The Sega Dreamcast stands out as a console that — despite its short lifespan — produced a handful of novel titles that redefined our expectations of what video games could be. And for most Dreamcast fans, the one game that stood out the most was Jet Set Radio. It not only introduced us to the wild, cel-shaded world of inline skating and graffiti, but it allowed gamers to take to the streets of a virtual Japan. It was a breakout title when it launched back in 2000, and over a decade later, its more original than half the games on the market.
Jet Set Radio follows the story of the Graffiti Gangsters, a ragtag group of skaters who roam the streets of Tokyo-to, tagging their favorite spots and having run-ins with their rivals. Levels revolve around picking up spray paint cans and tagging several areas within a time limit, all while avoiding the ridiculous amount of firepower that the police feel the need to send your way. The core design hasn’t changed at all from the original release; you’ll slowly unlock more districts to skate around in, and you can unlock new playable characters by obtaining high ranks in each level. The higher resolution makes an already colorful game look even better, and although there are a few framerate dips here and there, it doesn’t stand out in the long run.
If there’s one complaint to lodge against this re-release, it’s that the controls and physics feel floaty, especially when grinding and jumping off rails. Thankfully, developer Smilebit has added manual camera controls to the game, allowing you to pan the camera with the right thumbstick while auto-centering with the left trigger, which is useful for going around corners.
The soundtrack, which was the original game’s biggest draw, is back in an almost complete form (only one song is missing). The work done on Sega’s part in obtaining the required licenses cannot be understated, as the game’s music is an integral part of the experience. In a world of dubstep and grand orchestral arrangements, Jet Set Radio’s eclectic mix of J-pop, rock, acid jazz, and dance music comes together to provide a more than memorable soundtrack. There isn’t much in the way of voice acting, but the sultry sounds of Professor K, the DJ of the Tokyo-to based pirate radio station are at the very least entertaining.
Even with the odd visual snafu, Jet Set Radio is a blast to play, especially for a 12 year old game. The variety of missions, catchy soundtrack and bright visuals will keep you coming back, and the online leaderboards and achievements serve as excellent additions. While the unadventurous might not be able to brave this stylish world, the rest of us will find a game that’s every bit as entertaining as it was in 2000.
A review copy of Jet Set Radio was provided by SEGA.