Also On: XBLA
The original Jet Set Radio first appeared on the SEGA Dreamcast in 2000, and was localized here in the States as Jet Grind Radio. It wasn’t quite a blockbuster hit, but certainly was a cult/critic favorite for the system, and could easily be labeled as one of the defining games for the Dreamcast’s relatively short life cycle. It had one sequel/prequel released with Jet Set Radio Future on the Xbox, but outside of that, JSR doesn’t get a lot of modern day love.
So when fans learned of an HD re-release coming for PSN and Xbox Live Arcade, people were pretty excited to revisit the fictional world of Tokyo-to again. And as far as HD ports of decade old games go, it’s a pretty good trip down memory lane for the folks that know what they’re getting into.
When I first laid hands on Jet Set Radio in my 20’s, shortly after the game released, I was pretty much blown away by the look of the game, like most folks. But man oh man do those controls take some getting used to. At the time I was a little less willing to be patient with a game, and sit down to practice and learn how to play something properly, so Jet Set Radio didn’t leave a huge, positive impression on me. And jumping back into the game now, with this HD port, I find that feeling kind of sticks.
However, spending more time with the game via this port has certainly led me to believe that with a little patience and practice, you can sort of wrap your head around the odd physics that surround the game. It will absolutely test your nerves a time or two, there are more than enough frustrating segments found throughout the chapters that make up the stages found here that can be enough to make you want to put the controller down for good. But if you stick with it, learn how to properly time jumps, and understand what to expect based on the timing of the world around you, I think it’s possible to still enjoy the game.
Jet Set Radio is at its best when you’re going through the standard levels that make up the game. These stages feature a time limit, and fairly open environment, and a series of spots where you’ll lay down tags of graffiti, typically over pre-existing tags from rival gangs. Along with the time limit you’ll need to deal with the local police that are trying to interrupt your art, which can be troublesome but add a layer of tension to the experience that makes things all that much more frantic. These stages are the best thing about the game, and continue to be so here in the HD version.
Where Jet Set Radio tends to go off the rails a bit is bits that I’d categorize as side missions. This is generally relegated to acquiring new gang members, wherein new folks will show up at your base and challenge you to a series of tricks or chases in order to get them to join up. These are less forgiving, and infinitely more frustrating experiences that I could still do without. Thankfully the camera in the HD port makes this a less taxing experience than in the original, but there’s a level of frustration here still.
Also, I’m not particularly fond of the boss fight stages, which usually involve chasing down rival gang members and attempting to tag their backs a number of times to incapacitate them. These are less difficult and more laborious, typically involving long stretches of chases where you’re just stuck waiting for an opportune stretch of time to get behind a rival gang member and tap the tag button as fast as you possibly can.
As far as the actual port goes, it’s pretty good on the PSN, but not without some serious framerate hiccups. It’s certainly not a noticeable drop all the time, and doesn’t hit anything close to the single digit category, but the fact that there’s any struggle with the framerate at all is certainly disappointing. The original seemed to tax the Dreamcast pretty hard, but who would have thought JSR would still screw with hardware in 2012?
Outside of the issues with framerate, the game looks and sounds pretty great. The majority of the original soundtrack is present here, and outside of what I believe is one missing track, you’re getting a dead on, accurate representation of what the original game contained. The cel-shaded look that JSR pioneered in 2000 looks just as nice here, and while the 3D modeling might be a bit flat for modern day standards, the unique and brightly lit art style goes a long way in making this game look good today.
There’s not a lot of optional or additional content, but there are some extras tucked away in a menu, which includes a neat little documentary of sorts and other supplemental material. I’d love to see the history of the game blown out a little more there, but I’m happy that there was at least some thought given to extras, which a number of HD ports seem to lack.
Overall, it’s a pretty solid port of a fun but flawed game. JSR certainly paved a path for future games with its super-unique art style and soundtrack, but it’s hard to say that the controls and physics found within stand the test of time as well as the rest of the package. I definitely think its worth checking out if you have any love for the game from your youth, but if you’ve never experience the series before I’d hold off until a demo becomes available.
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