A trip down memory lane is great for existing fans
I am surprised it took Sega this long to release an HD port of the critically acclaimed Jet Set Radio. Then again, the company has made some disappointing decisions in my opinion, such as the stupid March 2013 delay for Anarchy Reigns (the game is fully translated already!) and HD ports for games that people most likely did not ask for. Who would take Sega Bass Fishingover ChuChu Rocket or Skies of Arcadia? Anyway, Jet Set Radio is finally here to tease our nostalgia for the game, but is nostalgia this time a double-edged sword?
Jet Set Radio first released on the Dreamcast in 2000 and was met with substantial praise. The refreshing video game became a cult classic, with gamers falling in love with the mesmerising cel-shaded art style, the fantastic and infectious soundtrack, and the original arcade gameplay. There was nothing like Jet Set Radio back then, and twelve years later there still isn’t anything similar to what Smilebit managed to create for Sega’s Dreamcast.
There is no amazing story in Jet Set Radio; just that the game follows a group of rudies known as the GGs, a gang of inline-skating youngsters who like to express themselves through graffiti. The GGs are in a turf war with rival graffiti gangs, as they try to become the dominant group by covering other teams’ territory with their own symbol. Graffiti has become so out of hand that the local police are involved, and they will try their utmost to imprison anyone who even thinks about using a spray can in their jurisdiction.
When I first booted up Jet Set Radio, things started off brilliantly. As soon as the initial music track played on the title screen, I was smacked in the head with memories of the game, putting a smile on my face and finding myself unable to stop humming along to “Let Mom Sleep.” One thing I can happily say with the game is that the soundtrack is still just as great and addictive as it ever was, and in my opinion, one of the best examples of a soundtrack that fits so well with a video game. Sega tried their best to gather the licence to reuse the songs for this HD release, and all are there apart from two – “Yappie Feet” and “Many Styles.” While it is a shame the complete soundtrack is not present, those missing two songs do not take away the essence of the music and the power that the soundtrack has on the game. It is so good.
The use of cel-shading – Jet Set Radio is the game that pioneered this art style and showed the world how stylish it can look – along with the bright colours look nice on HDTVs, thanks to the upscaled resolution, and the simplistic art direction and character models. There are no reworked textures or models; this is a direct copy of the Dreamcast game with widescreen support and put through a filter to smooth everything over. I find it a shame that the development team did not remove the pop-in that was featured in the Dreamcast iteration. Occasionally, the environment will pop-in when moving the camera – which is now on the right stick, giving complete freedom to move it around – spoiling the otherwise visually pleasing and constant solid framerate that this HD port has. The best description would be to say that Jet Set Radio appears like what your memory thinks the Dreamcast version looked like – think about the Xbox 360 release of Perfect Dark if you don’t fully understand what I am getting at. Nostalgia can play tricks on visual quality of old games, and Jet Set Radio does not look as nice as it once did, mostly due to HDTVs screwing over lower resolutions.
Jet Set Radio must not be mistaken for a game like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skateboarding or Dave Mirra’s BMX. It is nothing like those games. Jet Set Radio is based around beating the clock while finding the best way to collect scattered spray cans, using them to tag all the graffiti spots and dodge the police that come after you with an assortment of guns, helicopters and tanks – such big weapons for a minor criminal act. Hidden beneath the presentation is a rather strategic game that requires you to learn the level to find the best path; a type of trial and error that is very rewarding.
Characters can pull off tricks and grinds that add to the overall level score, but these are for people who like the challenge of leaderboards (now part of this HD release), offering replayability that often comes with Sega’s arcade gameplay. You are never forced to pull off tricks, but grinding does make you travel around the landscape faster, which is extremely handy for those missions that require you to tag other gang members as they try escape from you on their rollerblades.
While the aesthetics and sound have remained timeless, sadly the controls and overall feel have not aged as gracefully. For starters, why is the tag button still assigned to the same button that centres the camera behind the player? You can turn it off in the options, but there are unused buttons that could have been used for that function. It makes it awkward to tag moving targets, as the camera has a fit refocusing on the character. Modern gaming has spoiled what we expect from our control over a character’s movement, so it takes time to adjust to Jet Set Radio’s less responsive motions and jumps.
If you are willing to let the issue of controls pass, then you will be presented with one exciting and beautiful piece of gaming history, and one of Sega’s crown jewels from the Dreamcast era. Fans who want to play Jet Set Radio again will have no problem with this HD release – unless you were expecting a remake. For people who have never played it and want to know what the fuss is about, you might not fully appreciate why this game was so damn cool back in 2000, but at least you get to listen to the brilliant music and take in all the pleasant visuals. That still leaves you with a win-win situation in my book.