The original Dreamcast release of Jet Set Radio is held in fond regard, even today. While the game wasnt totally perfect, it was a very inventive and arguably a very important one. Twelve years on, with this latest HD reissue, SEGA do a good job of reminding us what made the game special (while adding a few nice extras). A mix of 3D adventure platformer and stylish freestyle sports game, it laid the groundwork for many games which came after it and made the cell shaded graphic style viable.
If you’re a fan of the original release then you’ll be happy to find out that this is a near exact and faithful upscale; one that brings out all that made the game special but also retains the flaws that bothered the game to begin with. Its partly due to how far the games scene has progressed that these problems stick out even more today, and for those of you who didn’t experience the game on its original release, they might just be enough to put you off what remains an entertaining, lively and enjoyable experience.
While the cell shaded graphics have been up-scaled well and look more vibrant than ever, some small aspects didn’t come through the process so well. Most notably the graffiti art assets which, while looking than before, are sometimes inconsistent in quality when adorning the neon, cartoon wonderlands you traverse.
Theres also an issue with the original 3D camera and the conflict it often arrives at with the distinctly angular level design. Levels, for the most part, are brilliantly constructed, starting out in early stages as a series of smaller sections that later on become interconnected to open the world out into a frantic dash across town against the clock.
Some parts of these interconnected levels have small passages and tight roof to roof jumps that can be obscured by the poor camera. The right stick has been assigned towards full camera control for this re-release but, more often than not, its a worse option then the original games L-Trigger “snap behind” option. This is mostly due to its over sensitive and erratic reactions to what youre inputting; something that can become a real hindrance in the more frantic, later moments of the game. Thankfully the latter method of camera control is still available
So far you’d be forgiven for thinking that we had a bad time with the game, but nothing could actually be further from the truth. Jet Set Radio was always a game that divided people. Its gameplay was often (and still is) quite challenging, and something that could put off less dedicated players its playful attitude and visual cartoon style almost misleading to those expecting a simple platformer with skates.
While to an extent it is that, it also demands you take your time to really get the most out of it. To really unlock its extra characters and hidden bonuses you have to learn the patterns of the levels and manage your spray cans /graffiti tagging accordingly.
The police, and eventually the mob, will turn up to hinder your progress. Picking a good path through each level and making sure you take as little damage as possible are both key to hitting the highest level pass ranks. Also key is mastering the one of a kind tagging mechanic. Each stage is littered with areas to tag, marked with red arrows; you have to hit each of these tagging spots to pass a stage. There’s also Green arrow tag spots that, while not vital to progression, add to you final score.
Tags come in three sizes; small which take a simple press of the bumper to fill, and medium and large tags that take you to a mini-game style system that requires you to input specific left stick movements in a limited time, all the while surrounded by active level elements. These still give a great feeling of actually painting but also provided an additional challenge. The more tags you hit, the more threats you face, and the more likely you’ll be attacked while tagging.
The thrill in hitting a clean line, avoiding the law and literally painting a part of town red, remains brilliantly addicitve and ultimately makes each stage a great challenge that keeps driving you to come back in an attempt to improve.
Even today the games utterly brilliant cast of insane and cool characters are endlessly likeable and entertaining, right down to the madcap mobs of police that chase you down in the middle of tagging truncheons waving about manically in the air, chanting as they run and throw themselves through the air in a fruitless effort to catch you.
The also soundtrack helps to fill out the vibrant and cool world, all of which make it across from the North American release. Much like the Tony Hawk series, Jet Set Radio had an essential soundtrack that made the game and its to its credit that it’s retained here.
There’s some differences in the track mixes, and sadly it’s not the superior European edition of the soundtrack (which, as a note, didn’t have to suffer the addition of the out of place Rob Zombie track, Dragular), but for the most part it still stands out as one of the most memorable in gaming.
This re-release of the first Jet Set Radio game is totally faithful in all aspects of the Dreamcast game all that was good and the problems too. Undeniably it’s aged, but its still a funny and entertaining adventure filled with an unexpectedly deep challenge and great cast of characters. There remains a world thats great to visit and, for those of us who’ve been here before, is a real treat to come back to.
While its design and challenging nature can put new players off, the nice extras and faithful update means Sega has given the game a faithful update that is worth checking out.