Review: Jet Set Radio (PSN)
Title: Jet Set Radio
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1103 MB)
Release Date: September 11, 2012 (PlayStation Plus) / September 18, 2012
Original MSRP: $9.99
ESRB Rating: T
Jet Set Radio is also available on PlayStation Vita (October 16, 2012), Xbox Live Arcade, PC, and iOS.
The PlayStation Network version was used for this review.
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 285 of the podcast.
Jet Set Radio (also known as Jet Grind Radio in its initial US release) is set in the near future in a city called Tokyo-to. Rival gangs, all wearing magnetically driven in-line skates, move through the city tagging areas with graffiti to claim them. Things have gotten so out of hand that the police, led by Officer Onishima, have been given free reign and the ability to get rid of the gangs by any means necessary.
You start off as Beat, forming your own gang, the GG’s. After recruiting your first two members, Gum and Tab, through a thinly disguised tutorial of sorts, you’ll reclaim your home turf by spraying over areas that a rival gang has hit. From there. DJ Professor K give you updates on the situation throughout the city while keeping the soundtrack going. As you make your way through the city and defeat rival gangs you’ll build your own gang and have the ability to play as any of the other members, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
You move through the environment with the left stick picking up cans of spray paint. In each mission, you’ll have a set amount of time to tag a number of areas in the environment (marked with red and green arrows) all while avoiding escalating law enforcement measures. Tags are broken down into small, medium and large with small being as easy as pulling L2 as you skate past them. Medium and large will take some time however and in doing so, you required to match controller moves with the Left Stick shown on screen. If you’ve played a God of War game you’ll understand what to do here, curve up to the left, pull straight down, full 360, etc.
It sounds simple enough, but the game makes things difficult at times. First off, you need to find all the tags which isn’t always easy even though they’re marked on a map in the menu. You then need to be able to reach all the tags, some of which require boosting and tricks to execute the long jumps necessary to reach them. You’ve also got the police on you, using tear gas, dogs, paratroopers, helicopter gunships and more.
One big difference between this update and the original is how well it controls. Everything has been tightened up here and it’s much easier to hit the rails and tricks you want than it ever was on the Dreamcast. If you were frustrated by the original game and the loose controls, this version will be a revelation.
It can take a few tries to learn the environment and the best way to go about tagging things. You’ll need to learn which ones to hit first, before the police show up in force. You can boost, jump and grind to build up your score as well. Scattered around the environment are also red cans which increase your health and hidden collectibles making multiple runs worthwhile if only for the score chase element.
Another cool thing added just to this new version was fan graffiti. SEGA held a contest over the summer and the winners had their tags included in the game. But if you don’t like the graffiti your characters are constantly spraying, why not make your own? Part of the original game and also included here is the editor where you can make your own unique tags, small, medium and large and assign them to your character. It’s a fun way to make the game a little more personal, but it’s certainly not the easiest editor to work with.
The game is certainly a product of its time and original Japanese development studio. There’s a nice, nearly ten minute documentary included along with other unlockables which gives a great look at the origin and development of the game. The funky graphics, innovative gameplay and quirky gangs (Poison Jam, Love Shockers, Noise Tanks and more) all hold up surprisingly well today.
Jet Set Radio holds the distinction of kicking off the cel-shaded graphics look in video games. Nowadays, cel-shaded games are a dime a dozen, but when it first hit the Dreamcast in 2000, Jet Set Radio sparked a ton of interest based on the look alone.
One of the downsides of the game was the (lack of) power the Dreamcast had at the time to render the large and complicated environments, leading to constant pop in. The other was, of course, the camera. Both have been fixed in the remake, with pop in being nearly non-existent and new camera angles making the game infinitely more playable.
The game has also been changed from the original 4:3 format to widescreen and with the HD refresh, it looks gorgeous. Not everything was smoothed out or completely redone which I feel was the right choice. Vehicles and environments still have a slightly blocky look to them which, because of processor limitations, was the style of the original. Jet Set Radio had a very unique look and SEGA has lovingly crafted an HD remake without taking anything away from the original that made it the cult classic that it is.
Music is a big part of the game and fortunately all but one track from the original Dreamcast version made it to the HD remake. An unlikely mix of J-Pop, Rock, Metal, Hip-hop, Acid Jazz and more bring Jet Set Radio a unique sound. The music is spun by DJ Professor K and it acts as a backdrop to the entire game, constantly playing in the background and working in concert with the areas and situations you find yourself in.
The sound effects and voices are all here as well, with DJ Professor K, Officer Onishima, Gum, Tab and all the ancillary characters sounding just as they did in the original.
While there is no specific multiplayer portion of the game, online leaderboards are available for pretty much every area and gameplay mode, perfect for score chasing.
When the game loads, you’ll see a classy logo for SEGA Heritage. Hopefully, this HD remake of Jet Set Radio signals a bright future for SEGA classics. A lot of care was put into the making of this game and it shows. Whether you’re a fan of the original or new to the series, Jet Set Radio is a unique title in video game history, one of those sign post games that everyone should play at some point in their lives and there’s no better time than now.