Jet Set Radio HD Review

Developer: Smilebit, Blit / Publisher: Sega / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price: $9.99 / ESRB: Teen [Lyrics, Mild Violence]

JetSetRadioHDHeader

Before I talk some mess about Jet Set Radio HD, let me establish how much I loved the original. Jet Grind Radio (original American name) wasn’t only one of my favorite games, but actually played a large part of building who I am. It was one of my first introductions to hip hop culture and graffiti, and it contained a soundtrack that I still listen to today. Yes, I even listened to it while inline skating (but at least I was doing that before the game came out). All of the artistic value of Jet Set Radio HD is still intact, but time has been very unkind to the game’s quirks that were far more excusable twelve years ago.

GAMEPLAY AND CONTROL

One of Jet Set’s greatest virtues is that you can’t really describe it with references to any other game. You play as a skate gang in Tokyo called the GGs. At the game’s outset, you’re simply in a turf war with other gangs in Japan, vying for territory by covering other gang’s graffiti tags with your own. In concrete game systems, this translates into three main level styles: tag X number of areas within a time limit, complete specific challenges to recruit new members, or tag the backs of rival gang members to eliminate them from an area.

The basic gameplay is fun but the structure and controls are obviously dated. One of Jet Grind Radio’s main gameplay elements is grinding — it’s generally faster to get around while grinding on rails and most levels are constructed with this in mind. The only problem is whether or not you actually snap to a rail is very dodgy. On more than one occasion I’d land on a grindable surface as though it were flat ground, or better yet start grinding then just flop off the rail for no real reason. Jumps are extremely floaty as well, which is both good and bad. Ideally it gives you time to make small adjustments to your trajectory in mid-jump to land on rails. It works like that sometimes, but more often your air momentum exacerbates small mistakes. Say your stick is ten degrees away from straight forward when you jump — you’ll veer wildly off course and miss a grind rail that may have been just in front of you.

Here’s an example of how wonky and unpredictable the controls can be: I was playing one challenge that required me to grind one rail, transfer to another, then jump off and stop on a platform. I did it on the first try but then backed out of the second part of the challenge. When I restarted, it took me five tries to do the first part of the challenge again just because weird little stuff kept going wrong. That’s the general story of the game at large; it’s not uncommon to attempt the same jump five times because the game’s physics are so unreliable.

Other aspects of Jet Set Radio HD like tight time limits and non-regenerating life fit right in with the arcade culture of the Dreamcast, but may be jarring for players used to more modern and softer approaches. These gameplay aspects aren’t bad, but certainly worth keeping in mind. There isn’t a whole lot added to the package to justify the HD either. You can now control the camera with the right stick, but it snaps back to center so quickly it’s not very useful. There are also online leaderboards for those that want to compete in score attack-type levels that are unlocked later in the game, but again that’s a fairly negligible contribution. I did enjoy the “Making of” mini-documentary included with the game though. Ultimately it’s more of a re-release than an HD remake, despite actually being in HD.

Jet Set Radio HD

VISUALS

Though the gameplay of Jet Set has obviously degraded with age, the artistic side of the game is timeless. The aesthetic of Jet Set rivals the best of Japanese pop art. Hip hop culture and the bright, cutesy flash of Japanese manga and anime combine effortlessly with cel-shading to create a world that’s a living embodiment of music and manga culture. This is lofty and haughty praise, I’ll admit, but it’s true.

The paint has chipped, however. There are a few elements of the visuals that didn’t survive the modernization so elegantly. First of all, it doesn’t look like any of the textures have been uprezzed. Given that the original game didn’t rely heavily on sharp textures, it doesn’t impact the visuals too much. In fact, you could argue that some of the blocky textures give the game more retro-artistic appeal, but that’s up to taste. What’s less excusable are the frame rate issues and overly aggressive environment culling. Some levels — Grind Square most of all — chug down to the FPS teens at times, and it’s possible to see a screen completely blank of geometry if you turn around too quickly or travel too fast.

SOUND

Jet Set has one of the best soundtracks of any game ever and the HD re-release contains all but one of the original tracks. So says Wikipedia anyway… I couldn’t tell which track was missing and that’s with a decade of listening to the soundtrack under my belt. The range and quality of Jet Set’s soundtrack is unparalleled. Not only do you get acid jazz, hard rock, and jpop, but bizarre combinations of big beat electronica with high-energy Japanese vocals that you can’t find anywhere else. The soundtrack is worth the price of entry alone for music buffs. Given that the game is equal to the cost of an album on iTunes, it’s a no-brainer.

BOTTOM LINE

Jet Set Radio was a hallmark release, but it was only so because it hit at just the right time. The artistic aspects of the game are timeless, and I’d recommend the game without batting an eye to anyone that’s interested in quirky games or unique visual design. People that just want a fun game though, that’s trickier. By all means play it if you missed it the first time around, just understand that the value is in theme and presentation rather than timeless gameplay.

7.5 / 10

  1. Sadly I won’t be buying this, I wish they would of made a HD remake of future.

  2. I love this game yet I hate this game. This game is amazing and I still own the dreamcast version. I only wish they would have fixed the terrible game physics. Most of the gameplay is spent redoing a challenge because your opponent is twice as fast as you and can hit the same line everytime no matter how messed up the physics are. The Yo-Yo challenge and then the Combo/Beat challenge are by far the most frustrating. I literally got so pissed that I had to stop playing the game for a day on each of these and then came back the next day and could do it on the first try. The challenge when you are Combo racing beat and you have to jump out of the water drain through a fence gate, Combo wont stop doing spin tricks so you can’t go through the door. The rail physics are terrible, it is so hard to actually hit a rail and not over shoot, you have to actually jump for it way earlier then you would normally think. Every time you bump into something you are completely thrown off your pace and it takes a good minute to recover. When you are facing opponents, they can knock you on your ass if they touch you but they are somehow unaffected from their pace. The camera is SUPER messed up when you are trying to navigate through small turns, the camera is too far behind you, and if you make the camera catch up too fast, it changes your controls and you are somehow skating the opposite direction than you were before. Just a few of the many screwed up things that they could have fixed in this port, but I guess it wouldn’t have been the same game then. I was just hoping that they would someday make an actual sequel that wasn’t only for XBOX. But all this aside I love this game. It is seriously one of a kind and I’m disappointed that they didn’t try to capitalize more on the success of this game!

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