Deja Review: Jet Set Radio

We're of the firm opinion that your time is too precious, too valuable to be spent reading a full review for a game that was already reviewed many, many years ago. What's the point of applying a score to a game that's old enough to be enrolled in the sixth grade? That's why we invented Deja Review: A quick look at the new features and relative agelessness of remade, revived and re-released games.
Deja Review Jet Set Radio
Jet Set Radio was more than one of the Dreamcast's best games. Jet Set Radio was emblematic of the system, exhibiting a joyful atmosphere, bright color scheme and arcade-style gameplay that all seemed unique to the last Sega hardware. The game will forever be associated with its Dreamcast home.

Uncoupling the game from the Dreamcast, however, does nothing to diminish the unforgettable atmosphere that developer Smilebit created. In fact, the association is strong enough that in playing the new HD version, I forget that I'm playing a new version on new hardware. It's just Jet Set Radio, looking how I always remembered it looking anyway.

It's still the most upbeat game about teenagers being shot at by tanks in response to minor acts of vandalism.

What's new this time around? The graphics are the major update. The game now displays in widescreen, and the polygons have all been re-rendered in HD. Cel-shaded games take to upscaling especially well, as they're already designed to be composed of simple, smooth shapes and flat colors. Just making the outlines smoother makes the already-beautiful game look even better.

The textures aren't any better, though, so when you're looking at a closeup of a face, or skating into that one weird part of Shibuya-cho where the background is a flat "matte painting," you will definitely notice some unsightly blurriness. It's a little disappointing to have the eye drawn to shortcomings when the game as a whole still looks amazing, but then I thought it looked amazing in 2000 when everything was in that lower resolution.

The framerate, while not a consistent 60FPS, is now much smoother than it was before, and not subject to frustrating slowdown. To be honest, I didn't remember there being slowdown in the Dreamcast game until I went back and replayed it, but it was present. And now it isn't, which is certainly a plus.

The other welcome change is the addition of manual camera controls, thanks to modern controllers bearing one more analog stick than the Dreamcast had. Back then, the only control over the unwieldy camera was a single recentering button, whereas now you can move the camera however you see fit. This is wonderful on its own, and, as I'll explain in the next section, allows you to fix one of the biggest problems in the original Jet Set Radio.

Perhaps most surprising, Sega treated this budget-priced re-release like a deluxe anthology, bundling an original short documentary that includes interviews with director Masayoshi Kikuchi, art director Ryuta Ueda, composer Hideki Naganuma, and graffiti artist Eric Haze. Other unlockable bonus material includes music from Jet Set Radio Future, playable from within the bonus menu.

Deja Review Jet Set Radio

How's it hold up? The rough edges that were present in the original game seem a lot rougher in 2012. The skating controls are fidgety, often delivering you directly into a wall instead of the adjacent doorway, or making it exceptionally difficult to jump out of a grind if you aren't moving quickly enough. I suppose the magnetic nature of the skates can narratively account for your character's frequent refusal to land anywhere but on the same rail over and over. It often feels like there's no recourse against some of the enemies, like, say, helicopters that shoot missiles from off-screen, or jetpacking machine gunners.

I'd forgotten the absolute worst thing about Jet Set Radio, possibly as a defense mechanism: the "center camera" button and the graffiti button are the same. For 95% of the game, this is fine; however, in the few stages when you're chasing rival gangs and trying to paint their backs, you constantly mash on the left trigger to attempt to tag the person you're pursuing. If you're close enough, you repeatedly paint them. If not ... you recenter the camera over and over again, deploying an instant headache.

You can now turn off the camera centering function in the settings, leaving the left trigger blissfully free to focus on graffiti only. This is the single best thing Sega could have done for this port.

Despite my renewed irritation with the enemies, and especially with the design of Grind Square, a level that, at moments, threatened to ruin the game for me in both 2000 and 2012, Jet Set Radio is still something that makes me happy to see, and to play.

The style is as fresh as it was then. Despite being made ten years ago, the candy-colored vision of Tokyo's streets still looks a little futuristic, a little modern, and essentially timeless. The gangs of vandals dancing in unison and then jumping behind a building still look cool. Professor K still delivers the most exciting exposition. The soundtrack is still one of the best ever used in a game. And sheeeeeeeee is still a magical girl.

This Deja Review is based on a Xbox 360 download of Jet Set Radio, provided by Sega.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.