Jet Set Radio Review
It occurs to me that there are gamers out there, gamers who may very well read this review, that weren't even alive during the Sega Dreamcast's heyday. With that depressing notion in mind, I realize can't tackle the review for HD remake of my most-loved Dreamcast game, Jet Set Radio, called Jet Grind Radio in the U.S., in the way I would have liked. To the older audience, the game and the console it appeared on were classics, milestones in our collective gaming lives. To the younger audience, who may not even know Sega was once a console-maker, none of the review written from that perspective would make sense. But no matter what your personal gaming background may be, know this: the HD update of Jet Set Radio is, with the exception of the graphics, identical to its years-old original version, for better and for worse.
If you didn't waste months of your adolescence switching between the original Jet Set Radio, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Ikaruga and the original Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast, as I did, here is a little bit on what the only good rollerblading game ever made had and has to offer. You play as one of three members of the GG gang, a trio of day-glo-clad rollerblading graffiti artists in an equally day-glo version of Tokyo. The GG's are tasked with defending their turf and expanding into rival gangs' turf, an action accomplished by spray-painting over your enemies "tags," or graffiti art, for the uncool readers out there (just kidding). You'll also end up dealing with the police and military forces, all while Professor K, a DJ for a pirate radio station, blasts a steady stream of J-pop and techno that serves as the background noise for your exploits. It was a bizarre concept for a game back then, and even all these years later, the graffiti/rollerblade angle has yet to be attempted again, aside from a direct sequel to this game and a spin-off or two.
The gameplay, identical in the original and HD versions, is like a Tony Hawk title with some quicktime events sprinkled in. You can grind rails, do huge jumps and tricks, etc., but each level's goal is to paint over all the rival gangs' artwork before time runs out. This requires anything from a tap of the L trigger at the right time for smaller tags, to a series of analog stick inputs for larger ones. What was a brilliant mix then doesn't hold up quite as well by today's standards. The camera can get in your way and maneuvering your skater to the right rail or ledge can become a fight with the controls, rather than a battle against time or a particular enemy. When you factor in the ever-harsher time limits, bad camera angles and dated controls will lead to you screwing up more times than you should. Like I said before, this game's visuals have been beefed up, but the gameplay remains identical to the original and time hasn't been kind.
Speaking of the presentation, they graphical update looks great. All the colors are brighter than most remembered them to be, and they manage to hang onto the nostalgia-inspired charm I was certainly in the market for. The sound, on the other hand, isn't quite as good, character voices in particular. I think fans would have screamed bloody murder if their beloved music or voiceover were tampered with, and understandably so. But the voiceover hasn't stood to the test of time, and all the recordings sound as though they were originally produced on a Motorola carphone from the 80's or a 4-track recording device in some untalented high school band's garage. Professor K is the worst of the bunch, sounding even scratchier than the records he loves spinning. A re-record of the voice work would have been blasphemous, but a cleanup was needed and necessary.
All of that info basically boils down to this: Jet Set Radio HD is one that you'll probably only be interested in if your childhood demands you play it again. If your Dreamcast is still hooked up and in working condition, or you weren't yet gaming when the original came out, then this HD remake isn't one you need to put on your list. In fact, it is made even less appealing because of the recent Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD remake, a nostalgic masterpiece. What blew us all away back then doesn't quite live up to today's standards, unfortunately, and the younger set will probably question why anyone would make such a big fuss over such a middle-of-the-road experience.
Final Rating: 60%. What blew us all away back then doesn't quite live up to today's standards...