Bring it Back | Jet Set Radio
Welcome back to the newest edition of Bring it Back, our feature where we put focus on games that haven’t had the spotlight for a while. Last week, we were looking back at Ubisoft’s 2008 Prince of Persia reboot, but this week, we’re looking back at a modern classic. Sega’s Jet Set Radio (or Jet Grind Radio for the original North America release) has been a fan favorite for a very long time. The game pioneered cel-shaded graphics for 3D titles and oozed style with a fantastic soundtrack and killer gameplay. With incredibly high critical reception, it’s a mystery as to why this game hasn’t received a new title in nearly 20 years. While developer Smilebit has been defunct for quite some time, there’s no reason that Sega can’t pull some strings for a revival.
Sega’s Dreamcast console has developed a sort of cult following over the years. While the system only lasted a couple of years, it delivered several hits that fans know and love today. One such hit was 2000’s Jet Set Radio, a funky graffiti game where players traverse cityscapes on magnetic inline skates. As part of a gang known as the GG’s, players would travel to Tokyo-to and rebel against authority as they tag the world in a gang war. These characters are known as rudies, which are essentially delinquents. Using a pirate radio station, DJ Professor K brings the player up to speed with the kind of world the game takes place in. In the Japan of the near future, players have three distinctive districts to play around in as they combat other gangs.
Players will skate around and perform tricks on various rails, jumps and more, earning points during their missions. They’ll also be collecting spray cans to use for tagging various surfaces like cars and billboards. Some surfaces are a simple tag with the trigger while larger ones required more complex inputs with the joystick. Opposing gang members will often be caught tagging the city, and eventually the police, led by Captain Onishima, will pursue you. Things eventually escalate and players are soon on a quest to recover the pieces of a vinyl said to summon an ancient demon, the Devil’s Contract. The story is rather silly, but it worked for the style and gameplay, and made sense in this world.
The game had three overall modes: Street, Rival Showdown, and Trial. Street was your standard game mode, having players tag areas or even other gang members while avoiding the police. Rival Showdowns offered technique sequences where you match a rival’s movements or by racing to tag the most spots. This was how you would basically unlock more characters to play as, increasing the size of your gang. Trials provided their own set of challenges for players to hone their skills. Another feature was the ability to customize your own graffiti, allowing a bit more personal touch with the game. Overall, Jet Set Radio was a very innovative game that really pushed player skill to the forefront.
The game would have several ports, including a Game Boy Advance version in 2003 and an HD version in 2012. Vicarious Visions worked on the Game Boy Advance version using their Tony Hawk engine, crafting a surprisingly faithful rendition of the original. Using an isometric view, the game managed to maintain the style of the original, though at the cost of presentation. This included audio limitations and a lot of the voice acting being removed. It also had its share of problems like perspective issues and less difficult enemies. Of course, the 2012 HD version from BlitWorks was a much more faithful port. While it had to remove a couple songs, it provided widescreen visuals, an expanded soundtrack, achievements, and a new camera system.
While the original may have been given a HD port, it wasn’t the same as a sequel. The original game did get a sequel in 2002 with Jet Set Radio Future, which to this day remains on the original Xbox. This sequel didn’t do quite as well in sales, but still received a lot of praise. The gameplay didn’t drastically change, though the game did give players more aggressive options. This included the ability to charge into enemies and spray them to stop their pursuit. It also removed the time limit to give players more freedom in each mission. Larger tags also became simpler to pull off without the need of analog stick inputs. Of course, the other major addition was the inclusion of multiplayer, which only taps into the series potential there.
The story was less silly than the original game, mostly focusing on the Rokkaku Group. This powerful corporation tries to seize control of Tokyo-to and turn it into a police state, free of rudies. Of course, the GGs won’t stand for that. There’s still rival gangs and characters to unlock, and of course you’ll still avoid the police. Interestingly enough, Captain Onishima doesn’t return here and instead gets a replacement in the form of Commander Hayashi. While Onishima was a more comical character, Hayashi took a more insane approach. It really changed the tone of of the sequel’s story, though the spirit of the original still thrived. This was mostly thanks to the music and graphical style.
Speaking of the music, it’s worth mentioning the soundtrack of these games specifically. The soundtrack for both games was a collaboration from Hideki Naganuma and Richard Jacques. Both of these composers are sort of legendary in the industry, and having them both work together on the Jet Set Radio franchise is definitely part of the series charm. Fans may know Naganuma for his work on Sonic Rush, along with various other Sega games under the alias skankfunk. Meanwhile, Richard Jacques has on several Sonic titles, OutRun, and even Mass Effect. Their unique mix of style and samples made the series what it was.
The exact reason for this series to not return has been a mystery for years now. Many developers have approached Sega with concepts, and the publisher continues to not want to budge. Sega acknowledges the series every now and then with different games like Sega Superstars Tennis or Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Despite this, fans have wanted to see a new game in the series that takes advantage of new hardware. In a recent USGamer interview, one of the designers, Kazuki Hosokawa, admitted to the original team not having the same energy to make a new game. He suggested that the next entry would have to be done by a younger team to invoke the same spirit. While it’s fair to respect the original developers, there’s still so much this series can do. That’s why we think it’s only right to Bring it Back!
While the original game got an HD port that players can still experience, the sequel never got that treatment. It would be a great start for Sega to get a team like BlitWorks to port the sequel to modern consoles. This would not only be a great way for many to experience the game, but also a way to drive up more interest. After that, Sega could potentially start development on a sequel. Not only would this sequel take advantage of current hardware, but it could have new features as well. Online multiplayer can easily expand, giving room for multiple players to trick out and tag the world. They can use Jet Set Radio Future as a foundation to add new gameplay elements as well.
Nearly two decades is a long time for a series to be dormant, especially one as prolific as Jet Set Radio. Sega has the power to get a team, though the question would be who to get. While Insomniac would’ve been a great choice (especially after Sunset Overdrive), their Sony ownership would make things difficult. Perhaps a company that can truly capture the cel-shaded style with lots of detail would be best. Maybe a team like CyberConnect2 or Arc System Works? Or perhaps a company like Avalanche Studios? Either way, it would be a must to bring back Hideki Naganuma and Richard Jacques. You can get a team to capture the gameplay, but it’s their sound that captures the spirit.
Whatever the case may be, Sega has the power to unleash a true next-gen sequel to this series. The ball is in their court and their fans are waiting to swing. Hopefully, fans don’t have to wait too long, but they’ve definitely been waiting long enough. What do you think? Would you love to see Jet Set Radio return? Let us know in the comments below, and stayed tuned for next week as we look back at a classic Bandai Namco franchise.