One of the most defining games from Sega’s Dreamcast library returns after twelve years in the rollerblading, graffiti spraying Jet Set Radio, now available for download on XBLA and PSN. With updated high-definition visuals, tightened controls, and a thumping soundtrack, this latest reissue from the Dreamcast’s considerable library of digital treasures proves there’s still plenty fun to be had in stylishly skating and around a neon-bright city and tagging it up while grooving to the beat.
It seems like it was just yesterday when it was the year 2000 and the Sega Dreamcast was entering the final stage of its all-too-short lifespan. One of the most popular games to come out around that time was Jet Set Radio (also known as Jet Grind Radio when it was first released), developed by Sega’s crack studio Smilebit (also responsible for the Panzer Dragoon series, and most recently the mascot crossover Mario & Sonic Olympic games). It quickly became one of the console’s ‘must have’ titles thanks to its groundbreaking use of cel-shaded visuals to bring its punk-inspired motif of painting graffiti-like tags across a virtual city that only Sega could have created.
Jet Set Radio takes place in the near-future in a city called Tokyo-to, a psychedelic polygonal metropolis where gangs wearing magnetically driven in-line skates tag as much of the city as they can with graffiti. You play as as Beat, a young guy who is looking to make his own gang called the GG’s, which gets started after you complete the basic tutorial that heps you recruit the first two members, affectionately named Gum and Tab. As you race around town tagging everything in sight, the hip DJ Professor K keeps the awesome music pumping while also updating you on rival gangs and the police trying to stop you in the area.
The simple controls have been tightened up quite a bit since the loose feel of the Dreamcast version. As you move around with the left analog stick, there’s a boost button to speed up along with the jump and tag buttons. When you’re going fast enough, you can jump on railings and grind across, down, or even up on them and jump off to perform a fun random trick in the air. Then there’s the main focus of the game, picking up cans of spray paint that’s all over the area you’re in and tagging it up. On each stage you’ll have a limited amount of time to find and spray paint a number of marked locations in the city, all while avoiding rival gangs, cops, helicopters, dogs, etc. Tagging starts off easy enough, as small ones just require you to press the tag button once you reached the marked spot. But as you progress, bigger tags will have you performing controller moves with the left stick such as curve up or down, to the left or right, pulling straight down or up, full 360 spins and so on. There’s even a tag editor in the options if you’re bored with the standard ones and want to custom make your own to use when you play.
One of the things most will notice upon playing are the sharp, cel-shaded graphics that make up the world of Tokyo-to. While a big jaggy around the edges (the source material is a dozen years old, remember), the updated HD visuals come in clean, clear and in widescreen for the first time, which really shows off the fun and colorful theme of the game. The sound is just as exciting if not the best thing about Jet Set Radio, as an eclectic mish-mash of J-pop, Acid Jazz, Hip-hop and more thump through your speakers that’s sure to have you bobbing your head as you tag up the city.
There isn’t much to gripe about with this reissue, though I will admit that some may have trouble with the inflated difficulty in the later stages. Things tend to get a little heated where you have to learn an area first in order to find the best path to tag in a timely manner while also learning which spots to hit first before the enemies come at you in full force. There also isn’t any online or offline co-op action for those who enjoy multiplayer titles, but I guess it’s really no surprise for a $10 re-release.
With its updated high-definition visuals, improved controls and challenging gameplay, Jet Set Radio is a much welcomed blast from the past that both hardened fans and newcomers are sure to enjoy. The game’s trademark cel-shaded visuals are still as bright and colorful as ever, the soundtrack still as genre-thumping, and there’s plenty of skating and tagging action as you try to outrun and outwit various foes that will do anything to stop you. Combine this frantic gameplay with some sweet looking visuals and even sweeter tunes, and you have a guaranteed classic reborn as a $10 download that you should let tag itself into your game library.
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