games / Columns

Crossing the Steams 3.09.13: Jet Set Radio

March 9, 2013 | Posted by Marc Morrison

Welcome to another installment of Crossing the Steams. This week I’ll be taking a brief look at the recent HD upgrade for Jet Set Radio. I’ll be doing this in two small parts, the first dealing with the game itself, then the second dealing with the HD upgrades Sega did to the game. Let’s begin:

Jet Set Radio was originally released on the Sega Dreamcast circa 2000. Back then it was hailed for its unique gameplay, its visuals and audio presentation and just overall for the uniqueness it brought to the gaming genre. Some of these elements have aged better than others in this re-release, but it’s generally a solid effort all around.

Jet Set Radio is a 3rd person action game where you control your character as he/she explores the city while on magnetically powered roller blades. What these skates allow you to do is grind rails around the town, primarily. Trying to grind all around the town is a fun exercise to try and accomplish.

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The goal in each stage is to primarily spray (via spray paint) various vehicles, walls, sidewalks, and occasionally other skaters in the town. There are three sizes for you to paint, small, medium or large. The small you can just grind next to and press the LT button without stopping. This causes your character to quickly spray the tag without breaking stride. The medium and large areas require you to do a minigame QTE event where you have to rotate the analog stick matching the on-screen indicators, doing half-circles and full circles. If you can complete the entire trick in one go, you’ll get bonus points. Spraying any of the tags requires paint, which you can find around the map, yellow for one can, blue for 5 cans. The small tag only requires one can, but the medium and large one require more.

 photo Tagging_zps47942cd3.jpg

As you skate around and graffiti the area, the police will be called in to try and stop you. This usually includes a few officers chasing you, tear gas being fired at you, up to tanks trying to run you over and shoot you with their cannon. Through it all is the vigilant and comically annoying police, Captain Onimusha, to try and ruin your day. You can mollify him for a little while through by spray painting his back which stuns him for a short while.

 photo Onimusha_zps0705cd36.jpg

The two biggest problems in this game haven’t been fixed in this version (but they were in the sequel). The first is that it can take a long time for you to build up any speed. You can press the RT button to do a small boost, but it runs out very quickly. It’s also kind of ineffective overall, just because it’s not a great increase in speed. Jet Set Radio Future (the sequel) solved this problem by just giving you a boost button which ate up your spray cans, but gave you a huge increase in speed for a short while. The other problem with this game is that the platforming/grinding parts are weirdly imprecise. You have to be dead on a rail in order to actually latch onto it. Some parts require very specific jumps or needing to go slowly on a ledge and the game just isn’t designed well for that. Having a timer counting down as you fail to pick up a Graffiti Soul (unlockable tag) for the 23rd time doesn’t help matters.

 photo Beat_zps70a2e75d.jpg

That’s a majority of the game out of the way, now let’s breakdown the HD part of it:

The HD-ificiation works fairly well for this game, by and large. The big thing it does (aside from the visual upgrade) is fixed a core problem of the original game, the lack of a second analog stick. The original game had no real camera control, with the game only having a “Camera Re-Center” button that was tied to your Left Trigger. This game just gives you full camera control on the right analog stick so you can actually see what is going on in the environment. Good call on that particular fix.

The other updates are less important but still worth mentioning. The biggest thing they did is give the visuals a nice, crisp update. The original game was good looking but some of the texture work was a bit blurry. This game has none of that, and everything looks sharp and clean. They also added in an online leaderboard to compare your scores against others and achievements for you to do. The soundtrack also makes it 99% from the prior game. There’s only one missing track, which is impressive to say the least.

The soundtrack is fairly range-y, going from Japanese techno to American hip-hop. A lot of it is hardly recognizable to Americans, save for Rob Zombie, Jurassic Five, and Mix Master Mike, but all of the Japanese music gives the game an authentic feeling. Most of it all ties in very well into the game and helps enhance the mood the game tries to set up. The voice acting is over the top but in a hilarious way.

Replayability is kind of a minor issue in the game, but not really. Once you’re done with the game, you’re kind of done. You can explore the city somewhat after, but aside from finding the collectibles, there isn’t any real reason to. The leaderboard stuff kind of bores me, just on a conceptual level, because it doesn’t add a lot. Still, the game will probably take you around 10 hours to finish, and is worth spending the time checking it out.

The Installation/Running of the game appears to be perfectly fine. It has Steam Achievements which are pretty nice and tie into the game well. The game has gamepad support which is really required. When you start the game it launches this weird keyboard controller menu. You could try to play the game with a keyboard, but you will need good luck to even make it through the first level.

Overall, Jet Set Radio is still a pretty nifty game to play. The mechanics are a bit old, but they do hold up well. The HD new coat of paint looks nice, as does having a second stick for actually looking around. Some of the core problems weren’t really addressed (aside from the camera), but that’s fine. It’s worth a look at, especially if you have fond memories of when it came out.

Also, props for them calling it “Jet Set Radio” and not “Jet Grind Radio”, which was the original title in Japan.

Graphics — 7.5 It looks a bit old, just from a design standpoint, but the clarification and sharpening of the art looks really solid.

Gameplay — 7.0 The graffiti system is still fun and skating around is enjoyable. But it takes too long to get up to speed and precise movement doesn’t work.

Audio — 9.0 The same soundtrack as before and that makes it great. The voice work is over the top but fits in as well.

Ease of Use/Installation — 8.0 Except for the game having a keyboard control scheme, everything works well. Achievements and gamepad support are good.

Replayability — 5.0 There is collectibles to find but they don’t really matter in the long run. Leaderboards might keep some interested though.

Overall — 7.3 (exact), which I’ll round up to 7.5

Other Steam News

Two games are listed for release next week. On March 12nd is Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2, another sniper game where they try and emulate sniping as much as possible. On the 13th is Dungeon-Party a free team-based action game (from the look of it). Next week I’ll look at Orcs Must Die! 2.


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Marc Morrison
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