Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Jet Set Radio Review

With almost every company cashing in on HD remakes of older games, there are some classics from back in the day are being revived once again to help companies make their bottom line. Jet Set Radio is a unique game that came out for the Sega Dreamcast in 2000, and now it has made its way onto consoles and computers alike with the HD re-release. Is it worth the $10 price tag? Let’s find out.

Jet Set Radio (JSR) is basically a game about tagging city streets. Flying around on rollerblades, you and your fellow felons skate around Tokyo-to duking it out with rival gangs with spray paint. Most of your gameplay involves collecting spray cans and tagging various places while running away from the cops. While the story is interesting and crazy, it’s not something that really stands out in this game. Most of the story is fed to you from Professor K, a DJ who pretty much tells you everything you need to know. Unfortunately I couldn’t really care enough to pay much attention to the story. And I wish I had the ability to not care about the gameplay.

Most of the game mechanics in JSR seem pretty cool on paper: skate around tagging things, escaping police and taking on rival gangs. Unfortunately the HD remake didn't have any real update to the controls. The camera changed to a manual control with the right stick, but most of the movement in the various areas is slow and clunky. Many tricks, grinds, and jumps are difficult to pull off not because it takes skill and practice, but because the controls and movements feel sticky and unresponsive. A simple jump could be thrown off feet by the slightest movement on your part. Most of the time you are running away from the police… right into buildings and walls. Think of the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and the feel of the controls. Now imagine if it was about five times worse than that. Unfortunately, that is what you’re working with when you play through the levels. What you are fortunate enough to have with this game is some sweet music.

One of the things that is awesome about JSR, both past and present, is the music. Instead of some MIDI track or 2 minute instrumental music playing through the various levels, you get funky techno, rock, and hip-hop songs that are all great to listen to. The music compliments the great visuals. Yes, you read that correctly -- the visuals are actually amazing. They really work with the music, and it helps make up for the downside of it being hard to play.. With an HD uplift, the visuals and the music are the saving graces of this game.
There isn’t much in the way of multiplayer except for a few leader-boards for the additional game modes. After beating the story missions, you can unlock Jet Crush, which is basically a time-attack mode with some added difficulty. You also have the ability to unlock additional characters and customize your art. It is nice to have something to look forward to but it isn’t worth spending extra time when the story mode is the bulk of the game.
Even though this is an HD re-release, there wasn't much done except to update the controls a bit and add some internet connectivity. The updated graphics make the cel-shaded art style look impressive, however these kinds of upgrades are pretty standard at this point. I wish they had added a few other extras, or incorporated some of the controls and additions from the sequel, Jet Set Radio Future. Either way, the HD-effect didn't have much of an impact. Aside from the slightly improved graphics, you could buy the game for the Dreamcast and pretty much get the same experience, and I don’t believe that is a good thing.

Jet Set Radio is somewhat of an enigma to me. When people discuss whether video games can be, or are, art, this is a game that should be referenced every time. The music and the visual art-style stand out and make the game unique. Unfortunately there are so many smaller faults that really take away from the experience. At first you may not mind some of the bad controls, but soon it adds up and really shows the bad parts of the game. I like the game a lot and wish it was given a little more attention in the HD-upgrades department, but I can’t really say that this game is worth buying. It may be worth playing some time, but if you do you might regret spending the $10 on it afterwards.

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