Jet Set Radio is a cult classic. There is no other way to put it. Talk to anyone who remembers playing the original, and their memories are likely fond of the unique Dreamcast title. When Sega announced it was bringing the series to XBLA and PSN with an HD makeover, it was met with much enthusiasm. Well, after spending some quality time, I feel safe in saying that the memory is definitely better than the reality. While the unique visual style and soundtrack are still outstanding, the gameplay has not aged well and remains a huge barrier to entry on this fan-favorite.
Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, though. The minute the game booted up I was instantly drawn into the nostalgia. The familiar tracks playing in the background as Gumm delightfully says “Hey!” every time she pops up on the screen. This is Jet Set Radio (yes I refuse to ever call it Jet Grind Radio) and I absolutely loved this on Dreamcast. Sadly, once you take control of the game and realize that these controls are as stiff as they are, that nostalgia wipes itself out a little bit.
We all remember games like Tony Hawk and Jet Set playing so smoothly. Grinding and pulling tricks with the greatest of ease. What we don’t consider is just how much the genre progressed over the years. Subtle control adjustments have really made the difference, and going back to these older games just doesn’t feel right. I found myself struggling to do simple things such as grinding specific rails, and collecting spray cans was a chore I would rather not repeat at times. Still, after some dedication and adjusting myself to the archaic controls, I was able to once again enjoy everything else the game had to offer.
For anyone who has never played the game, Jet Set Radio is sort of a combination of Tony Hawk and graffiti tagging. Your characters are on rollerblades and can perform tricks and grind almost anything in order to collect spray cans, which in turn are used to tag areas to mark your territory. You will also try to overtake areas held by rival gangs. It is definitely unique, and not much has borrowed from it over the years. The real draw though is the soundtrack and art style, which thankfully have held up over the years, even if the game is missing one of the original songs.
This being an HD remake also means the visuals have received an overhaul. Like most games on this front this really amounts to a nice filter being applied to the visuals. The game is still stylized and colorful, but there are definitely no new textures or massive new work on display here. I did have issues with the game stuttering on more than one occasion. It would happen during the loading screens frequently, but also during gameplay. Sometimes at pivotal moments when I am trying to collect spray cans, or avoid police. This was really jarring and took me out of the experience more often than I would like.
In addition, you have usual gamut of additions including online leaderboards to compare scores, Achievements and the graffiti creator that allows you to create custom tags. Again, the presentation of the game is superb. The soundtrack is just as catchy and hum-worthy as it always was, and the visuals, although blocky, still carry that charm. The camera system has also been revamped to take advantage of the second analog stick, but I still found myself struggling with it from time to time. This mostly occurred when I was on a half-pipe, or stuck in a corner getting hammered by law enforcement.
What this all adds up to is a good game that is marred by its design and age. I still had fun despite the issues with the controls. This game has a certain charm that has not been matched to this day. I still love the characters, and the music is absolutely stellar. If you have fond memories, it is a safe bet that picking this up will be worth it in the end. If you have heard all the hype surrounding it and go in unprepared, you may wonder what the fuss was about thanks to the stiff controls and unforgiving gameplay. Nostalgia is the key ingredient for enjoying Jet Set Radio HD. If you have it, it will likely warrant your purchase.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.