Review by horror_spooky

Reviewed: 12/10/12

Tag! You're it!

Sega's Dreamcast is sort of a cult classic for video game consoles. The Dreamcast was the first sixth generation console released, but it quickly failed, and saw Sega drop out of the console race. However, there are many games on the Dreamcast that Sega fans still hail to this day as being absolute must-plays, and with Sega operating as a third party developer and publisher, these titles are seeing re-releases on other systems. Most recently, Sega has re-released the cult classic Jet Set Radio on the Vita with an HD version.

Jet Set Radio is still talked about by Sega fans as being one of the most unique games on the Dreamcast, and an under-appreciated gem. Perhaps it'd be better on the big screen, because Jet Set Radio on Vita is fairly mediocre, with a couple of good ideas marred by questionable design decisions and buggy execution. I am of the belief that just because a game is old doesn't make it bad, but my time with Jet Set Radio has lead me to the conclusion that it was always bad, and its quality was over-inflated at its release due to how "different" it was compared to all the other games.

To its credit, Jet Set Radio was a pioneer of the cel-shaded visual style. All characters are cel-shaded, which gives them the appearance of a cartoon. This unique visual style has since been copied endlessly, but cool art does not translate into a good game automatically. Jet Set Radio's entire gameplay revolves around art, as the game is about graffiti.

Borrowing elements from The Warriors, Jet Set Radio is set in a futuristic Tokyo where freedom of expression is now a crime. To fight back against this oppression, a few gangs from the different districts of Tokyo have risen up, decorating the streets with colorful graffiti tags. Instead of working together, these gangs are at odds. The player takes control of the GG's, and after a few recruiting missions to teach player the ins and outs of the game, the crew is ready.

Characters in the game are armed with roller skates and roller blades. By tapping R, the characters pick up speed, and players have to grind their way through the levels, searching for areas to tag. Spray paint is not an unlimited resource, so there are floating paint cans around the level that must be collected. Going around the level and collecting these spray paint cans can be tedious. Each level feels like snippets of a Tony Hawk game, as the player skates around the city with a time limit imposed.

I admit, the game is fun sometimes. With better controls, I would've enjoyed Jet Set Radio much more. Trying to line up the skaters with rails properly is a daunting task, as just a slight tilt of an analog stick sees skaters careening off in all directions wildly. Platforming quits being a challenge and starts being a frustrating chore. I felt like I was struggling against the controls and the platforming elements, when they should've felt like a natural element of the game, since a huge part of Jet Set Radio hinges on these very mechanics.

Some graffiti tags require longer than a simple button press. These are accomplished with QTE segments in which you must move the analog stick in the indicated directions. Interestingly enough, The Warriors video game by Rockstar borrowed this mechanic for their game adaptation of the film. Coincidence? Probably. At any rate, this mechanic worked much better in The Warriors as it sometimes just does not work properly in Jet Set Radio.

The cel-shaded art style ensures that the levels are at least visually interesting, if not terribly detailed or fun to look at. Complementing the art style is Jet Set Radio's musical score, that is similarly against the norm. The game sports a techno soundtrack that dabbles in J-Pop, providing the perfect atmosphere for the game. The soundtrack reminded me of The World Ends With You, and that's a definite compliment. Voice acting is minimal, but the DJ in the game has a cool voice that is memorable. Strangely, characters are often cut off at the very end of their sentences, which must have just been a result of poor editing.

Some of the most fun to be had in Jet Set Radio comes from the home base. From here, you can choose which mission to undertake, but you can also recruit new members by completing their platforming challenges. These challenges feel cheap as hell due to the poor controls, but it's hard to deny the thrill of recruiting new members to your crew. Customizing graffiti tags is also fun, and any graffiti tag that you can possibly dream of can be created.

From a technical standpoint, Jet Set Radio has issues. There was one instance when I turned on the game and I couldn't play because it would just keep pausing every couple of seconds. I have no idea why this happened or if it was an isolated issue, but it certainly affected my enjoyment of the game.

Jet Set Radio is fairly short, and the trophy list can be completed without too much hassle, except for the lame trophy for collecting all the meaningless collectibles in the levels. I suppose replayability is supposed to lie in the leaderboard system that is implemented, but due to the poor controls, the later levels become obstacles that must be overcome -- not revisited.

I can see the cult appeal, but Jet Set Radio is simply not a good game. I loved the art style, the music, the atmosphere, but I hated the actual gameplay, as the poor controls and unresponsive nature of core gameplay mechanics cripples Jet Set Radio. I usually don't like to use the term "nostalgia glasses", but I think Jet Set Radio fits that phrase perfectly.

Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Product Release: Jet Set Radio (US, 11/20/12)

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