Despite failing to be a financial success the Sega Dreamcast has a warm place in the hearts of many gamers for not only being one of the first online consoles but also for bringing many new titles, many of which went on to become cult classics, to the crowded games’ table. Crazy Taxi, Shenmue, and Phantasy Star Online all bring back fond memories of the doomed Sega console and Jet Set Radio stands amongst these video game legends as one of the must have titles of the short-lived but certainly memorable Dreamcast era. Twelve years on, which have included one sequel and numerous guest appearances by the Jet Set gang in other Sega titles, this cel-shaded classic resurfaces on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live in an attempt to woo that small brotherhood of Dreamcast owners with some turn-of-the-millennium nostalgia.
Set in the fictional (or is it?) city of Tokyo-to, players take on the role of Beat, a young “rudie” whose goal in life is to start his own gang of skating graffiti artists called the GGs and take over the town by marking his territory the only way he knows how – with spray paint. However, becoming the most famous graffiti artist is no easy challenge as standing in his way are three rival gangs who each control a different district in Tokyo-to. The heartbroken Love Shockers control the shopping district, the half man-half machine Noise Tanks control the nightlife district and punk rockers Poison Jam control the residential area. One by one Beat must gather new recruits from across Tokyo-to in order to take down these rival gangs, all the while avoiding the relentless long arm of the law, as well as a mysterious Yakuza-inspired clan strangely called the Golden Rhinos who seem to have taken an interest in young Beat and his new gang of skater artists.
For those who missed it first time around the gameplay consists of two main elements – skating and spraying. Beat and the other characters must skate, jump and grind their way around each level, accumulating speed and boost by performing tricks. The purpose of this is to use the boost to their advantage in order to hurl themselves towards those hard to reach places in order to locate and cover-up rival graffiti. It also comes in handy when avoiding the cops who, after a certain amount of time, chase you down for petty vandalism. The big addition to the gameplay in this HD update is the inclusion of camera control thanks to the PlayStation’s second stick - something which the Dreamcast controller did not have. It’s an addition that the game doesn’t exactly need, particularly whenever you’ve been so used to how the game worked before. The camera is stubborn, very restrictive, and tends to get stuck or snap back to its default position whenever you need it most.
To survive on the mean streets of Tokyo-to it takes more than just skater skills to make a name for yourself and this is where the graffiti element comes into play. These range from quick drive-bys as you tag police cars and lampposts to spraying large works of art on billboards. This requires picking up spray cans dotted around the level and following the instructions on screen in a quick time event based mini-game. Time is against you and so are your rivals, so if you miss a step or go all fingers-and-thumbs then you’d best get out of there before the cops catch you and you get knocked out by a rival gang member. As a port from the Dreamcast, the controls on the dual stick PlayStation 3 controller suit both styles of gameplay making this one transition well suited to the current generation of consoles.
There are various different modes that make up Jet Set Radio. The main levels consist of skating around an area of each district, frantically building up speed by performing tricks whilst tagging over rival gang graffiti. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds, as each level gets increasingly harder with rival gang members growing more determined to protect their turf, and Tokyo-to police officers trying to throwing you in jail. However, from the outset it’s clear that taking over the city isn’t a one man job, so often Beat runs into a number of characters who are willing to join the GGs, so long as he can beat them in a skate-off. These missions consist of usually three challenges, whereby the potential GG member performs a number of tricks which Beat has to copy exactly in order to win the round. Completing these challenges provide players with some new characters to use in their quest for total gang domination, and while Beat is the most rounded of the bunch, some of the others have particular strengths such as speed, agility and boost power which come in handy on some of the later levels. They also have their own portfolio of graffiti so chances are you’ll be switching between characters just to experience all of the game’s gorgeous artwork in its entirety. If that wasn’t enough, a custom graffiti editor means you can design your own work of art and potentially even become the video game version of Banksy. These features were all included in the original, so it’s nice to see they haven’t removed them or promised them as part of a future DLC package.
The cel-shaded graphics lie somewhere between The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Parappa the Rapper. The game boasts a wonderfully colourful neon palette with an art style that is nothing short of weird, wacky and most importantly, unique. However, for an HD port Jet Set Radio still shows its age, not quite looking as sharp or even as well rounded as many of the other HD updates that have graced online marketplaces recently. With street art culture reaching new levels of popularity it also would have been a good move to update some of the graffiti to suit the Banksy generation and perhaps breathe new life into this classic game. The same can be said for the soundtrack. DJ Professor K and his pirate radio station, strangely enough called Jet Set Radio, return as do most of the original bubblegum classic tracks that were the icing on the cake back in the year 2000. However, it would have been nice to see the playlist updated to even include a few new tracks in the same vain as the recent Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD.
Jet Set Radio HD is still as fun and original twelve years down the line. Since becoming a cult classic on the Dreamcast, it’s fair to say that no other game (even its sequel, Jet Set Radio Future) will ever be able to encapsulate the J-Pop bubblegum culture and unique fusion of game play styles quite in the way it did. However, any flaws from the original that have been painted over with a sense of nostalgia really show up here in the light of day. The inclusion of the adjustable camera becomes more of a hindrance than a help, and it would have been good to see the game updated to suit modern times. The final problem with this game is that it wholly depends on the Dreamcast alumni getting rather emotional about their long lost love affair with Sega’s last console. If you’re like me and still have a soft spot for the old girl, then chances are you’ll find her waiting right where you left her, in your parents’ attic or under the bed, and you’ll have very little need to repurchase Jet Set Radio as chances are the original disk will still be in the Dreamcast’s disk drive.
Video killed the radio star