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Jet Set Radio – Conquering a counter-cultural classic

Listen up all you innocent fools out there, the late 90s were an interesting time to be a young gamer. Arcades were full of the latest and greatest, innovation in both graphics and gameplay was rapid with each new console bringing a slew of imaginative titles to command consumer attention and inspire future developers. The Dreamcast (though a commercial failure) was home to many of these titles as they tried to garner new audiences with vibrant exciting experiences. I missed this title on it’s original EU release but had heard good things. The version I’ve played through is the HD re-release for steam and I’ve detailed some thoughts below;

JET SET RADDDDDDDDDDIOOOOOOOOOOOO

Gameplay

Though I imagine this played well in its paradigm. Rollerblading and graffiting around JSR was a both frustrating and rewarding experience. There are several varied game-modes, the main type being a timered exploration of the city tagging spots and evading authorities who become increasingly harder in-game as more graffiti is sprayed and in the story as more levels are completed. There are three large districts to complete with their own inter-linked sub-areas. Success is dependent on map mastery and smart orienteering.

I found the controls and tagging unreliable, especially in the rival showdowns where you have to chase rival factions around the city and tag their backs. Once you work out the design quirks and map system, the game becomes a lot more manageable.

Each mission is essentially a puzzle where the enemies can seem overpowered if you unleash your tags in a careless order triggering stronger hordes in easy to reach places. It’s really satisfying once you figure the best order or path to take.

Ultimately, I’d compare playing this to messing around on an old BMX you’d find at a garage sale. You’ll have fun as long as you accept the game design as a product of its time.

Artstyle and Graphics

The cel shaded art design of Jet Set Radio is timeless and one of the things I found myself most enjoying while playing through its story mode. The characters and levels are beautiful and it all holds up really well. As someone who has visited Japan, they were definitely able to capture the atmosphere and warmth of various districts and subcultures.

The characters are simple but have a lot of diversity in their looks and dance animations, and each brings their own killer attitude and personality to the game.

Sound Design

I’d heard the soundtrack was a strong point and it definitely didn’t disappoint; it’s gorgeous with a variety of international songs which suit the city-blading gameplay perfectly. The only complaint here would be the looping on some of the more grating tracks, which is most likely due to the storage restrictions of Dreamcast discs.

The sound effects are solid, but the scripted character soundbytes can be annoying depending on which one you’re playing as.

The story is narrated by JSR’s pirate radio DJ which made the world feel really colourful, interconnected and alive.

Steam Release Specifics

This is a pretty average port job. It’s upresed but ultimately lacks a lot of the customisation and QOL you’d expect from a high-effort re-release.

Conclusion – Tldr

Overall, I had a great time with this classic and it perfectly encapsulates a time when urban-sports, pirate radio and graffiti were at the forefront of counter-culture. It suffers from some archaic game design choices but not enough to detract from a vibe which is immaculate and what most gamers will ultimately stay for.

I’d give it a 7/10. If i’d played it when it came out it would have probably gotten an 8 or 9 from me.. Perhaps not, but how can anyone know the real truth behind it all?

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