PC Gaming Reviews

Jet Set Radio Continues To Be A Cultural Icon In Gaming

Author Rating

Jet Set Radio Remaster

Developer: Smilebit, Blitworks
Publisher: SEGA
Release Date: September 19, 2012
Available as: Digital

That “Uki-Uki-Waku-Waku” Feeling

Looking back at the Steam Deck coverage, Jet Set Radio was one of the titles I tested that worked just as one would expect. Why did I pick that title to showcase? Well, Jet Set Radio was always a game that had been a part of who I am since my childhood. It was the source of many vivid memories, music tastes, and aesthetics that continue to this day. I even cosplayed one of the characters, Combo, which says a lot. (No I will not link the photo here.)

For me, it’s more than a game, but it became an identity although I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as to say it’s a “way of life.” My balance, or lack thereof, unfortunately, prohibits me from riding a pair of inlines and as the warning says when you boot the game, “vandalism is a crime,” so a spray can is something that would be the farthest from my reach. 


Jet Set Radio: The Premiere Guerilla Broadcast Radio Station

Despite this, Jet Set Radio was introduced to the world at the right time as well as ahead of its time, initially releasing on the Dreamcast in the year 2000, releasing in North America as Jet Grind Radio. The release of JSR was towards the end of the console’s lifespan, during the wave of the PlayStation 2’s release, which meant that it largely went unnoticed by the general populace although it achieved moderate success in Japan. Many Western fans were niche, yet sizable enough for an Xbox exclusive sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, in 2002.

Following JSRF, the series notoriously remained dormant despite an incredible online presence through the rest of the 2000s leading into the 2010s. Fans would reminisce on the game’s art design, colorful cast, and the heavily sampled hip-hop soundtrack spearheaded by Hideki Naganuma. Naganuma would take his talents to 2005’s Sonic Rush, causing Jet Set Radio to attain an added fanbase as Sonic fans found out about the game through the composer’s work.


Understand, Understand—Wrong Game, Oops

Years of fan demand were enough for Sega to finally remaster the iconic title for PSN, Xbox Live Arcade, PC, Vita, and mobile devices in 2012. Much of the game was left unchanged, leaving everything that made the game a cult classic intact. This, in itself, is a double-edged sword as many of the game’s quirks are also present in the remaster. While I consider Jet Set Radio a masterpiece, it is far from perfect and the glaring elephant in the room is the gameplay itself.

Jet Set Radio’s controls are eccentric at best and clumsy at worst, as it is a victim of multiple genres in one package. The emphasis on riding inline skates and tricking off objects gives the game an “extreme sports” vibe, but it is far from a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater “clone” as it is not the main objective of the game. In each level, the player has a set time limit to tag a certain number of walls, cars, billboards, and other targets, while the entire Tokyo police force is set out to stop you. 


How To Get Rid Of Nasty Roaches: Burn Your House Down!

While tagging smaller targets is as simple as pressing the left trigger, medium and larger targets require the player to use the left analog stick to follow the on-screen commands in succession to throw up a piece. The problems begin with the sensitivity of the tagging mechanic, as the game picks up movement from the stick from the slightest touch, failing the motion and forcing the player to start from the beginning. 

To alleviate this, players can select a character that has a low “Grafitti” state, which simplifies the commands for tagging but lowers the potential points players can earn. When there are tanks and cops after the player, having the sensitivity issue can become very frustrating, forcing the player to retreat until they can come back at a later time.


Avoid The “Keisatsu” And Beat The Time Limit

As the player is escaping law enforcement, the platforming mechanics seem to work against the player. Being a momentum-based game, not enough speed will cause players to bump against invisible walls. Having too much speed will overshoot the intended platform altogether and into a water hazard or an out of bounds area, respawning you to an inconvenient location.

While some aspects of the game hadn’t aged well, including the platforming and sensitivity issues above, when everything works, the game flows like a moving art piece. Jet Set Radio is in a league of its own as vibrant colors, cel-shaded graphics, and hip-hop blares in the background like poetry in motion. Locations vary between real-life locations including the Shibuya bus terminal, the Shibuya scramble, Tokyo suburbs, and even some American stages like Times Square and Brooklyn. 


“Grind City, My Turf”

The game is split into 3 chapters, with the first chapter concluding after each rival gang is conquered. The second chapter is the American chapter, largely based in New York, with the game concluding back in Tokyo as players fend off the yakuza to reclaim their turf back. Even the “final boss,” if it could be called that, is simplified enough that it’s just another stage doing the same thing players have been doing since the beginning, doing little to break away from the norm.

As many of its fans continue to rally and bring its sequel to modern consoles, as well as Jet Set Radio to the PS4/PS5 as the PSN version isn’t backward compatible with newer hardware, Jet Set Radio is a game that continues to see discourse among its fans. Its unique style served as inspiration for many games, both AAA and indie, as it is also referenced in other forms of media. To put things into perspective, the first time I ever cosplayed was the character Combo, from Jet Set Radio, minus the inline skates, of course, further showing how much of an effect the game had on me growing up.


Let Mom Sleep While You Hit The Streets

In total, I’ve probably played and beat the game more times than I could count, and each time I beat the game, I’m surprised by how short the game is. The replayability comes from a “New Game+” style as player progress is kept in each subsequent playthrough, meaning players can have another go at achieving a Jet ranking on each stage. To unlock the rival gang characters, players will need to get the highest rank in each stage. Rank is tied to score, which is determined by graffiti score, remaining health, trick score, and remaining time. 

For years, unlocking every character was something I never had a chance to do, as I was often intimidated to tackle such a challenge for some reason. On my latest playthrough a year ago, I decided to set out and do the one thing childhood I wanted to do, and that was to unlock every character. With enough perseverance, I was able to do just that, experiencing the same thrill of completion as I felt almost twenty years ago when I first beat the game.


You’re A Sweet Soul Brother

Jet Set Radio will continue to be a game that I will always recommend, because while many aspects hadn’t aged well compared to modern titles, its uniqueness still holds up to this day, offering a fun afternoon gameplay experience that players will come back to again and again.

There are also rumors that Jet Set Radio and Crazy Taxi will be getting a revival sometime in the near future. Considering the “wishy-washy” approach including discussions of both titles being “live service” with the chance of “being canceled,” I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Jet Set Radio is available on Steam.

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