Before I begin, I would just like to reflect on a couple of recent announcements by SEGA; statements which were a real let down. That’s right, firstly SEGA had something back at the beginning of June to reveal which sent the internet rumour mill into overdrive. At the top of everyone’s wish list (well, mine anyway) was confirmation that a “Dreamcast Mini” was in the works, following in the steps of Nintendo and Sony. Alas, this was not to be the case. Instead we got a Game Gear Micro, something I’m pretty confident no one asked for.
To make matters worse, the second big reveal SEGA had up their sleeve also turned out to be an anti-climax. In fact, it has no relevance to us here in Blighty at all. The “revolutionary” reveal was that SEGA was going to use it’s vast arcade empire in Japan to support cloud gaming. Bummer.
Why am I prattling on about SEGA, you ask? Well, that’s because it’s time to look at a truly fantastic game released on SEGA’s last home console, the Dreamcast. Commercially, it was a failure, but for the gamer it was a treasure trove of innovative, brilliantly made games. Numerous quality titles were released for the console, including Shenmue, Chu Chu Rocket, Resident Evil: Code Veronica and so many more. There is one, however, that holds a particular fondness in my heart; a game that released way back in 2000.
Jet Set Radio was the perfect example of what made the Dreamcast such a fan favourite. It’s a game that told the story of a rollerblading graffiti gang, the GGs, who compete with rival gangs to tag the streets and claim the turf as their own. Meanwhile, pirate radio DJ Professor K provided the music and the gossip to all the street gangs throughout their adventures. Not only this, but the local police, led by Captain Onimshima, were determined to put a stop to the GGs for good. The shady Rokkaku also revealed themselves to be a force to be reckoned with, hunting for a supposedly demonic vinyl record. It’s ridiculous, but impossible not to love.
The varied gameplay in Jet Set Radio made the game damn near impossible to put down. You would do battle against rival gangs in order to cover a certain area in your tags before they could, face off against “boss” characters and graffiti against the clock. Whilst doing so, you could unlock other skaters, collect rare emblems and master your trick set in order to reach seemingly out of reach areas. The environments were so well-designed and surprisingly spacious for a game of the time.
Jet Set Radio’s blocky, cel shaded visuals looked like something lifted straight from a comic book. Everything about the game oozed a hip and cool vibe, right down to the funky, individual character designs. From Beat, the young leader of the GGs, to the beautifully insane Goji, Jet Set Radio provided an experience quite unlike any other before it. All the while you’re blitzing round what could easily be Tokyo on your inline skates, grinding over buses and scaling skyscrapers. It was mad, brilliant and groundbreaking gaming all at the same time.
However, possibly the most distinctive element of Jet Set Radio, and its equally impressive sequel, is the soundtrack. Indeed, in the past I have written just how influential I found Jet Set Radio Future’s soundtrack to be, and it is no different here. What accompanies the gameplay is a real cacophony of musical styles, touching upon most genres in the process. It’s just as wacky, chaotic but overall brilliant as the game itself. Don’t ask me how, but it just works.
Despite a watered-down version of the game that was brought to the GameBoy Advance in 2003, it wasn’t until 2012 that Jet Set Radio was properly re-released. Pretty much all platforms, bar Nintendo’s Wii, saw a port which added some online functionality and HD graphics but remained, in essence, the same game. So far, no such luck for the excellent sequel, Jet Set Radio Future. For this, I still hold out hope.
Jet Set Radio is still, without doubt, one of the coolest games around. An irresistible combination of looks, sound and gameplay (all of which hit the sweet spot) still make this a unique experience 20 years after its initial launch in the year 2000. Don’t believe me? Go and check it out for yourself – it’s currently available for just £6.75 from the Xbox Store. You’ll be able to play it on Xbox One via Backwards Compatibility too.