Jet Set Radioooooooooo! *hype*
Jet Set Radio on the PS Vita is an HD remake of the 2000 cult classic bearing the same name. The game was well-known for pushing cell-shaded graphics and making them standard in the industry for depicting cartoony characters in three dimensions. However, the reason it was brought back is more distinct; Jet Set Radio is a game with soul. It’s message of freedom and rebellion against a fascist opposing force (in this case, the police department) is still relevant today. The story is simple; you defeat other gangs and the police, and spray your tags everywhere. The way it is presented is much more interesting. Allow me to introduce you to Professor K.; a classic underground radio DJ wearing sunglasses, rastafari haircut with a low-pitched, activating voice; “This is DJ Professor K, baby, the master of mayhem, you know what I’m sayin’ – bringing you another Tokyo under- grouund pirate radio broadcast from Jet Set Radioooooooo!“
You skate, jump, trick and tag your way around the fictional city Tokyo-to (but everyone just calls it Tokyo) while playing as one of many characters in your rollerblading graffiti gang, the GGs, based in the Shibuya district. The general gameplay consists of skating, grinding and jumping through levels while spraying your graffiti around and avoiding the police. This has to be done within a certain time limit, which is necessary in places to add tension and to not make the game incredibly easy, but in some levels it only induces rage and annoyance because the controls and physics do not work in your favour. The gameplay sounds fun at first, but as I played more, I realized that it was merely average. This is one of those games where the concept is very interesting but the execution is lacking, though still playable.
Take a look at the skating mechanic; in Jet Set Radio it is basically limited to just plain skating, grinding on rails, and jumping. However, when you’re trying to jump onto a rail at high speed, you find that the controls are just inaccurate enough to make you overshoot and the physics and collision detection are just wonky enough to cause annoyance and never give you the feeling of full control and precision, causing annoyance often. If you practise enough, however, you might be able to get used to it, but it will never feel good. There is also some untapped potential and missing features that would have made the game a lot more diverse. For example, I can’t grasp for the life of me why the game does not allow you to execute tricks yourself but instead just shows you a trick animation while jumping at high speed; there are plenty of unused buttons. The graffiti-spraying part of the gameplay isn’t particularly interesting, but it works. You press L near a graffiti spot and, depending on the size of the tag you’re supposed to make, you are presented with some quick-time prompts which require the Vita’s analog sticks or touchscreen to spray the graffiti.
As seen on the left, the city of Tokyo-to is divided into three main areas, and most levels in the same area have recurring sections.The level designs are an example of hit and miss. Some allow you to glide smoothly through and take full advantage of fast grinding and jumping, others are designed in concert with the under par physics and unnecessarily slow you down or make you stop in an instant because you slightly brushed against the wall. It feels great to slide across several grinding rails, jump against a wall and then trick onto a ramp, until you try to go around a corner and the camera and collision detection say hi.
However, the reason why this game is considered a classic, is not because of the gameplay. It is because this game is art. The music is a timeless composition spanning many different genres (rock, funk, soul, acid jazz) and, while it not only sounds great, it fits perfectly with the carefree spirit, themes and visuals of the game. The visuals are another point. The cell-shaded graphics still hold up, and they’ve been touched up nicely. The colours suit the Vita’s lush portable screen very well, and the little puffs of smoke from gunfire and bombs, the bright and colourful environments and the character design are great examples of its defining art style. For a port of a re-make, the game runs and looks surprisingly good on the Vita. There’s only an iffy texture every so often, and the frame rate is smooth and supple.
Jet Set Radio is a very interesting game. Its controls and physics can be very frustrating at times, and there is lost potential in the gameplay department, but the presentation of Jet Set Radio is not an inch short of incredible. If you can overcome the aforementioned issues the game has, this is a great, inspirational title with original gameplay and a great atmosphere.