The Dreamcast may have been the last piece of hardware slid out from Sega’s shiny Japanese department into the streets for nobody to really buy once Sony’s behemoth rolled into town, but it’s undeniable that it was also graced with some of the most spectacular games around at the time. Be it the mindbogglingly obscure Seaman or the quirky gameplay found in titles like Crazy Taxi and Space Channel 5 it was a console flooded with Japanese goodness. Sega know this, they also know that people are missing those games, and thanks to the current trend of raising, seemingly, dead franchises and thrusting them into glossy HD shells we’ve been lucky enough to revisit Sega’s heydays. Already Sonic Adventure, Space Channel 5 and Crazy Taxi have arrived and there are promises of Sonic Adventure 2 on the way and feint hopes that Skies of Arcadia and even the mighty Shenmue could appear. Thankfully though, the best game the Dreamcast ever saw – fighting words I know – has arrived: Jet Set Radio.
Without wanting to admit our favourite games from our younger days haven’t aged well, many games really haven’t aged well – even with the HD treatment. Previous titles remain blocky or textures just too low res to really benefit from the spit shine of HD, sometimes it’s the controls that have just become clunky and creaky by being left in the last generation; luckily this isn’t the case at all with Jet Set Radio HD. It seems that Sega have learnt from their time working on the Xbox sequel Jet Set Radio Future when bringing this title forward as the addition of a second thumbstick for camera control means that the biggest gripe anyone could ever have with JSR has been solved and it all works really rather well – no longer being stuck behind objects or facing the wrong way when you’re skating towards a gap.
Gameplay hasn’t changed a whole lot either, other than the aforementioned camera. This does mean that it has gotten slightly clunkier in executing jumps and spraying graffiti, but it’s nothing really bothersome, just a tad slower than you’d expect. You’ll still be pulling sweeping arcs to spray your tags across the city and those floaty physics mean your inline skating can propel you pretty damn far when you need it to – after all this is still a platformer.
Visually JSR HD is just fantastic. The chunky cel-shaded world and characters means that it doesn’t look dated at all, having all the retro appeal you’d like from a title thrust forward twelve years. Textures on buildings and streets may not be very detailed, but that’s in part the aesthetic Sega have gone for and it’s not bothersome at all. What HD-ifying JSR has done is clean up the black lines on models making them sharper, and all the HUD interfaces and menus are clean and crisp making them incredibly easy to read at a glance and really separate them from the game world. Creating your own custom graffiti is also easier thanks to the upped resolution, meaning when you zoom in you can see exactly where the spray of your finer detailing will land – obviously it helps if you can create graffiti without producing some monstrosity that even your mother wouldn’t be proud of.
Due to moving onto the connected generation of consoles, JSR also has some networked features slipped in for you to enjoy. You’ll be able to share your level scores online with friends in leaderboards, meaning there’s plenty of reason to venture back again and again into the game to kick your friends last score into the stratosphere. There’s also the presence of trophies and achievements to unlock, although there are surprisingly few included. Interestingly you can no longer share your graffiti creations with others – a feature that was present in the original JSR if you owned the Dreamcast modem - which is incredibly odd as now everyone is more networked than ever before.
For those who are completely unfamiliar with the antics of Jet Set Radio, this may be a game set around inline skating gangs but it’s purely a platforming game rather than a sports simulation. You take control of a band of ‘Rudies’ – skate gangs who spray graffiti – known as the GGs. You’ll take command of other sections of the city of Tokyo-to by outing rival gangs via tagging their district with your graffiti. Along the way you’ll meet rivals who want to join your skate gang after you’ve proved yourself to them in a challenge.
Each level is played out in a similar fashion of having to clear an area of rival graffiti within a time limit. You’ll have to trick you way up to the higher and harder spots and explore the rather sprawling sections of the city to hit all the marks. The challenge escalates by the presence of the police and their gun happy Captain Onishima chasing after you – and as you progress SWAT teams and army tanks being to pursue you and even Goji Rokkaku’s ominous Golden Rhinos get in your way. It’s unbelievably chaotic and highly Japanese fun that you must be soulless to not enjoy.
Just with the original release, and it’s Xbox sequel, the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic and all the hits – bar one – are present and correct for you to enjoy. Filled with J-Pop goodness and mellow hip-hop beats, all DJ mixed wonderfully by pirate radio station run by the game’s narrator Professor K, every moment of every level is a pleasure to play even when you miss that key rail for the tenth time. Nicely Sega have also included some of the tracks from Jet Set Radio Future for you to enjoy in the Extras menu, which is a great addition but a little bit of a shame it’s only present there for you to enjoy.
Of all the HD remakes that Sega have produced it’s safe to say that Jet Set Radio is the best. It’s aged incredibly well and all the tweaks brought to it – other than the peculiar lack of a graffiti share option – have vastly improved the games already incredibly playable nature. It’ll be interesting to see how the PS Vita version that releases in October will play, but for now this is the way you should be enjoying inline skating around the cel-shaded streets of Tokyo-To.
Audio/Visual – 5/5: Fantastic soundtrack and improved voiceover audio coupled with bright, crisp and colourful cel-shaded visuals makes this a joyful assault on the senses.
Gameplay – 4/5: As fun as the day it was made, and improvements in the camera make it better, but the chunky response and movements hold it back from being utterly perfect.
Value – 5/5: You’re getting a fair bit for your money, a reasonably lengthy story, graffiti customisation, behind the scenes documentary, replay value and the fact it’s Jet Set Radio but in HD!
Innovation – 3/5: Other than the new camera Sega haven’t brought anything new to the platformer in terms of functionality. This isn’t a bad thing though, just don’t expect it rammed with features it didn’t used to have.
Final Score: 4.5/5