Playing Jet Set Radio in 2012 makes you think of all the things you dislike about the video game industry today. That isn’t to say the HD version of this Dreamcast classic provokes angry feelings, though you will throw your controller down in frustration during some of the more difficult missions.
What Jet Set Radio HD represents is a time that gaming was more open to experimental, wacky games. Unique concepts like Seaman and inventive takes on established genres like Typing of the Dead were pouring out of SEGA’s last home console when Jet Set Radio originally released. Playing Jet Set Radio makes you wish there was as much creativity in the industry today as there was then.
Tokyo-to’s got numerous gangs called rudies who use magnetic inline skates to travel to the craziest locations in the city to spread their graffiti. You play as the GG’s, and there are other gangs trying to dominant Tokyo-to with their tagging skills so you’ve got some stiff competition. In addition to this there is a mysterious group kidnapping members of your rival gangs and the police are hot on your tail at all times.
Those magnetic inline skates allow you to grind on just about anything and you gain more momentum by performing tricks as you jump from each grindable object. You will want to string together tricks and grinds to increase your overall speed because there is a timer counting down at all times. Not only that but the police call in helicopters, riot squads and attack dogs to make things even harder for you.
It sounds overwhelming and it is a little intimidating at first but there are ways to avoid confrontations with these enemies. The hard part is avoiding their attacks and gunfire while continuing to string tricks together.
The levels are amazing and promote vertical thinking. Can’t find more paint cans or a spot to tag? Look up and you’ll likely see another layer of grindable objects like telephone poll cables, billboards, skyscrapers, etc. The game doesn’t point these routes out to you so you’ll have to do some exploring during each stage. Each level usually has three or four areas to it though some missions/races will make you stay within the constraints of a single area.
Jet Set Radio was a gorgeous game back in 2000 and it continues to shine today. The cel-shaded art style is truly timeless and while some character models show some age the game as a whole still looks beautiful in 2012. Just the thought of a new Jet Set Radio game designed for current or next generation consoles has me giddy with excitement.
The art style, along with the Hideki Naganuma’s amazing soundtrack help to shape the game’s personality. This is where Jet Set Radio HD makes you aware of the faults of gaming today, and that’s the lack of personality.
Games today often use existing stereotypes and characters we can quickly understand without putting much effort into those characters personality. There isn’t anything wrong with that, it just disappoints me that we’re seeing it more often than not. That isn’t meant to say that the genetically engineered super soldier can’t be an awesome character but there is considerably less work going into him than what went into making the characters in Jet Set Radio special.
Jet Set Radio isn’t without it’s influences but it doesn’t suffer from the trend in gaming today of having characters that we’ve seen in films, books and television before. Jet Set Radio has a unique game world that is oozing with charm and is much more imaginative and creative than a lot of games arriving on store shelves today.
Jet Set Radio has it’s flaws though. Controls can be very frustrating. Grinding isn’t like a Tony Hawk game where one button press can magically pull you close to a rail.
You have to land exactly on an object to grind on it or you will lose your momentum. You will miss the spot you’re aiming for a lot and you’ll likely curse out loud with anger. This may even cause you to replay a mission multiple times before you pass it due to only one mistake.
The upside to this is that when you successfully string together grind after grind, trick after trick without error you will feel like you’re creating some sort of art with the amazing moves you’ll be performing. The reward of putting together a run with no errors makes you feel like a superhero and is totally worth all other frustrations with the controls.
Another issue is that objectives aren’t always laid out that well and you’ll often find yourself wondering what to do next. You’ll play on three different maps and then be thrown into a race that spans all three of those smaller maps but with no clue as to where these maps intersect. Be prepared to replay missions multiple times. This isn’t a huge issue because the game’s soundtrack, graphics, and gameplay are so satisfying that it gives you a little extra patience when things like this happen.
The act of tagging isn’t as smooth as it could be. The game tends to be a little too sensitive to how you move the analog stick as you try to comply with the rotations it’s telling you to make with the left stick. This isn’t a huge burden, but it could’ve been fixed. Maybe I’m just a more tolerant player but I didn’t have too much of an issue with the fact that I was always going to mess up on one particular graffiti command every time the game commanded that I do it.
Tagging the backs of enemies in particular missions can be tiresome. I wish the game was more lenient with how close you have to be to successfully tag the character you’re chasing. You have to be directly behind them in order to spray paint them and this often results with them knocking you off your feet. But the enemies during these stages run in a pre-determined path that is very predictable so it isn’t hard to complete these missions once you identify their route.
Additions to the HD edition of Jet Set Radio are camera controls via the right analog stick. Obviously the game looks glorious in HD and holds up well to this day. There is also a terrific documentary on the game that will surprise you with how long, and interesting it is. It serves as a superb bonus for both newcomers and die-hard fans of the series.
Jet Set Radio HD is one of those games whose personality makes it overcome it’s downfalls. The controls are the biggest flaw of the game, with some unclear objectives coming in second on my complaints list. But the music, art style, comical story and characters make you forget all of these issues. Video games today just don’t deliver original, unique settings like this anymore, at least not enough.
Ultimately the good far outweighs the bad. Jet Set Radio HD oozes charm and you will fall in love with it, even if it is a complicated and volatile love.Jet Set Radio HD review,