Jet Set Radio HD review
Out of all the Dreamcast games that have been demanded for re-release, only two really topped the list – Shenmue and Jet Set Radio. And while Sega mulls over bringing back Yu Suzuki's story-based saga to this medium, we at least have Smilebit's skating/graffiti spraying game, now available for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. For ten bucks, you get a game that's got a very good HD treatment, along with one of the best gaming soundtracks in recent memory. Now the only question is if you can put up with the minor control setbacks.
The game takes place in an alternate version of Tokyo, dominated by street gangs who prefer to dress up in loud colors and spray paint to mark their territory. Among these gangs are the GG's, consisting of Beat, Gum and Tab, three likable youths who are merely trying to avoid having their part of town overtaken by rivals. But the minute they start tagging, they find themselves not only facing off against their rivals, but also a rather hostile police force, led by a trigger happy captain. No worries, though – with some slick skating and quick tagging, you'll move onto the next area with ease, slowly bringing the city and its surrounding areas back to your funky level.
Jet Set Radio's skating techniques are nothing like you'd find in, say, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. There are things in common, like grinding on rails and performing mid-air tricks with a bit of flair, but it feels like it has an entirely different set of physics. This can be fun and also frustrating in parts, especially when you're trying to link tricks together and something like a passing car or a bothersome policeman breaks up your run.
That's not to say the controls are bad, because they really aren't. But there are some decisions that could've been better made. Having the camera function in the same place as the "tag" spray option, for instance, results in a jarring change of view when all you want to do is spray away. You'll still hit your target most of the time, but it's just a poor choice. Other physical problems emerge as well, but after some practice, you'll have no problem rolling along, performing tricks, collecting cans and marking like a pro.
As far as content goes, it's great to find all the levels here, with collectible icons and unlockable characters, but the option to share graffiti, as you were able to do in the Dreamcast version, isn't happening here. At least there are online leaderboards, where you can compete with others, but we would've preferred something a bit more creative. What's more, if you care at all about the history of Jet Set Radio, a neat featurette spotlighting the creative process behind the game is accessible from the Extras menu.
But now let's get to what really makes this port click – the presentation. The visuals, while a bit iffy with pop-up here and there, sparkle in a full 720p set-up, with gorgeous cel-shading effects and elegant city design, along with slick animations that bring your characters to life. It's also fun to watch Professor K inject some old-school attitude back into the proceedings, as only he can. And the music, like the original, is magnificent, with plenty of dance tunes, techno mixes and American rock to keep your ears occupied. You'll have fun listening to this all over again.
Not every aspect of Jet Set Radio HD has aged well over the past few years, particularly the controls. But it's still a well done port of a game that defined what made the Dreamcast so different then, and still remains a fairly good ride now. Besides, who knows when we're gonna get Shenmue…?
[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]