It’s always kind of awkward to play the HD re-release of a game without playing the original. While some might say that this is the correct way to review it (no nostalgia and all that), it’s always uncomfortable to notice design choices that would be considered insanely archaic by today’s standards. On that note, I was hoping to make an exception with this rule with the re-release of Jet Set Radio, a game that has been consistently praised for music, design, fun, and a quirky sense of humor.
I have no idea why.
Jet Set Radio places you in the shoes of Beat, a character who is head of the GG gang in a place called Shibuya-cho, and is tasked with beating rival gang members and taking over Tokyo-to. To do so, tagging is controlled on PS3 using the L2 button to trigger while using the left stick to control the direction of the spray can. While doing this, your character (there are a few to choose from with different stats) must avoid the police, hell-bent on catching you while a despicable leader (named Captain Onishima) tries to directly shoot at you (with the intention of murder) just for being a hooligan. Maneuvering through levels requires our heroes skating throughout an area, grinding on rails and performing very basic platforming and tricks.
Although none of these ideas are problematic in concept, the execution of all of this is very rough. Perhaps my largest complaint is that for all of the mechanics stuffed into the game, none of them feel fully developed. The skating feels like if the Tony Hawk series lacked depth, the spray painting isn’t all that special, nor does it feel like it makes the game any more fun; the platforming aspects are just awkward to handle on roller blades; and the police. Oh, the police. As you tag more walls and vehicles and other stuff in a level, the police come out in packs and they become tougher to avoid, while also remaining all too aware of your location at any given time. This keeps you on your feet and adds difficulty, which is good, but it also makes playing the game an immense pain when stages can take up to seven or even ten minutes (an immense amount of time for this kind of speedy gameplay), and making one small mistake (or if the camera starts spazzing out) can send you back to the beginning with no check points to speak of. The game also offers a score counter, though I never really bothered to worry about it.
Perhaps the compliment I’m the most confused by is the praise for the writing and sense of humor in Jet Set Radio. Unlike the Katamari and No More Heroes series, where an absurd sense of humor is combined with weird and interesting characters, Jet Set Radio provides none of that. The story barely makes sense (and this is coming from someone who just used Katamari Damacy as an example), the characters feel one-dimensional and confusing, and whatever humor the game attempts to provide falls flat entirely.
That’s not to say the style is all bad, however. The game provides cel-shaded visuals that really pop in HD, and they really feel right with this style of game. I was also surprised that it didn’t feel like an HD re-release in its visual style and really looked like a game that had been released in 2012. The music is also pretty unique and interesting, providing plenty of electronic music that carries a hard edge to it.
Even so, I could have forgiven Jet Set Radio if it held some sense of progression throughout its seven-or-so hour run. It does not. Despite a change in location, the game doesn’t feel much easier or much harder than when I started, nor does it feel much different. There are some interesting things the game tries to throw at you towards the end, but the gameplay really starts to drag after a while.
Don’t get me wrong. If you want to buy this game and play it yourself, I really hope you love it as much as humanly possible. But based on my full-length experience with it, I feel no hesitation in saying that Jet Set Radio is not a good game.