The Dreamcast had a plethora of memorable games in its short lifespan. Almost 12 years later Sega has decided it’s time to relive another one of its classics in HD. Jet Set Radio was very unique for it’s time. Brimming with charm, oozing with colorful atmosphere and at it’s core a very familiar arcade-style gameplay. Does a high-definition port of a cult favorite hold up in 2012, or is this one that should have remained untouched?
Set in the futuristic colorful streets of Tokyo-to, Jet Set Radio sees rival gangs vying for control as they mark their turf with graffiti on pretty much any surface they can get their hands on, all while skating around in high-tech skates. The goals of the game vary from level to level. At one point you’ll be tasked with covering designated spots of an area with graffiti, racing rival gang members from point A to point B, or playing “Tag” with them – where you must cover their backs in graffiti. The overall gameplay remains the same: collect spray cans and then tag and trick your way to the end of the level, all while avoiding the police. The more graffiti you spray, the higher the police response escalates. One minute you’ll see regular police with batons chasing you and the next it’s tanks and helicopters. The game does a good job mixing up the enemy variety.
Sega did it’s best to make sure that fans of the series were left with their memory of the game intact. Let’s face it, the target audience for this port is really for the people who played this on their Dreamcast nonstop and just want that nostalgia factor. Fans will be happy to hear that 29 of the 30 tracks from the original are back. Normally when games receive ports or remakes there’s always licensing issues that get in way of players enjoying memorable soundtracks so it’s good news when they remain intact. It cannot not be said enough how amazing the soundtrack is. Composed by a number of artists, most notably Hideki Naganuma who also did the sound effects for the game, the soundtrack helps give Jet Set Radio it’s hip-hop/funk sound that compliments it’s visuals.
It wouldn’t be a high definition port without a graphics update and right from the second you start the game you can notice the difference from the original. The game now displays in widescreen, with the polygons all re-rendered in HD. Jet Set Radio might not have been the first game to use cel-shaded graphics, but it was the first to do it properly and give the visuals justice. From afar the game looks amazing, but once you get a closeup of a face, or when you skate into weird parts of the city where the background kind of looks off, you’ll certainly notice some unsightly blurry textures. All of this, however, has very little effect when the overall game still looks amazing, even to someone who found the original with lower resolution phenomenal. The framerate has also gotten an upgrade. While not at a solid 60fps, it definitely does play much smoother. The Dreamcast version did have some slight slowdown moments, but those seem to be a thing of the past this time around.
The controls for Jet Set Radio are another thing that fans of the series remember, whether it be a positive memory is another story. One huge change to the controls is the addition of a second analog stick which now allows for manual camera control. Before, you were limited to using a recentering button, given the Dreamcast controller’s lack of a second analog stick, which made those rival tag scenarios a complete nightmare. It is highly recommended that you switch to manual camera control, as the same button you use to graffiti is the same you would use to recenter the camera. The skating controls are another issue that many recall. There’s a noticeable floatiness to the jumping and at times can be really fidgety when trying to land consecutive grinds or when trying to evade the police. Its’s a shame that Sega couldn’t do more to tweak the controls, as it is it’s biggest flaw. Be ready to recall all those frustrating moments that you wish weren’t included with this package.
Jet Set Radio HD is not without it’s flaws, but at the end they are barely worth mentioning. It’s addictive gameplay will keep you skating through the colorful streets of Tokyo-to for hours on end. The soundtrack, in my opinion, is still one of the best heard in any game. And add to the fact that the visuals have been vastly improved, making this the definitive version of Jet Set Radio. Sega had a vision set when they first introduced this game, and even if that vision didn’t quite meet everyone’s expectations, it still holds up as one of it’s greatest achievements. Here’s hoping that the vastly superior sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, sees an HD release as well.
This review was based on a retail download copy of the game for the Xbox 360 provided by Sega.