Jet Set Radio: The Writing’s on the Wall
“Let’s go to the mailbag. We got a letter from Mr. Owsaki. He asks “How do I get rid of these nasty roaches?” Easy, just burn your house down!”
Professor K- Jet Set Radio
Reviewed by Matt Keleher
While titles such as Parappa the Rapper on the PS1 had previously attempted a 3D cartoonish aesthetic, Jet Set Radio (or Jet Grind Radio in the US) was the first to truly evoke the feel of a living graphic novel; its clean, cel-shaded graphics make it arguably one of the most visually innovative titles in video game history – you need only look at later titles such as Crackdown and Borderlands to see its perennial influence.
In the opening cinematic, charismatic pirate radio DJ Professor K fills us in on the game’s back story: for the youth in Tokyo-to there are two favourite pastimes – skating and spraying. You’ll be running with the GG’s (Graffiti Gangsters) – one of several rollerblading graffiti gangs operating throughout the city, each vying for supremacy on the streets.
In Jet Set Radio, players collect aerosol power-ups before ‘tagging’ marked spots around each level; your rollerblades make it easier to negotiate the levels – grinding rails and walls makes it possible to reach the higher tagging spots and you can even skitch on the back of cars. You’re not alone, however; the game dispatches a host of enemies to hamper your plans including mobs of hapless cops, the trigger happy gumshoe Captain Onishima (and if you’re really shaking things up) armoured tanks and choppers.
There are numerous detailed, open levels to explore across the game’s three districts: Shibuya, a busy shopping district, Benten, the city’s urbane entertainment hub and Kogane a residential docking area basking in the warmth of a low (but never setting) sun. The game looks superb, making the most of the Dreamcast’s capable hardware; the levels are teeming with traffic, nervous pedestrians, and pretty visual touches such as destructible walls, smoke bombs dispersing pigeons and signposts that sway as your brush past them.
The GG’s are the new kids in town and face tough competition from rival gangs, including Poison Jam (a freaky, horror-inspired bunch), hi-tech hoodlums the Noise Tanks and Love Shockers (a band of surly spurned lovers).
You begin the game with three characters to choose from, but from time to time a newcomer will challenge you to a race. The racing sections place greater emphasis on the skating aspect, so you’ll need to time your jumps and switch rails and just the right time to trounce your rival. These challenges are not only fun, but they also bring a little variety to the table.
If you win, they’ll agree to join your crew and each character has their own unique moves and abilities, so the more you recruit to your gang, the better.
The eclectic soundtrack spanning J-pop, EDM, Rock, Funk and hip-hop should keep fans of all genres happy; I defy you to get ‘Humming the Bassline’ out of your head after playing.
All in all, Jet Set Radio is a great title, which unfortunately slipped under the radar for many players when it made its debut on the ill-fated Dreamcast. Luckily you can pick up the game without forking out for a used Dreamcast, as a version with overhauled HD graphics is available for download from both Xbox Live and PlayStation Store. How good is that?
Click below to see the game in action:
Have you played this game? Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments box.