Poor SEGA. Things have been going badly for them ever since the Dreamcast had its plug pulled back in 2001, and since then fans have been pining for a return to the good old days. Attempts to mollify them have resulted in the less than stellar Sonic 4, Sonic Generations and the planned NiGHTs Into Dreams remake. Jet Set Radio’s re-release, however, came pretty much out of nowhere when it was announced earlier this year. Ported to the HD consoles by Blit Software rather than original developers Smilebit, who are now the rather uninterestingly titled Sega Sports R&D, it raises the graphical fidelity and adds dual analog control. But enough trivia, let’s talk rollerblading.
The Dreamcast was essentially a home arcade machine, well known for its excellent fighter series and strange cartoon things like Chu Chu Rocket that, only a few years earlier, would never have left Japan. Jet Set Radio is thus suitably Eastern in its plot, which revolves around roller-skating gangs fighting an eye-bleedingly colourful turf war on the streets of cartoon Tokyo.
So far, so Japanese, but the games it draws the most obvious similarities with are both Western. If one thinks of what would have happened if Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games interbred with De Blob, they’re a deranged individual indeed, but the bottom line is that JSR most resembles those two games if the main character had been drinking heavily in between each level.
You see, controls are the issue that stop this game earning an honest recommendation. You can have as many well-designed levels as you like, but if the player can’t navigate their way around them efficiently it’s all for naught. In real life, skating is like trying to walk across an ice rink on stilts, but it could be ventured that perhaps a video game does not need to be quite that frustrating.
The characters all build momentum at the same rate as a cruise ship and precision jumping is a huge no-no when they all react with the same haste as a sloth after a Horlicks. The graffiti which must be applied to all necessary surfaces in order to compslete levels is attractive, but only if you can ever apply it with the level of precision required to please the quick-time events. Each time you fail, you use paint, which means even more traipsing around the levels looking for spray cans while police shoot at you.
The smaller graffiti zones, such as those on cars, require only a button press to fill in, but it’s up to random chance whether the game will decide to grant that request, and if not it’s another inelegant 180 for you. If you still insist on getting this remake, for God’s sake get it on anything that isn’t the PS3. Using R2 and L2 to boost and spray paint would be fine if they weren’t so soft and marshmallowy, and the actions weren’t so frequent that the game left your hands in agonizing hook shapes, but I suppose that’s just my punishment for selling out to the gaming world’s equivalent of Darth Vader.
The music remains from the original (aside from one track mysteriously excised) and it suits nicely. In fact, were the other issues not present, it would be the icing on the already brightly coloured cake. As it is, it simply makes a bad game bearable, which hardly does it justice. A nice mix of upbeat songs and an amusing DJ mean you’ll have something to laugh at during cutscenes, and it’s nice to see a remake that actually bothers to renew the licenses on the music rather than just creating new, generic MIDI tunes (here’s looking at you, Crazy Taxi).
In the end, Jet Set Radio is a relic of a different time. It’s got some nice features, but the frustrations will set in long before you appreciate the artistic efforts.
While it had the potential to be fantastic, it fell at the first hurdle and dropped out of the race. So I’m sorry Sega, but Jet Set Radio only earns a 4/10.