In June of 2000, gamers the world over were introduced to something, that at the time was just a Dreamcast game, but would later be revered as a transition for the medium. Gravitating away from just being simply entertainment, but being appreciated as an art form; Jet Set Radio was that turning point and to this day remains one of the most important games released on any platform–and also the main reason why you should play it.
Jet Set Radio is a celebration of 90s youth culture; everything from the clothes to the music is definitively 90s early 2000s. It invokes feelings of rebellion and self-expression, but in a silly innocuous fashion. Upon booting up Jet Set you can’t help but feel these sensations, they pull strings that illicit something inside of us, that at times we may forget; that no matter how old we get–our youth is eternal. Jet Set Radio does a magnificent job at reminding us of that very notion.
Jet Set Radio – Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PS Vita (coming soon), Dreamcast (2000)
Price – $9.99 – PSN, 800 Microsoft Points – XBLA
The narrative of Jet Set Radio, while stylistic—is very cliché. Following along the lines of the game’s predominant theme of self-expression and rebellion, a group of young graffiti artists the “GG’s”, set out to take back the streets of the fictional Tokyo, Tokyo-to, by tagging anything and everything that represents “the man”. The “man” in this case is a nefarious conglomerate called the Rokkaku Group, hell bent on taking over Tokyo-to. Over the course of the game’s relatively short campaign you come across other groups of expressionists, with their own agendas (usually trying to thwart yours), and some that want to contribute to your cause, making for a very well rounded cast of characters.
Everything about Jet Set Radio is dripping with style. The era of cel-shaded graphics was undoubtedly pioneered by Jet Set Radio. It is because of this art style that we are still talking about the game and holding its timeless presentation in such high esteem. Many games from that era haven’t aged very well at all, but I can say, adoration aside, Jet Set Radio is still a visual feast and one that you shouldn’t pass over. Its visual attributes aren’t the only thing Jet Set has going for it and by that I mean its iconic soundtrack; easily one of the best to ever grace a video game. The upbeat electronic and hip-hop sounds fuel the game as much as the batteries that power the skates. And of course we can’t talk music without mentioning the mildly insane Professor K, the DJ of the #1 pirate radio station in Tokyo-to. Under his watch the GG’s have direction and good tunes to listen to while reclaiming the streets in their image.
I could sit here and regale about how much I love Jet Set Radio, but I’d be doing you a great disservice if I didn’t talk about how the game actually plays, which in a nutshell, is pretty bad. Jet Set Radio has the aesthetics down pat, but the game’s controls are fundamentally flawed and after 12 years are even more apparent do to advancements in game design. The inconsistent platforming (play the tutorial for healthy serving of that) coupled with an infuriating camera make navigating even the simplest levels much harder than it needs to be. Oh and those simple levels are far and few between I might add. The level design in Jet Set Radio, while very enchanting and vibrant; just doesn’t make any sense. Furthermore, the game has a tendency to abandon you during the less linear portions of the game and not in a good way. Veterans of the game may remember level layouts and what is expected of them, but newcomers, be prepared to have your timer run out on you quiet often. It becomes very much an exercise in trial and error, which should diminish the experience, but Jet Set’s charm offsets it. The camera in the original version of Jet Set Radio was downright broken and in a way still is in this HD facelift, but with modern controllers having a second analog stick, the ability to position the camera has been implemented, so in a way it’s less of an issue, but one nonetheless.
Despite these mechanical drawbacks, boosting around the levels is as fun as ever. Even if you drop into a level with the intent of just exploring, you will discover a portion of the magic that is Jet Set Radio.
Few games have come along that have staying power like Jet Set Radio. It is truly in a class of its own and established a following of devout fans spanning two generations. The original released before my time as a writer, but being able to pay homage to such a legendary title 12 years after the fact, is awesome and very humbling. Jet Set Radio was not only a seminal title on the Dreamcast; it was a seminal title for the industry–and regardless of any of its shortcomings, we owe it many thanks, for who knows where we’d be without it.