Jet Set Radio Review
Posted by PlayDevil.com Staff on Jan 18, 2013 13:58
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Written by: Alex
Jet. Set. Radio!
Were you to ask me which Dreamcast game I wanted back in HD, "Jet Set Radio" would have been at the top of my list.
When the game originally released in 2000, it was a high watermark graphics, with a beautifully cell-shaded world and smooth animation. Add to that a sound track that still has me tapping my feet, and the mix was enough to secure the game a place in my heart to this day.
But in 2013, has gaming moved on?
A simple tale of gang wars and police brutality provides the setting for Jet Set Radio, don't worry it’s not as serious as it sounds. Set on the streets of Tokyo-To, the city is divided into three districts, Shibuya-cho, Benten-cho, and Kogane-cho, and a different skater gang controlling each. The police want to regain control of the city however, and lead by Captain Onishima they will stop at nothing to do so.
Starting as Beat, you must first form your own crew of inline-skaters/graffiti-artists, the GGs, to enter the artistic gang war. Recruiting members act as tutorials, ensuring you have the necessary skills before for the coming levels. Once acquired, each member can be taken into action in any of Tokyo-To’s three districts. With a crew and the necessary skills, it is time to hit the streets to do a bit of tagging.
Jet Set Radio is an odd beast. While it may look like an x-tream sports game, it actually has more in common with a puzzle.
The goal of each stage is to paint over all of your opponent gang’s tags, or for boss fights actually tag the other gang. But it isn’t a case of just hunting the map, avoiding obstacles and finding a path through the world, the real trick is the order. Some tags take more time, and spray cans (the Jet Set Radio’s ‘ammo’), to cover. If these are left to the end, when the police action is at its peak, it will become impossible to paint as the spray animation is constantly interrupted. Thus, like a puzzle, the later levels need to be played several times to work out the best order to approach them.
This is an interesting twist on what is, mechanically, an action game. Unfortunately the gameplay and camera are the one element of Jet Set Radio that feels stuck in 2000. Responses to button presses feel sluggish and locking onto grind rails is overly tricky, and inconsistent. More problematically, the camera control often seems to actively work against you, especially in boss battles, as the perspective is forced into walls and above the character. Even in this update, that has camera control on the second stick, it is still frustrating and more difficult than it need be. It is an interesting reminder of how far gaming has come in the last thirteen years, but no less frustrating.
Its odd to say, with so the control and camera so dated, but Jet Set Radio’s visuals as still incredible. Character models may prove a little chunky, but bar this limitation of the Dreamcast’s polygon pushing powers, all the original game needed to look modern was a quick up-res.
Tokyo-To looks exactly how I would expect a cell-shaded Japanese city to look. Neon, street-signs and schoolgirls fill the city, as Beat and his crew grind and leap their way through the streets. Though it all feels a little slow by comparison to more recent games, it still moves smoothly, and is a real triumph of style over realism.
Unfortunately some of the stylistic choices cause further camera problems, affecting player’s ability to follow the action. At key moments as the police awareness level is raised, the camera cuts to vignettes of the new squads arriving. These cut the already confusing camera away from the action, and frequently restart play at the worst possible time. It isn’t that the vignette is to blame, that would be the camera, but that doesn’t make it any easier to follow.
Jet Set Radio has dozens of tracks. Covering a range of styles, all of which blend together perfectly courtesy of Professor K, Jet Set Radio’s DJ. Within the fiction this DJ acts as a commentator on the action, as well as being a source of fantastic music. He also adds flare to the otherwise stoic cast.
Beside the music and Professor K, there is little really of note for your ears on the streets of Tokyo-To, with car engines, explosions and gunshots, all fall flat. Luckily Police Capt. Onishima places the occasional order for more troops (or tanks) over his radio as he runs the streets trying to restore order, and even the pedestrians manage to throw in the odd entertaining comment (if you can speak Japanese), to add a bit of texture to the city.
"Jet Set Radio" remains an outstanding example of gaming, but one that needs the context of time. It style is as wonderful as ever, and seeing the world it creates is a true joy. As a game it may had dated mechanically but, for a piece of gaming history, the price is right and it is well worth experiencing if you missed it the first time around… or if you played it and just want to see how good it still looks.
+ (Still) great visual style
+ A classic piece of gaming
Dreadful camera controls
- Overly fiddly grinding