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Review: Jet Set Radio HD


Games have changed over the last decade or so. The way they’re designed, the challenges contained within and the overall style and substance are definitely not the same as in yesteryear.

Subsequently — or perhaps in antecedent — gamers’ tastes and appetites have changed too. When booting up a new game, certain elements are expected. Specific mechanics and a level of control are essential requirements for a satisfactory video gaming experience. Jet Set Radio comes from another time. A simpler time. And while the imagery and soundtrack stand the test of time, the actual playing of the game is not so much fun as it is an exercise in frustration as you wrestle with the controls and struggle with the clunky camera.

Jet Set Radio was first released for Dreamcast in 2000 and while well received critically, it wasn’t a smash hit with consumers. Gradually, it developed a cult following and eventually spawned one sequel on the original Xbox, Jet Set Radio Future. The basic premise is that you belong to a gang of inline-skaters who travel around the fictional and futuristic Tokyo-to, spraying tags, challenging rival gangs for territory and avoiding the cops. Initially you take control of Beat, the founding member of The GG’s. By tagging up and skating Shibuya-to bus station, Beat recruits members to his gang to take on rivals and spread The GG’s influence over the city. Levels are a small scale affair, littered with spots to tag within a time limit. After a while the police will arrive in an attempt to stop you. If you manage to tag all the spots within the time limit and without losing all of your health you clear the level, if not you’ll need to try again. Other levels see you trying to recruit new members by completing set challenges within the time limit or face-offs against rival gangs by trailing them on a set path.

Upon starting the game, and in fact during the proceedings, the undeniable sense of “cool” and oozes stylishly out of every facet of Jet Set Radio. The soundtrack, which collects Hip-Hop, J-Pop, funk, jazz, and rock just to name a few had me bopping my head and nodding along in quiet enjoyment. The same can be said of the graphics. The HD makeover given to Jet Set Radio has made the cel-shaded graphics truly gorgeous and eye-popping, standing up to some games released recently even. Tokyo-to looks truly alive and energetic, which really helps draw you into the game.

Unfortunately, the controls, camera and game play mechanics conspire to make this fun and upbeat looking game somewhat of a chore to play, at least for a while.

Having never had the chance to play the game when it was originally released for the Dreamcast, I dove into playing without the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia in place and instantly found myself struggling to control Beat. He felt sluggish and tank like. It felt like there was a delay between pushing up on the control stick and having him move.  And then when he did move the game’s punishing collision detection stopped him in his tracks frequently. In instances when I felt I would brush past a railing, or a passing car etc I found that I would stop dead and lose all momentum with the former and be knocked over and lose all momentum (and some health) with the latter.

The worst instances I experienced  being hit by cars was when, on more than one occasion, I was struck by an oncoming car, which was obscured by the camera, flung onto the roof of said car and then driven out of the level as it took Beat longer to stand up and jump off the car than it did for it to move out of the level. This I found doubly frustrating as not only did it take me out of the level it meant that any progress I made was reset.

I really wanted, and tried, to like Jet Set Radio, as I knew its history and where it stood in the pantheon of gaming. It’s a shame that the same care and loving detail that was applied to updating the graphics and keeping the soundtrack intact wasn’t applied to tightening up the controls and fixing the awkward mechanics. After a while, the awkward controls become less of an issue as you learn an adjust to them, but by then for me most of the fun had been sucked out by struggling with them for so long. I can see myself coming back to Jet Set Radio in a few months, once the initial frustration is forgotten and enjoying myself, however personally if a game requires you to “get used to” the controls I feel that is has problems.

Best suited for those who have fond memories of the original, Jet Set Radio is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears. For those new to the series, I’d recommend downloading the trial initially while long time fans will need no convincing. Jet Set Radio contains the original game now with leaderboards, trophies/achievements, fan made graffiti and documentary style extras.  Fans of the original will love this re-release whilst newbies opinions will likely be divided. It’s well worth checking out as one of gaming’s most widely regarded experiences, for me though , the experience was best looked at and listened to rather than played.

I've been playing games for the past 25 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. I'm mostly drawn to single player, story driven games and couch co-op, but will occasionally delve into multiplayer.