Written by  :  David Mackenzie (48)
Written on  :  Nov 18, 2003
Platform  :  Dreamcast
Rating  :  4.2 Stars4.2 Stars4.2 Stars4.2 Stars4.2 Stars

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Gameplay almost as unique as the graphical style

The Good

The tricks are extremely easy to pull off, which actually makes them a little less satisfying. The object of the game is to skate around levels, performing tricks, and spraypainting ("tagging") over the graffiti creations of rival teams. Of course, that'd be too easy on its own, so the keisatsu (police force) are hot on your heels too. There's also the slight problem of rival gangs that you have to chase after every so often.

The graffiti spraying part of the game is done with a Simon-says entry style (think Parappa the Rapper). When you skate up to an area that you can tag (marked by an appropriately colored arrow), a series of arrows appear on-screen. You have to move the analog stick in the right direction to match the arrows, and after a few repeats, the rival teams' tag will be completely covered over with one of your choice (more on that later). Red arrows indicate an area that must be tagged in order to complete the level. Green arrows indicate areas you can tag if you want bonus points.

They're some pretty simple mechanics, with a varied number of skating tricks and environments to keep things interesting - a classic Sega recipe. As a result, Jet Set Radio's gameplay is so simple that it's even a joy to re-play, and is pure gold the first time through.

Another damn fun feature is the tag creator. The game comes with a huge number of great looking tags already, but you can always create your own with the built in editor. People that find this a little lacking in the features department can just as easily use Photoshop, and upload the file to a web server as a JPEG image, because the game can convert images saved to the memory card from the Dreamcast web browser into game textures.

The game runs at a near-constant 30 frames per second. When slowdown occurs, it's usually because of smoke or sprite transparency effects - thankfully this isn't much and rarely affects gameplay. Jet Set's cel-shading technique requires double the polygon count to display characters, due to the fact that they are heavily outlined in black. This means that the developers can't make the character geometry quite as detailed as they otherwise could, so you might sometimes notice a rough edge here and there. It's pure luck that the comic-like visual style of the game soaks this up nicely and if anything, makes the end result more stylish.

This game uses licensed music tracks, which could make it or break it for some. While I didn't find many of the songs especially good, they certainly weren't bad either and seemed to match the feel of the game. You can always turn the Background Music level to zero, if you seriously don't like them. NOTE: The American NTSC version has a few extra licensed music tracks by Rob Zombie, that play over the Grind City level. I have played this version and in my opinion they fit in with the rest of the tracks quite badly. This might be of interest to you if you have access to either version of the game. The voice effects are also good and the characters'll give a cry of "nice!" or "cool!" when you pull off stunts. It's a pity there's no voice-overs for the the cut scenes (which are delivered in real-time, there is no FMV in the game).

The Bad

If there's any faults with this area of the game, the controls could be seen as a little questionable. At times they feel as though they could be more sensitive, and they certainly take some getting used to. Die-hard fans of games such as the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series might also be annoyed at the simplicity of the skating tricks - they're more or less random and you don't get too much control over them, which can make them less satisfying than they could be for some.

There is some polygonal warping and draw-in, but nothing to lose sleep over. Slightly more severe are the shimmering/flickering effects that some of the textures produce. These can be an eyesore but again don't get in the way too much.

The 50hz PAL version is poor. The mentioned anti-aliasing problems are worsened making a very flickery image, although the game isn't as bordered as badly as it might be. This is irrelevant however as Jet Set Radio supports PAL60.

The game's menus aren't too well laid out. After quite a slow boot-up (hampered by a message that reminds you that vandalism isn't cool and crime doesn't pay, yaddayadda), you're presented with a menu screen that gives you the option of New Game, Load Game, and Tutorial. The Tutorial is pretty poor and does nearly nothing but let you skate around the games' Bus Terminal area with a few on-screen prompts, and is fairly useless anyway since selecting New Game gives you a much better set of practice challenges. Once you load a game, you'll get another series of options, presented in a pretty cool way - you press the left and right directional buttons to cycle around different areas in the skate gang's garage hideout. This lets you do stuff like listen to background music, browse the internet to download new tags (if your DC is connected to a phone line), or start a new level. The annoying thing is, if you want to change memory card file, you'll need to reset the whole system over, and that means going through the long, boring bootup sequence. It'd surely have been a better idea to combine these two menu systems into one. Even still, it's hardly worth complaining about.

The Bottom Line

Jet Set Radio is just one of these games that's looked back upon by Dreamcast owners so fondly. When it was released, the relatively new cel-shading technique wowed gamers everywhere, with the grungy urban-style visuals that it rendered. It's a must for every Dreamcast owner. The gameplay is almost as unique as the graphical style, the sound fits the on-screen action perfectly, and the whole style is just so damn cool. So go ahead - paint the town red. Or green.... aquamarine..... orange - what ails ya.

OVERALL: 9/10 (www.lyris.tk)