The Dreamcast was an interesting beast, a system with a library of gaming gems that all had flaws running right through them, much like the system itself. Jet Set Radio in particular is a perfect example of that give and take, what with it being an unmissable classic of the gaming scene and also kind of terrible in certain respects. It’s easy to forget both what made this game great and also infuriating so thank god for SEGA and their putting out off a beautiful new HD re-release. But is this attempt to bring back the glories of graffiti, rollerblading, and pirate radio a bad ass hip hop tribute to a weird time in SEGA’s history or is it just bad? Why don’t we put on our headphones and grind a rail down to Shibuya-Cho to find out.
So we’re not going to really talk about the game proper as it’s 12 years old and you probably already have some sort of idea as to whether you like the franchise or not, what we’re here to talk about is the quality of this port. Thankfully that’s a happy thing to talk about as SEGA has gone all out to make sure this is the best damn possible way to play Jet Set Radio. Starting off with the visuals, JSR is a game that just naturally translates really well into HD. The fat lined cell shading the game had looks just beautifully sharp and vibrant with everything upscaled and cleaned up. There are still some blurry ass Dreamcast textures in this game, especially on some of the buildings, but the characters and graffiti look great and the sharp lines help draw the eyes away from the fuzzy bits. A cool thing about the graffiti in this game is the simple fact that most of it is the same graffiti from the first release with a few extra additions. You see just like music, commercial artwork needs to be licensed to be used in products like games. SEGA went back and resigned deals with those artists to get use of those assets back for this release with the intention of providing the truest JSR experience possible.
Continuing on with the awesome topic of copyright legislation and licensing agreements, most of-if not all-the music is back and it’s still fucking awesome. There simply are not enough games that focus on the insanity that is late nineties Japanese hip-hop so we have to treasure the ones that do. They even have some unlockable tracks from Jet Set Radio Future in the extras menu that while I don’t think you can listen to them while actually playing a level you can at least go put on “Concept of Love” and just have it play for eternity.
On the note of extras they really went all out to include almost everything they could to make this the only game JSR fans could ever need. In addition to relicensing all that content and adding in some songs from JSRF to the extras menu they also included a fucking documentary about JSR which as far as I can tell was made especially for this re-release. If you are the kind of crazy person who likes to call themselves a “video game historian” then that addition will alone more than justify the $10 price tag for you.
That’s not to say the game is all sunshine and lollipops though, I mean there are those muddy textures I mentioned earlier and honestly it made me realize that I may have had some rose-coloured glasses on when I’ve looked back on JSR in the past. For as great as the game is, it does still suffer from a lot of crappy design decisions that were indicative of that era of game design. Stuff like annoying unnecessary time limits, little to no actual direction or map, a spastic camera (though that has been improved somewhat thanks to the game using the right stick), and terribly imprecise movement are all still firmly in this game. Let me be clear though, all that shit was in the original and we all enjoyed the original despite those issues. If they had gone ahead and fixed all that stuff then this probably would have been a better game objectively but it also would have ruined the genuine Jet Set Radio experience it’s clear SEGA wanted to make.
While I personally am not the biggest JSR fan (mainly because I’m really bad at it) I know a lot of people who care deeply for the series and I have a feeling this will be exactly the experience they would want in a re-release. Really the only way they could have improved upon this would have been to include all of Jet Set Radio Future in the game as well and just charge $20 but as it stands this was probably a better idea. So despite the uki-uki-waku-waku feeling I get from remembering just how dreadfully bad I am at this game, I am happy to give Jet Set Radio HD a 4 out of 5 stars.