japan called Tokyo-to. Originally available on the SEGA Dreamcast, Jet Set Radio has gone on to only have one true sequel, but a strong cult following and has been featured in references and cameos in several unrelated games. This modern high definition version is one of SEGA’s highest quality re-releases of all their past titles to date.

Concept

Jet Set Radio is an iconic game for not just the SEGA Dreamcast, but the era it was released in. The tone and presentation of rebellion is demonstrated through every element of the game – From story, to art, to sound, to animation, to controls and even movement. The game somehow manages to get these to work together in a cohesive way, but will still require the player to think differently than they would for just about any other title in the genre.

It should be strongly noted that the game is not comparable to modern ‘artsy’ titles that rely on certain gimmicks. Special attention was put on all aspects so that nothing is particularly better or worse than another element. With that, it should be easy for potential players to immediately understand if they like or dislike the game simply by it’s presentation.

[The game always informs the player if hazards are nearby or coming towards them]

Story

Jet Set Radio begins with a briefing by Professor K, a DJ who transmits the pirate radio station Jet Set Radio around the futuristic city of Tokyo-to, which is embroiled in an all-out gang war between several rival factions of ‘rudies’, or teenage delinquent skaters who mark territory around the city with graffiti as a means of self-expression. Though there are many playable characters, the game initially begins from the perspective of Beat, a young rudie who wishes desperately to join a gang, but after being denied entrance by all of them, he endeavors to start his own gang, called the GGs, or Graffiti Gangsters. From there, Beat begins to make a name for himself by expanding the GGs turf and in turn attracts more rudies to join the gang, including Gum and Tab, among other rudies whom Beat befriends during the gang’s exploits. Rival gangs aren’t the only threat to the GGs, however, as the Tokyo-to police led by Captain Onishima have begun a new initiative to crack down on gang activity and remove them from the streets by any means necessary.

Although at it’s core the game’s plot may seem objectionable, everything is presented in a lighthearted manner. A good example is how after the first few levels, the police chief becomes enraged with the GGs and begins to call in help with not just extra cops and dogs, but eventually tanks and even jets to take out just some basic teenagers. Defeating high artillery like this is as simple as spraying it with paint or in some rarer cases, tricking them to destroy themselves. This attitude keeps the game from being seen at all seriously and is usually done in extremely comic manners.

[Although many levels are static, each one feels brimming with life due the fantastic presentation]

Controls

Grinding is the second most common form of travel in the game, something the original North American Dreamcast release pushed with the title Jet Grind Radio. Unlike almost every other game that uses the concept, there is no balancing when on rails — Instead the players will stay on it for as long as they want, assuming they can keep up enough speed. This is in place so that the player can focus away from the rails and towards what needs to be tagged or if any hazards, platforms and comparable coming up that they can get to instead. At slow speeds it can be problematic to get off of rails properly, but this is more of a personal skill issue than a true complaint as there is always enough room to gain momentum in some way. It is worth noting that sequel Jet Set Radio Future allowed players to get off of rails if they pressed in the left analog stick, something that should have been considered for this. The Dreamcast controller could not offer the function, so clicking in the stick does nothing.

The camera controls of the original game were simplistic. Tapping the left trigger centered the camera, but no other way existed. The trigger even had a secondary use for tagging objects, which was generally competent, but could make some sections unnecessarily frustrating and nauseating. Although fairly common for the time, this is now unacceptable considering the amount of functions modern game controllers have. Surprisingly, the new high definition release of Jet Set Radio allows players to use the right analog stick for moving the game’s camera in a proper 3D space and the centering function on the left trigger can be disabled entirely. This is an incredible addition to the game and improves almost every section of every level. The touchscreen based mobile versions still suffer from the original’s camera, however.

[Larger graffiti requires the player to move the analog stick in different swirling patterns]

Sound originalreviews

As would be expected, the voice acting is similarly well fit to the rest of the game. Characters rarely ever talk, but instead laugh or shout. This helps in making the cast seem colorful and active, but it never really gives any of the characters to develop any sort of personality. With just so many characters to play as, see and discover, it is hard to complain, especially with the the wild DJ Professor K always finding a way to make a joke out of the latest happening in the story.

Perhaps just as iconic as the game’s visual style, the music of Jet Set Radio is loud, provocative, and unapologetic in its ways, much like the rest of the game. Composed mainly by Hideki Naganuma and Richard Jacques, the game features an eclectic mix tracks, ranging from Japanese pop and rock music, hip-hop, funk, electronic and dance music, among other genres. All but one of tracks from the Dreamcast version return in HD, including some licensed tracks. The soundtrack as whole is infectious and perfectly matches both the aesthetic style of the game and its gameplay, so much so that you would swear that Jet Set Radio was transmitting its signal straight to you.

Gameplay originalreviews

All of the playable characters use roller blades to get from one place to another. Similar to actual rollerblading, it is hard to stop or turn once momentum has increased to a certain point, instantly making the game feel different from all other games in the genre and more like an action sports game like Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Along with this, some even less believable traits such as the jumping feeling light and ‘Floaty’ can add to early frustrations from the player in what would be extremely simple tasks in other platformers. To this extent, the game fails in precision but excels in making the player feel talented if they can manage obstacles as even basic terrain requires thought and planning to a degree. The way levels are presented offer a lot of experimentation and give the player a decent amount of time to understand how the mechanics work, but even several hours in, the chances of players making mistakes and having basic issues with movement will continue and can be exceedingly frustrating. Even more annoying is how many levels are designed in layers, meaning players who fall may sometimes need to go out of their way to return to where they were. It was concepts like this that are to blame for the public becoming much less interested in 3D platformers. For better and worse however, the movement is a massive part of Jet Set Radio’s identity and would not be whole without them.

Each level requires players to ‘tag’ graffiti on areas or other characters with arrows on them. Where the gameplay really shines and feels truly unique is that players can create their own pathways and devise how they should tackle each section, such as skipping the smaller marks to amass several spray cans and tag the larger ones first. Even more clever is how players can plan for where the police will be or where their attack patterns will lead them to not only make the level easier, but change how they can score or how fast they can complete everything. Even better still is how after a certain point, variations of levels players have already visited will return as one giant course combined into one. Once unlocked, these can be replayed whenever and are likely to be the biggest reasons fans will continue playing hours after everything has concluded. This can create issues with casual players, but becoming lost will likely never be an issue as the pause menu features a fairly straightforward (but not overly helpful) map layout of where each arrow is located. Some of these are not included on the map and are just available for extra points.

Visuals

Jet Set Radio created the graphical style of cel-shading, which is where 3D models appear to have outlines around them, as if the world and characters were animated by hand. Although a common trait in many games today, this was extremely unique for it’s time and fits wonderfully with the nature of the title. Outside of a few background characters and set pieces, the game does not look particularly dated compared to other titles using the same graphical concepts, especially now in the high definition remaster with a perfectly solid framerate.

Several dozen graffiti designs are included, most of which are collected in levels as optional hidden items. Before selecting a level to play, it is possible to choose whichever three designs the player wants to use for that particular mission. Although this is purely cosmetic, it is still a nice inclusion. A fantastic extra is that players can actually create their own designs right from the outset of the game if they so choose. The SEGA Dreamcast release of the game offered community options that would let anyone download someone else’s design for free, but this is sadly missing in the HD game. However, it is still possible in the PC version with only minor technical knowledge.

Textures in the game are fairly blocky and low quality, but this is easily made up for with the colors used in the art direction. Every corner of every level is so light that even the darker colors can sometimes appear as if they are a neon tone or glowing from the inside. This does not disorientate or confuse the player surprisingly and although the way levels progress and flow are unique even still twelve years later, players will have little trouble understanding how to get from one location to the next due to the creative carefully planned out structures. If it looks like you can get somewhere or grind something, you always are able to.

[Cinematic sequences break up the action to inform the player of ongoing events]

Special Notes

Although the option exists for players to make their own graffiti, SEGA held a contest early in 2012 that allowed fans to get their content into this modern release of the game. Some of the chosen art was even added into Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed in levels based off of Jet Set Radio.

Conclusion

Possibly one of the least accessible 3D platformers that still holds up in any way, Jet Set Radio takes skill and effort to genuinely appreciate. With hours upon hours of solid content and unlockables the game is to recommendable to those interested in a unique, but difficult platformer — Especially at the price of 10 USD on every available platform. Fans of the original should consider purchasing the game just on the improved camera options.

Was there ever any doubt?

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Formats: Dreamcast, Xbox Live Arcade for Xbox 360, PlayStation Network for PlayStation 3, PlayStation Network for PlayStation Vita, Steam for Windows PC and various mobile devices.

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