Jet Set Radio review
12 years ago, Sega unleashed Jet Set Radio on an unsuspecting gaming public. Its groundbreaking cel-shaded graphics, graffiti-spraying skills and impossibly infectious soundtrack ensured that cult status beckoned, but the dire commercial fortunes of its host platform – the underrated Sega Dreamcast – meant that it was unable to replicate the same lofty success in commercial terms.
But that was over a decade ago, and now Jet Set Radio has returned with a fresh HD makeover for PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. Is it still worth playing today, or are those nostalgic memories clouding our judgement? We strapped on our in-line skates and grabbed a few spray cans in order to find out.
Before we dash headlong into the deeper mechanics of Jet Set Radio in a fashion not entirely dissimilar to the game’s colourful, not entirely law abiding characters, it’s worth pointing out that for a piece of software that is over a decade old, it sure has stood the test of time when it comes to looks.
Cartoony cel-shading may have been done to death in other games, but this is where it all started – and it shows. The technique still has the power to impress, especially in luscious high-definition. Other elements of the presentation – most notably the toe-tapping musical score (which skilfully blends hip-hop with J-Pop like the two genres were always meant to be together) – raises the bar yet higher. When it comes to creating a cohesive package, few games can match the level of brilliance achieved here.
Even when you strip away the iconic graphics and funky soundtrack, Jet Set Radio continues to satisfy. The time-based, police dodging graffiti missions are just as tight and challenging as they ever were, although some players may find it hard to get used to not being able to fight back convincingly when the punk-hating coppers arrive on the scene – you can temporarily stun some enemies, but not incapacitate them completely. The game is all about time-management and mixing in insane stunts with your illicit graffiti tagging operations around the expansive city of Tokyo-to. And though you’re on wheels, there’s a bit of the free-running vibe to this game which would later inspire everything from Mirror’s Edge to the Assassin’s Creed series.
Sega may have given Jet Set Radio a spring clean, but some of the cobwebs accrued over the past 12 years are clearly harder to shift than others. The game’s camera often fails you miserably mid-mission, and despite the introduction of camera control (the Dreamcast game pad didn’t have a second analogue stick, see?) the problem is never totally eradicated. Given the frantic nature of the on-screen action, the last thing you need to be doing is manually adjusting the camera so you can actually see what’s going on.
Another grumble is the occasional difficulty of the controls. It’s much, much harder than it should be to land jumps when you’re moving slowly – the game’s engine appears to be built on the presumption that you’re going to move as fast as possible at all times. This is a pretty minor issue, but one that continually appears throughout the game’s main quest.
The bottom line
There’s been a real trend for companies to raid their back catalogues for dusty old retro titles that can be upscaled to HD in order to earn a few more pennies out of loyal fans, and if we’re brutally honest, many of these revivals have proven that sometimes rose-tinted spectacles can seriously impact your perception of quality. Mercifully, Jet Set Radio is an exception.
Sega’s glorious riot through the streets of Japan remains an massively enjoyable experience, despite retaining some of same irksome shortcomings that afflicted it back in 2000. We’d gladly have paid top whack for a HD update of this seminal title, but as a download release, it’s a no-brainer. It’s time to party like it’s the new millenium, all over again.
- Ni no Kuni
- Far Cry 3
- Halo 4