This review is based on the Xbox Live Arcade version of the title, a review copy was provided.

“Let’s look at the funk”. While Jet Set Radio doesn’t quite stand the test of time, its style still provides a unique experience for gamers both old and new. Strap your skates on and head on down to Tokyo-To to join the GG’s and paint the town…a whole host of colours.

SEGA’s ‘heritage’ scheme to revisit some of their Dreamcast classics has yielded some interesting results thus far. With both anticipated releases (Sonic Adventure, Crazy Taxi [minus the music]) and some oddities (Sega Bass Fishing), we’ve finally been given a game that the fans have been after for years, Jet Set Radio.

It’s no lie that the Dreamcast is one of my most treasured possessions, since as well as being the first console that I owned myself, it provided access to an unparalleled amount of creative games, most of which are still fondly remembered; Through the unique gameplay introduced with titles such as Chu Chu Rocket, Shenmue, Rez, Samba De Amigo and Space Channel 5, it provided some unforgettable experiences for those who stuck with it till its untimely demise.

First things first, Jet Set Radio is a straight HD port, just like SEGA’s other re-releases, it’s back just as you remember it…..though those rose tinted nostalgia goggles may need a wipe, as there are some unforgiveable niggles which may spoil the experience for some. More modern gaming conventions of social connectivity and online play could have allowed Jet Set Radio to evolve into something larger given the time and budget (especially given the Graffiti creation system), but as this is a HD port, it’s hard to knock it for these aspects.

Tokyo-To (Tokyo to you and me) is home to a collection of graffiti gangs [Love Shockers, Poison Jam, Noise Tanks], each with their own turf, though now their way of life is under attack as the police force are starting to crack down on the gangs, plus something about Golden Rhinos and the Devil’s Contract….though it all takes a backseat to the gameplay as Professor K leads you through the game from his pirate radio station Jet Set Radio.

Skating in and around the expansive areas in the game from suburbs to the city centre, subway tunnels to the sewers, you’ll quickly come to see (and hear) why this title remains a solid fan favourite….style. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact aspect that makes it click, instead it works as a sum of its parts through music, art style, and just pure character. Thankfully the soundtrack returns fully intact (well, minus one track), and the art style is still as effective now as it was back in 2000. Popularising the cel-shading aesthetic to the visuals, Jet Set Radio’s visual style is so distinct, and you’ll be hard pressed to not have Hideki Naganuma’s astounding soundtrack stuck in your head for days. You’ll pick up a number of characters to add to your gang as you progress through the rival events, plus even have a flashback during the second chapter. There’s certainly a lot of variety, and you’ll never tire of the diverse environments that are thrown your way.

It’s actually quite hard to explain the core gameplay to someone who has no knowledge of the series, but to put it simply, imagine Tony Hawk got stuck in a comic book, throw in some graffiti and over the top villains, and you’re half way there. While of course you’re on rocket powered roller-skates as opposed to a skateboard, plus the lesser reliance on tricks, the real gameplay revolves around tagging marked locations before the timer runs out. Tagging varies between a simple button press, to longer analogue gestures for the larger paintings.

Where it all starts to show its age is in the core gameplay and controls, which compared to today’s gaming conventions feels a little clunky and at times frustrating. That’s of course not to say that these issues can’t be overlooked, as they can for long time fans, but a new player may find themselves up against a few brick walls as they progress through the 6-7 hour core story mode, plus the extra score attack and rival modes once you’re done with that.

The controls are where the main issues lie, as the ‘tag’ and ‘center camera’ commands are on the same button, meaning that it can get very disorientating during the ‘boss battles’ when you’re spamming the trigger to try and get a tag in. It’s a small issue that could have been easily fixed, as today’s modern gaming controllers have more than enough buttons to accommodate this, especially considering that they added full camera control via the right stick.

There’s also the over reliance on precise platforming at times, which the game’s core mechanics just don’t seem to work very well to achieve. The grinding is automatic, lining up can be fiddly, and when missing a single jump can cost you a substantial amount of time, it can lead to frustration. While it does require patience, it’s important to stick with it as the experience is certainly worth having.

The trick system, while not necessarily a core aspect of the title, adds to the fun, and is reminiscent of the original Tony Hawk’s. It’s important to keep the combo going, finding the correct route around the level, as since there’s no revert or manuals to continue the combo, high scores only come by learning the best level loop.

The environments are varied, the gameplay is over the top, and there’s nothing quite like it, so if you’re after something a little different, go give the demo a try, that is unless it’s already an impulse buy due to the nostalgia factor. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the iOS, Android and Vita versions fare when they release later this year, but as it stands, Jet Set Radio….it’s nice to see you back, even if the happy memories are better left as they are.


James Steel
James Steel

James likes games! So much so, his collection spans 19 formats and near 2500 games. Keen to progress in both video games journalism and video production, he often finds himself tracking down games of all formats in the local charity shops.