• Jet Set Radio review - Sega Dreamcast

    Kids, eh? Whilst today's model citizens and Daily Mail readers lock themselves into their suburban homes, teenage gangs roam the streets beating up telephone boxes, throwing stones at passing trains and drinking bottles of Thunderbirds in the park. If all this has passed you by, be thankful that Sega and Smilebit have given you the means to join in the fun.

    Jet Set Radio (Jet Grind Radio in the US) is a stylish, cartoony look at gang warfare in the near future city of Tokyo-to. For those who are expecting flick knives and '50's quiffs, things have moved on a bit daddio. A can of spray paint and a pair of magnetic rollerblades are the accessories no gang member would be seen dead without.
    The game places you in the gang called the GG's, a rag tag collection of colourful, streetwise kids who occupy one third of the bustling city. As is usual in gang situations, they are at loggerheads with three rival gangs who are looking to take over their turf. Also on their trail is an overly zealous police officer who will use all means un-necessary to stop them and a evil corporation whose plans, in the best Scooby Do tradition, are being messed up by those pesky kids. You control one of the members of the GG's, whose ranks swell as the game progresses, and must protect your territory whilst looking to take over the other gang's turf. In the best gangland tradition, this is done by marking your territory with graffiti.

    Continuing the contemporary theme, the game is hung together by the pirate radio station Jet Set Radio and its flamboyant DJ, Professor K. K appears in between levels to forward the plot, as well as laying down the phat beats that pump through the game.
    As the game progresses, new levels open up and the plot develops. The early levels of Jet Set Radio are essentially training levels. The player skates around the level following the tricks of the other members of the gang. Once the game starts proper, the levels open out into large open plan cityscapes. How the level is completed is up to the player, but every part of the level which is marked with a red arrow must be sprayed with graffiti. The graffiti comes in different sizes, the small tags just require a single button press whilst the bigger murals require the player to follow the onscreen instructions with the analogue stick. The more the player sprays, the more enemies arrive in the form of swat teams, tanks, helicopters and hired assassins. Tactics therefore play at important role, with the judicious player spraying the more complicated tags first.
    The tag locations are spread throughout the level, some in near inaccessible places. This is where the most fun part of Jet Set radio comes in, grinding. To reach these hard to reach tag spots the player must grind his skates along the top of fences, rails, lorries and even telephone wires. Grinding is also a faster means of travel, which is essential in some of the later levels. At first grinding can be difficult to get to grips with. The controls, whilst designed to be simple, can deter some people who have picked up the game and abandoned it thinking it too difficult, but with a little perseverance grinding becomes second nature. When the game finally clicks, immense fun can be had from just grinding around the city. When a player becomes a real master at grinding, a level can be traversed without hardly ever touching the ground. Points are earnt to encourage this, which can be used to open up more characters later in the game.
    JSR happily marries the gameplay from a number of sources. As the game opens up, additional levels involving racing other gang members and chasing down the rival gangs become available. These additional levels add variety to the graffiti action and are a welcome addition to the game structure.

    What rises Jet Set Radio to the echelons of brilliance is the incredible amount of style that marries so well with the gameplay dynamics. No review of Jet Set Radio would be complete without a mention of its pioneering graphical look, dubbed cel shading. The effect gives the game the appearance of a high quality piece of contemporary animation with a colourful, sassy appeal. For those of you who have only seen screen shots, be aware that they really do not do justice to the fluidity of the game. You have to see this baby in motion to fully appreciate its beauty.
    The sounds of Jurassic 5 and Mixmaster Mike only add to the experience. Most of the other tunes are from the Smilebit's in-house team, but their trippy beats sound right at home next to their better known contemporaries. The city of Tokyo-to is full of bustling traffic and busy pedestrians, with elements of anime thrown in for good measure. The characters too are a likeable bunch of misfits and the enemies, like the obsessed cop Onimisha, are a scream.

    Any fears that Jet Set Radio is a game of style over contents though are unfounded. Strip away the look and sounds and beneath is a foundation of solid gameplay.
    If there are any niggles, the games camera can sometimes lag and becomes awkward in tight spots which can lead to the odd frustrating moment.. Smilebit's decision to use the same button for the spray action as the camera seems an odd choice, especially considering the plethora of unused buttons on the DC controller. The odd bit of slowdown creeps in now and again too, but considering the complexity of the levels this is forgivable.

    A sign of a great game is when the you feel you want more when the ending comes around. JSR isn't the longest of games, but thankfully when it's finished a score attack mode opens. Attempting the levels again trying to get a rating of Jet encourages a different style of play and the player is rewarded with additional characters such as the rival gang members and even the GG's pet dog!

    Importers should be aware that the western release of the game includes two extra levels set in a second city. The game structure of the Japanese version is slightly different because of this, with extra gang members joining at different times. Thankfully for completists, the Japanese got a second version of the game that included the extra levels.

    If you own a Dreamcast, then JSR should be an essential part of your collection. Unfortunately, there appears to be a large proportion of gamers who have ignored its charms as the sales figures for the game have been disappointing. Maybe the game is too leftfield for peoples tastes or perhaps the idea of spraying graffiti doesn't excite as a game concept? Whatever the reason, if your Dreamcast is lacking this slice of cel shaded grinding action, you really have no excuse not to give Jet Set Radio another chance. The kids are alright.
    Score: 8/10

    A review by Jez Overton
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