The Dreamcast had few flaws, but one of them was the choice to only use one analog stick. This meant that third person action games released for the system relied on the sort of auto camera that plagued games of the N64 and Playstation 1 era. Jet Set Radio (AKA Jet Grind Radio) was one such game that had great ideas and slick style, but was held back by bad camera and frustrating control. The new HD re-release that hits Xbox Live and PSN this month manages to fix some of these problems, but not all.
Jet Set Radio is about kids who use their magnetic rollerblades and spray paint to zoom around Tokyo and resist authority by tagging stuff at high speed (Remember kids, vandalism is WRONG in the real world). Players control various stylish raver/taggers who can do cool stunts much like the Tony Hawk games that were so popular in the nineties, but every level has a series of points where players must stop to spray their tag using a graffitti mini-game. Along the way, they must avoid squads of police goons too.
This blend of styles was unusual enough to keep players interested, but the real draw was the art design and the music. The characters and their world were colorful and vibrant, while a cool soundtrack accompanied their adventures. These aspects of the game hold up very well; the music is still great (Although in a retro way now) and the art design is unlike anything else.
However, Jet Set Radio is still twelve years old, and definitely shows its age. Released at a time when cell-shading was a fantastic new concept, and extreme sports were all the rage, its graphics, controls and mechanics are extremely dated. The HD edition puts it in widescreen, and makes it look crisp on our big modern TV’s, but this colorful world is still filled with blocky people made of too few polygons. This was a trade off to have large, populated levels that could still run on the Dreamcast’s hardware.
The second analog stick on modern console controllers is used to control the camera, but the characters can still be very difficult to control when moving in tight spaces. This is a problem when trying to make the character quickly grab a power-up that’s right next to them, or line up a tricky jump without a running start.
Jet Set Radio is also rather hard. Each level has many easy objectives, but they always boil down to a couple of hard-to-reach spots that players will need to reach, all the while avoiding the patrolling enemies that slowly nibble away at the health bar.
Younger gamers who don’t remember the Dreamcast will definitely find this version of Jet Set Radio to be a fascinating window into the past of gaming – and late 90’s culture in general.
Fans of the game from the old days will definitely appreciate playing it again in proper widescreen (And with that wonderful second control stick), but there are a few extras that come with this edition to sweeten the deal.
First, there is a documentary about the game’s development, which features interviews with the designers. On top of that, there are unlockable soundtracks from Jet Set Radio Future, the Xbox-only sequel.
Jet Set Radio HD is available now for Playstation Plus members, and comes out for PlayStation Network on September 18th and Xbox Live on the 19th.