Jet Set Radio

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8 Overall Score
Gfx/Sound: 8/10
Gameplay: 6/10
Style: 9/10

Slick presentation that transcends its flaws. | Great fan service.

Controls that are as imprecise today as they were in the original.

Written by on October 22, 2012 in [, , , , ]

Reboots. Remakes. Rehashes. Nowadays, they’re not so uncommon. Jet Set Radio falls into the second category on my list: remake, of the HD variety. The funny thing about a remake is that it’s actually an old game. When we’re talking about doing a review, is it really fair to hold a game to current standards when it was designed in a time and place where the industry and the gamers were very different than what they are today.  What’s a game reviewer to do?

Well, this reviewer is going to go against the popular grain and apply a slightly different standard to Jet Set Radio. Before we get into that, let’s get the technicalities out of the way.

The premise puts the player in the jet powered skates of the GGs, one of Neo Tokyo’s skate gangs. Where there are gangs, there are turf wars fought with spray paint cans and graffiti. And where there are turf wars, there a cops bent on ridding the streets of vandalizing delinquents  In Neo Tokyo though, the cops are in the pocket of megacorporation, Rokkaku. The player’s goal is to take over rival gang territory by spraying over their graffiti, all the while dodging the goose-stepping security forces that use motorcycles, tear gas, guns, helicopters and tanks to put an definitive end to wheeled menaces in the different sectors of the city.  Tanks? Rocket-hurling gun ships? Really?  The punishment may be a bit extreme for the crime of vandalism, but I suppose tickets and juvenile detention don’t quite fit into the over-the-top Jet Set world.

Visually, the Jet Set world retains its iconic flair. Painted with bright colors and hard black outlines typical of cell shading, it was a relatively new visual style that added a distinct look. Even though Beat and Gum weren’t the first cel-shaded characters, they are among the earliest and the most memorable. Just as memorable is the music. It’s an energetic blend of rock and dance that fans have really taken to. Mechanically though, there are flaws. These flaws existed when Jet Set Radio first skated onto the scene over a decade ago, and unfortunately, they haven’t gone anywhere, and fans who have already spent time in Neo Tokyo understand this.

 

Newcomers to the franchise, however, would not be incorrect to complain about the imprecise platforming that will leave the player missing a rail or failing to pull off a wall ride. Because of this, some of the follow-the-leader type challenges nearly drove me to abandon the game entirely.  Newcomers will also have legitimate problems with timed levels that end in a “Try Again” prompt when the clock runs down to zero. Where modern games  have embraced open levels without having to watch a countdown, Jet Set Radio may feel old-fashioned. These same newcomers have a valid argument against the inconsequential trick system.  Outside of grinding, leaps and grabs and their scores don’t add much, if anything, to the game. The same can be said of the spray painting mini-game.  To spray over a rival gang’s graffiti, you have to follow onscreen prompts to twirl a thumbstick in a specific pattern. Successfully miming the patterns means completion of the graffiti. It’s interesting the first few times, but after doing it several times per level, I can see where it can get tedious. Apparently, Smilebit took this complaint to heart, because they removed the mini-game in the sequel.

If Jet Set Radio was released today for the very first time, these faults would be deal-breakers and review scores would suffer because of them.  Yet, weirdly enough, I would still recommend this game to fans of the series because, let’s be serious here, fans of the series is the target audience. This is not a reboot or a re-imagining. Nothing outside of the higher resolution and touched up graphics has been redone. Some could argue that this is a lazy money grab. Others, like myself, argue that this is a deliberate attempt to keep the Jet Set Radio spirit true to its original release. With that in mind, my only complaint is that the included making-of video doesn’t play in a higher resolution.

 

Does it hold up to today’s standards? I would argue that it depends on what you’re trying to get out of a title like this. If we’re talking about your basic review template talking points like graphics, sound, mechanics, then I would say that overall, Jet Set Radio falls short, especially with the controls.  When preparing for this write-up, I hooked up my old consoles and replayed the original Jet Grind Radio on the Dreamcast and Jet Set Radio Future on the original Xbox. After days of playing through those as well as the new HD remake, I’ve become a firm believer that there’s more to Jet Set Radio than the typical talking points we expect to read about in most video game reviews.

Behind Jet Set Radio is the idea that fun is in the eye of the beholder.  Games are made up of so many moving parts, there is no single formula.  In this case, eye-catching visual design, fun music and a silly story can, in the skillful hands of the right developer, be more important than how a game controls.  Head scratcher, I know. It goes against the modern convention for what a video game is supposed to be. But if you’re thinking you’ll get the technicality of a Tony Hawk or Skate, you’re playing for the wrong reasons. Jet Set Radio is all about aesthetic style. In this case, form comes before function and it’s okay. In fact, I think it succeeds because of this approach.

Ask any fan what makes the series so special and I’m fairly certain some will regale you with fuzzy memories of their love of the character design.  Others will be able name the tracks and artists behind the eclectic soundtrack. I’m willing to bet that nearly all of them will mention their affection for the style of  Jet Set Radio before they even think about mentioning controls.

The retrospective video included with the download is just further indication that the Jet Set Radio HD Remake is a love letter to the fans. It concentrates mostly on the look and feel of the game and rarely addresses the actual skating mechanics.  Trying to evaluate Jet Set Radio based on anything other than its style is missing the point.

A copy of Jet Set Radio was provided to The Married Gamers for review.

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Author: John Catuira View all posts by

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