I fell in love with Jet Grind Radio the second time I played it. The first time I played it I thought it was garbage because it wasn’t Tony Hawk Pro Skater a game I was unmistakably addicted to. But when I turned on the Dreamcast later on and gave it another chance, it was love at second sight. Between the cel-shaded graphics, the trendy, graffiti-laden streets of Shibuya-cho and other districts in Tokyo-to, crazy characters, and over-the-top, completely nonsense storyline, I was hooked. Oh yeah, and there was some gameplay, some skating and graffiti in there that was ok, too.
An underrated cult classic, Jet Set Radio (released as Jet Grind Radio in North America) created a space for a beautiful fusion of hip-hop, techno, trance, rock, and metal from around the globe. The inspired, easy-to-learn graffiti tagging system and rollerblading tricks took the initial experience away from racking up high scores like in the Tony Hawk games, instead inspiring you to save the city from the evils of the Rokkaku Group (and do some sweet tricks in the process). For those of you who didn’t get the chance to paint your impressions on the walls on the Dreamcast, or if you’re looking to relive those glory days, you’ll be happy to know that Jet Set Radio is getting re-released in all territories for Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network for PS3 and Playstation Vita. I got the chance to get up a little bit on the Vita at E3, and I was happy to see it there.
Jet Set Radio HD is a re-release, but also a sort of re-mastering for the game. While talking with Ben Harborne, the brand manager for Jet Set Radio at Sega, he brought up a couple enhancements that the new release offers. “For this one we’re making it higher-res, 720p, full HD with widescreen support.” He said that it’s important to make the game feel like it did when you first played it, authentic to the original experience, but tweaked to fit some modern conventions as well. “The Dreamcast only had one analog stick, but now we have to, so we put a free-look camera on there, which most people don’t even realize wasn’t there in the Dreamcast version, but makes the game much easier to play.” The HD release will also include new graffiti, including the pieces from 18 contest winners who submitted their works before the game’s release. Also, Jet Set Radio will include the entire N. American and Japanese release soundtracks, and all the tracks from the European release except one. When I asked him if there were going to be any Vita-specific features that might take advantage of its technology, he said, “It’s the same code, so the game content’s going to be the same, but the Vita’s got some pretty cool features…we’re working to figure out which combination of those would be the most fun, and we’ll be able to announce something more concrete in the future.” In the meantime, I got some hands-on with the Vita release to try out the new take on my old favorite.
I got the chance to play one of the first levels as the game’s main character, Beat. Skating around the Shibuya bus terminal, I had to quickly leave my gang’s tags all over the depot to let the world know who was in charge. The controls felt tight, and the graphics were as good as the original, though seeing them on the Vita’s OLED screen made the colors really pop. Tagging didn’t feel as smooth as it used to, though; the Vita’s nubby thumbsticks made it hard for me to enter the movement sequences accurately, resulting in a lot of failures, missed points, and wasted paint. I felt sluggish as I tried to skate away from the police force, and there were some moments of serious frame-rate drop as I was being pursued by multiple enemies on screen. At this rate, those Vita-specific perks would have to be especially great (sharing graffiti with local friends via Near, or touchscreen tagging, perhaps?) to convince me to buy this on the handheld as opposed to my 360 or PS3. Even with that said though, just getting my hands on a game I’ve hoped would get a re-release for years was exceptionally gratifying.
Jet Set Radio is a period piece, a fantastic game that was not only innovative on a gameplay level, but also pioneered the cel-shading technique used in games like The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Okami, and more modern favorites like No More Heroes and Catherine. With updates like online leaderboards, achievements, and all the other improvements that modern technology has to offer, I’m looking forward to seeing Jet Set Radio release sometime this summer.