Jet Set Radio HD Review

I have heard that it is a better stance to be indifferent toward everything from the start, in order to prevent disappointment. However, if you are indifferent towards entertainment from the initial standpoint, why would you ever bother purchasing it, when you are not able to portray an emotion towards it, good or bad. I say this because I was fairly excited for this game and it did indeed let me down, yet by how much? When I break down this game on paper, it sounds like a prime contender for one of the best of all time, so by default it must be a disappointment, but how so and how much? Let’s dive on in!

Jet Set Radio HD Review
Release Date: 19/09/2012
Platforms: XBLA(Reviewed), Playstation 3/Vita, PC, iOS, Android
Developer: SmileBit, ported by Blit Software
Publisher: Sega

Set in the semi-futuristic city of Tokyo-To, a wave of graffiti spraying roller skaters, referred to as Rudies, have been assaulting this town with their creative expressions. You play as members of one of the gangs, the GGs, who are trying to obtain more territory over the city so that they could spray it with more of their art and style. Thus begins a struggle for power involving several themed gangs and their eventual stumbling onto a massive corporation that is trying to take over this city and bring on the lack of individuality.

Yeah, Japan has this thing where, and I’m paraphrasing someone with more knowledge than me, the end of high school brings forth a life that shuns creativity and desires every worker to just be a machine who spends literally half of their life working. Taking refuge in a spouse early on, in order to plant the seeds of their next kin, and repeat this cycle all over again. So they need to make media that reflect that fun time, hence their love of characters in high school.

However, beyond my first paragraph, the game is very lean on things like plot. You see, instead of seeing the characters do anything, this game tells us what happened through an eccentric DJ known as Professor K, the only character with more than 30 seconds of voice clips. So right out the gate it provides a pretty solid and, at least in recent years, formulaic set up, but then drops the ball and does something that breaks the first rule of filmmaking, let alone gaming. Now, I am attracted to this game’s lore like iron to a magnet, so it was incredibly saddening when I discovered that the 10 or so characters you get through the story mode, the changing antagonists, and a lot of the world itself, all feel very basic and flat. I understand limitations and the expected level of story, but would it kill them to include a paragraph to describe every character?

They all have a unique design, so I am attracted to learning about them, but I am not really given anything. Subtleties within gameplay are a great way to learn about characters, but they all feel pretty much the same, and there is not a lot of incentive other than how many spray cans and health these characters can hold. I understand removing a learning curve with all characters, yet this is not a good way at making everyone feel like any more than a skin. I only complain because of how much I care about seeing this world be fleshed out, but the entire plot of this game is the cliffnotes of a modern game’s plot, which just makes the potential feel utterly wasted in the narrative sense.

But hey, this game is trying to pull off an arcadey vibe, so I can understand having a brief plot, I guess, and the gameplay would be where this title really needs to stand out. As stated prior, the game centers on a gang of roller skating youngsters who like to graffiti things beneath arrows. As explained through both the game itself and its hard as crap tutorial, because discouraging you by telling you to do a 50 part combo is a great way to get you to teach you the ropes. Every normal level of the game has the same goal of stylishly getting to spray points through grinding on rails and doing jumps and wall runs. You gather around spray cans so you can spray more points and enter the QTE, which actually do sorta feel like spray painting something, required for them.

However, there are really only three large areas where you search for things to spray with your customizable graffiti, but all of them depict a different time of say and section of the city. Sure, you have two large urban areas with a very nifty pier and housing section, but I actually had a blast going through and memorizing how to best get through these areas, although sometimes I feel as if I shouldn’t have. You see, during the later levels, the game limits the number of spray can to just being one or two areas, and since these places are, in the end mostly linear. You need to either try to power through the areas or skip through a bunch of it in order to spray the larger sections, which take more time and leave you vulnerable to attacks from police officers, helicopters with machine guns, katana wielding afro men, and machine gun jetpackers. It sounds pretty awesome, but this is what I classify as a Flow Game, which is a title more about style and finesse, rather than just going through it without getting your ass kicked too much. So getting hit often due to some tricky to dodge machine gun fire. And with some hard to make jumps, it is easy to feel like you just suck at the title.

The game also does not allow you to quickly reset a stage unless you die or the 10-15 minute timer runs up, which it did a ton for a few stages. This lead to scenarios where I spent 3 hours desperately trying to get through one single level because I couldn’t get the wall run to work properly, and guys were whipping my Asian girl’s ass. Now, this could just be due to how I suck at games, which I kinda do. I couldn’t get the last purple coin rolling mission in Super Mario Galaxy 2 or beat Cave Story’s hell level. But I’m pretty sure that it is due to how the physics of this game are, well, kinda crap. And not the controls as some have said, the only problem with them is how the spray button repositions the camera, which disorients you up while spraying moving targets.

This game originally came out in 2000, before Havok and Unreal were used for 60% of games, and in house engines were made for pretty much a game by game basis. Pair it off with the fact that the only game like this, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, was set in part specifically made for skating, and it is easy to see why traversing the streets of Tokyo-To can be difficult. But it still feels like crap a ton of the time. I am no expert on physics in any regard, but the way that speed can just be completely lost like it is here, just feels wrong. As do the moon jumps which can be a pain if you want to keep your speed while grinding, and not making an ass out of yourself.

It is hard to explain, but it is not comfortable to traverse this world, when you can screw it up this easily. The challenge should not be in execution, it should be in using the mechanics to build up enough points to get a high rating if that is your thing. And having sharp corners in a game that requires you to be smooth, along with little gaps you need to awkwardly jump over, a bit of a misfire in level design. Now, I like how it looks like a city that could exist, the game is cel-shaded, you can get away with things that are stylized.

Oh yes, the cel-shading. I will go on record by saying that cel-shading is one of the greatest things to happen to gaming since it came into 3D. It is actually very saddening to see there being so few titles that bother to use this. I am aware that people prefer to use preset shaders, since they are easier than making several new ones. But so far, Borderlands 2 and the The Darkness 2 have been some of the best looking games of this year, because they decide to adapt a style that ages really, really well. Hell, as a title that came out in 2000 for the Dreamcast, the game looks a bit low in terms of polygons, and could use some more environments, but still looks great despite that. The vibrant colors, great looking character models, and surprisingly busy world all make for a game that, despite the lack of polygons, is one of the best looking 3D games I’ve seen.

And the music is also pretty great, taking a good amount of up-tempo tracks that manage to fit the vibrant and lively look if the title to a near fault. And considering that the soundtrack contains everything from J-Pop, Jazz, Rock, Electronic, and funk, it is impressive how going from one song to another does not have any large tonal shift. I’m pretty sure there is a song or two missing, but even as a collection of 28, although some might be cut due to regions, but I think that was amended, it is varied, upbeat, and always picked me up when the physics and level design disagreed on how I should do an action.

Through the glasses of modernity, I can still declare Jet Set Radio to be a game that is good, yet owes a lot to the positively lovely aesthetic sense it has. The wonderful style of the skater culture the game is influenced from, and the sheer brilliance of the very concept help forgive a lot. While the story is underbaked and pretty poorly executed despite a cool narrator , and the physics are kinda broken, especially with the way the levels can be set up, do break the flow the game relies on. But the satisfaction of getting things to work properly, and the fact the game stay so damn happy throughout, help make the title worth playing.

It’s held back by certain flaws, it manages to be a competently executed and fun product that is worth playing.

Have a positive or negative response? Please leave one below, it’s the only way I’ll improve.

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  1. Voltech

    Jet Set Radio seems like a litmus test for a gamer’s preference: “Would you rather have a stylish but flawed game, or a bland but functional game?” In theory (and sometimes in practice) I’d opt for the first one, but…well, I have my limits.

    I guess it’s too late now. My brother already downloaded the game, and while he’s made his complaints about…well, everything you mentioned, that hasn’t stopped him from playing it on multiple occasions. I haven’t given it a try yet, but I’m compelled to — if only because it’s not another blasted brown-and-gray shooter.

    At any rate, thanks for the review. Kind of weird that the story isn’t quite as fleshed-out as I would have guessed, but that’s hardly a deal-breaker. I’ll probably be jamming (and crashing) so much I’ll hardly notice.