Developed by Smilebit
Published by Sega
Played on: PS3
Also Available on: PS Vita/PSTV, Xbox 360, Dreamcast, Microsoft Windows, MAC OS, Linux, IOS, and Android
Professor K has started the only pirate radio station in all of Tokyo-to: Jet Set Radio. His illegal tunes radiate all across the city, inspiring rebellious teenagers to take to the streets with their new magnetic roller blades and spray paint. Beat, a new skater on the block, decides to start his own gang, The Shibuya GG, to compete against the other three gangs in town: the Love Shockers, Poison Jam, and the Noise Tanks. From here, Beat and his fellow partners in crime spray their graffiti around town against the other gangs in an all out spray paint war. But as this goes on, Captain Onishima of the Tokyo-to police has had enough of this vandalism. He vows to destroy the Shibuya GG, and then shut down Jet Set Radio. It’s up to Beat and his team to paint the town with their own form of expression before Onishima is able to use his armies of riot police, attack helicopters, and tanks to crush them.
Jet Set Radio is a 3D movement based game in which the goal is to tag all of the rival gangs symbols around the various sections of town before time runs out. Most levels revolve around this simple premise, with the idea being that the player will use the environment around them to find the fastest routes possible.
Movement is very important in this game, so I’ll talk about that first. The game has a lot of similarities to the Tony Hawk series in terms of performing tricks to earn points and using special moves to traverse the level in the fastest manner possible. The player moves around the level using futuristic roller blades that have the ability to attach themselves onto various objects to perform grinds and wall runs. Performing these tricks adds points to your overall score, which is used to determine your rank out of six after each level.
At first, the movement in the game was fun. I have never played a game like this before. And having the loose and fast paced skating mechanics made the game incredibly enjoyable, to a certain point. While the game’s levels start out in large areas where the player can bounce around and experiment with the various tricks they can pull off, the game starts to shed these more open-ended elements in later levels. Many levels in the late game require the player to skate around small towns and tight city centers, taking away much of the freedom and fluidity the game initially offered.
But when you’re not skating around the town, you can tag the objectives to complete the level. Tagging is done through a fairly simple mini-game in which the players follows a sequence of on screen commands that involve pushing the analog stick in various directions. The mini-game is simple enough at first, and can be entertaining. But with the same patterns of direction appearing for every character and tag, it can get repetitive.
Outside of missions, the player can recruit new members. This is done by accepting a challenge from a rival gang member. The player has to complete three tasks that either involve copying the moves of the rival skater or tagging a specific spot before they do. Both of these challenges expose some of the game’s deficiencies.
The issue with copying your rival’s moves is how loose the skating system is. There isn’t any real way to lock onto a rail or wall other than jumping in the air and hoping that the pixels line up. The lax controls make for good gameplay when the player wants to invent their own way of getting around. But when you have to follow a specific set of instructions, it can be hard to complete them because the game lacks an aiming or lock-on system to exactly copy the other person’s moves.
The issue with the second challenge is how hard it is to find the object to tag. The game gives you a map of where to go but it doesn’t give any real directions other than the end location. So the player is forced to follow their AI opponent to the tag. But even then, it can be a challenge of actually getting to the tag in time, since the AI is always faster than you because they never screw up a landing or overshoot a turn.
As far as gameplay is concerned, that’s it. The game consists of 15 levels where you tag various locations around the map in a certain time limit. To be fair, during these levels, the police will slowly deploy more and more forces such as attack helicopters and tear gas. But these are easy to avoid as the player slowly gets more accustomed to the game. There are a few levels where instead of tagging objects around a section of Tokyo-to, the player has to tag members of a rival gang. These missions were actually very fun, with the AI occasionally stopping to allow the player some time to catch up if they made a mistake.
The only other criticism I have of the game other than the sloppy skating controls is the in-game cutscenes. Most of the games cutscenes (with what few there are) just consist of Professor K telling the people of Tokyo-to what The Shibuya GG just did to an opposing gang. But during the gameplay sequences, if the player escapes the police, a cutscene will show the police stomping on the ground in anger. This may not sound like anything, but most of the time when evading the police the player is jumping off a ramp into the air. So when that cutscene plays, your character is still in the air, meaning that it’s easy to get disoriented when switching back from the cutscene and botch the jump you just made.
But I want to get to the reason of why I bought this game. I have never been very interested in movement based games like Jet Set Radio. But when I heard people talk about the game’s hip-hop energy or saw the in-game images on PSN showing the beautiful cell-shaded art style, I knew that I wanted to give this game a shot. And you know what, this is probably the best reason to buy the game. Even with the appalling lack of story the game still managed to keep me interested with its catchy soundtrack and colorful art style. The in your face vibe is pretty cool, and shows why this is one of the Dreamcast’s most memorable games. But a pretty face can’t make up for gameplay shortages, which is so annoying. I want to love this game. On the surface in terms of aesthetics, design, and flare, it’s perfect. In terms of gameplay, I didn’t have much tolerance for the overly-loose skating controls. But I kept playing because I loved the vibe of the game and the early levels were good enough that I replayed them.
In conclusion, Jet Set Radio is a beautiful game that deserves a certain level of patience. I wasn’t a fan of much of the gameplay due to the fact that the game was all too quick to abandon the open highways and park spaces for crowded city streets and cramped alleyways. I did however find many of the levels to be fun and engaging. But the best thing about this game by far is it’s artistic flare and style. These are the game’s best selling points, and the first few levels alone make it worth ten dollars. But I have to judge the full game. And I feel that most of the game proves to be more frustrating then it’s worth. While I’ll admit that this isn’t my favorite genre and this is my first foray into this type of game, I still think that fans of this kind of genre will be disappointed. In the end, if your a fan of the Tony Hawk games or any other series like that, then maybe add a point or two to my score.
I am giving Jet Set Radio a 6 out of 10
Game has great personality
Soundtrack is terrific
First half of the game proves to be very enjoyable
Recruitment trials feel unfair because of skating system
Skating system isn’t tight enough for close quarter levels
The game really doesn’t have a story of any kind
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