Jet Set Radio Review

By Andrew Hayward - Posted Sep 20, 2012

A dozen years after its Dreamcast debut, Jet Set Radio returns as a downloadable HD remake, delivering a glossy widescreen take on the cel-shaded originator. Much as the game still dazzles with its looks and beats, the nuts and bolts of the gameplay prove much less impressive in practice, resulting in a game that's better seen and heard than actually played.

The Pros
  • Incredibly cool and stylish experience.
  • Looks mostly fantastic with the HD bump.
  • Soundtrack still beats nearly any other game.
The Cons
  • Imprecise controls, physics, and camera.
  • Some play elements don't work as intended.
  • Occasional low-res textures and pop-in.

Jet Set Radio Review:

While it never fully caught on with mainstream audiences, the Dreamcast is still lauded as a golden era of game development for the company, as it showed a level of daring and spunk with its original offerings that the publisher has failed to duplicate since. Luckily, Sega's been slowly trotting out its top titles from the console as downloadable offerings, and the beloved Jet Set Radio has long been at the top of fans' lists for a retro revival.

At a glance, Jet Set Radio might seem like an ideal HD remake – and that's because the cel-shading originator still looks fantastic, especially running in 720p and widescreen. And it sounds as amazing as ever, with nearly the entire original soundtrack in tow. So what keeps this Jet Set revival from living up to the nostalgic glow that preceded it? Sadly, time hasn't been very kind to this rote and oft-irritating adventure, resulting in a game that's more fun to admire than actually play.
 

 

Funky Radio

When Jet Set Radio debuted in 2000, it proved a wicked brew of Japanese youth culture, street art, and cartoonish aesthetics, delivering the tale of a colorful pack of rollerblading graffiti artists attempting to make their mark across the urban landscape of Tokyo-to. Even then, what stood out most about the game was its incredible cel-shaded effect, and despite the blocky buildings and simplistic geometry of the era, the game still looks largely spectacular today.

Vaulted into high definition, the bold colors of a Shibuya bus terminal or a nighttime romp around a city block pop like never before, as do the brightly adorned skaters and their tags. Much as your memories might disagree, the Dreamcast original never looked quite this vivid and detailed in standard definition, and while not a significant overhaul of the original look, it's a meaningful upgrade that preserves the game for new generations of players. Some low-resolution textures still appear, sadly, and pop-in issues haven't been addressed; with some regularity, you'll see buildings appear out of nowhere, which can be distracting.

Jet Set Radio

Luckily, you'll find no complaints here about the one-of-a-kind soundtrack, which fuses J-pop, hip-hop, rock, and more into an eccentric stew that's lacking only one song from its original listing. If you're anything like me, you'll be chanting "Super Brother…" in different voices while wandering your home for days. Jet Set Radio's music is arguably right up there with its visual punch as the game's most-loved element, so it's reassuring to have it almost entirely intact here despite the surely incredible legal wrangling that made it possible.

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That's Enough

But much as Jet Set Radio is an easy game to love for its energetic vision, it's a very difficult game to like in the moment-to-moment action, due to irritating controls, ineffective play elements, and uneven campaign progression. That's not the fault of this HD re-release, which replicates the original's approach with only tweaks to the camera system; the core blade-and-spray approach is simply marked by too many poor design elements, which were a whole lot easier to ignore more than a decade ago.

Repetition is often a key element of Jet Set Radio's missions, which include tagging certain spots on a map while police opposition ramps up, chasing down and spraying enemy gangs, and racing a rival to a tag location to make him/her an ally – but that wouldn't be an issue if the nuts and bolts beneath generated a satisfying experience. They rarely do, however. While it's ridiculous enough to be chased around a junkyard while police helicopters fire missiles at your dome, the most aggravating elements of the game are the parts that simply don't work or feel right.

Jet Set Radio

Graffiti tag prompts not popping up when expected led to failed chase missions, while a swap to a fixed camera for a segment of a race essentially sabotages your momentum; the game even acknowledges the latter issue by having your rival wait for you at the halfway point. Those are specific instances of executional failure, but they're enabled by controls and physics that are imprecise and inconsistent in practice, and even the camera tweaks don't make for a very good perspective of the action. The rare moments when the little problems subside and the game feels like a proper companion to the extraordinary look and style are precisely that: rare.

Jet Set Radio

Rock it On

Jet Set Radio's modern upgrade isn't a robust one, but it's certainly suitable for the asking price. Unfortunately, the game found beneath all of that aesthetic bliss has aged poorly in parts, and the result is that this important and influential experience is much better seen and heard today, rather than actually played.

It's a testament to the immense style and presentation of Jet Set Radio that this HD upgrade still seems worth the download, especially for older fans, though the flitting glow of nostalgia can only cover up so many flaws. And as a token deposit towards a potential revival of the much-improved Jet Set Radio Future – or even a proper series reboot – it'll be $10 well spent.

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Editor's Note: Jet Set Radio was reviewed using an Xbox 360 copy of the game; however, we also played the PS3 version, and found no differences. If further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.