In my original 30 Reviews in 30 Days, I reviewed one of my favorite Dreamcast games, Jet Grind Radio. It’s only fitting, then, that for this version of the series, I review Jet Set Radio HD, the HD re-release of the game. Now some of you may be a little confused right now as the names of the games don’t match, and yet I am calling it a re-release. The game, which released first in Japan, was originally called Jet Set Radio. The name was changed to Jet Grind Radio when it was localized for the US market. The HD re-release has brought the original name back, making fans of the game very happy.
So the question is this: Does a game originally made for the Dreamcast still hold up on today’s consoles?
Return to Tokyo-to
While fans fo the original will be familiar with the story behind the game, let me set the stage for people who did not get to play it on the Dreamcast. Jet Set Radio HD takes place in Tokyo-to, a city loosely modeled off of Tokyo. The city is divided into three quadrants, each ruled by its own graffiti gang. Shibuya-cho is ruled by the Love Shockers, Benten-cho by the Noise Tanks and Kogane-cho by the Poison Jam. You start out as Beat, a runaway “rudie” who has decided to form his own gang, the GGs. After proving you can both skate and tag, you are joined by Gum and Tab. Your first mission: tag the Shibuya-cho bus terminal to prove to the Love Shockers that you intend to be the rulers of the area. That’s right, I said tag. Graffiti plays a big part in the game. As you skate throughout the game, you run across areas you need to tag. This allows you to take control of new areas. As you muscle in on the other gangs turf, you will eventually reach a showdown with that gang, where you must chase them and tag them enough times they give up, giving you control of their turf.
There is more to the story than that, however. As you make your way through the game, you are guided by your ever present ruler of the airwaves, DJ Professor K. K runs Jet Set Radio, a pirate radio station reaching out to the the skating, tagging rudies like the GGs. He gives you updates on what the police are doing, what the other gangs think of what you have done and a little bit of an inkling to the rather sinister plot to suck all the unique character out of Tokyo-to. At once both entertaining and over the top, DJ Professor K helps tie the game together between missions, giving you the feeling of being in a living, breathing world.
Those who played the original game will find all of this familiar and comforting. For those of you not familiar with it, while the story may seem a bit out there, it matches the style of the game.
So as far as the re-release goes, so far so good. The next question is how does the game control on the new systems?
Some improvements, but is there enough?
Jet Set Radio has always been fun to play, and the HD version is no different. The mechanics hold up rather well overall, with the only main issues being the same ones those of us who played the original will remember. You race around the levels of the game on magnetically driven rollerblades, grinding and tagging areas while trying to deal with both rival gangs and the local authorities. The authorities will get progressively harder to deal with as the game goes on, starting with simple police officers who will just grab you to slow you down and escalating to tanks and helicopters which will make it much more difficult to tag all the areas on the board before your time or health runs out.
In order to accomplish said tagging, you must first collect spay cans, which are scattered throughout each level or obtainable when you ram into rival gang members at full propulsion. Tagging can be simple, where all you do is hit the tag button as you skate by, or complex, where you will have to follow the patterns on the screen with the right analogue stick. While the improvements in analogue technology between the Dreamcast and the current generation of consoles have made tagging easier, let me offer you a word of advice. I played this on the PS3, and when I started playing with my Power A controller, I found I was failing the larger tags. Not only does failing decrease your score for the level, each failure causes you to lose the spray can you are using, and enough failures will make you have to stop painting and look for more cans. I was getting really frustrated until I realized the issue; I needed to switch to the PS3 controller. The Power A controller’s analogue sticks are based on those of the 360, and there is enough difference between them and the ones for the native PS3 controller that, even though I was following the arrows correctly, the system would not register it properly. Since I switched to the PS3 controller, I have not had that issue. I would assume the 360 version would take the analogue sticks of that controller into account, so it should not have this issue, but if you are having trouble succeeding with the tags on the PS3, you might want to try the native controller.
In the original game, one particular control issue cropped up time and time again: the camera. You had a center camera button that also doubled as your tagging button, which lead to issues. This is one area where the remake really shines; it gives you control over the camera with the left analogue stick. This alone is a drastic improvement in controls.
You will find some of the controls a little frustrating. There are times where it can be difficult to get the exact line you need, especially when attempting to wall ride. These control issues were in the original as well, and that is the heart of the problem with Jet Set Radio HD. This game is just like the original game with a few cosmetic changes, outside of adding the ability to control your camera. Sure, the graphics have been polished a bit and online leaderboards have been added, but other than that, this is Jet Set (Grind) Radio in widescreen format, which is both a good and a bad thing. Most of us fans wanted to be able to play this game on current gen consoles, but it would have been nice to see some new game modes or something else added to the game.
Is it worth getting?
So we come to the main question most reviews are supposed to answer: is Jet Set Radio HD worth owning? That really depends on who you are. If you are a fan of the game, want to play it again and don’t own it (and a Dreamcast on which to play it), I would say it is worth the full $10. If you have never played it before, try out the demo; the game is a bit of a niche game, but it is also a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and there really is not another game quite like it. Even Jet Set Radio Future, the Xbox sequel, does not play like the original.
If you are like many Dreamcast fans who have the original system still and a copy of the original game, there just may not be enough of a difference between it and the HD version to make it worth the full price. I cannot say you won’t get your money’s worth; I am fully enjoying playing the game on my HDTV. I guess what I am trying to say is be aware there really is not much to distinguish this from the original, which is both its biggest selling point and its greatest downfall.
When it comes right down to it, this game is still a fun game to play, even several years after its release. It just would have been nice if it had been more of an improvement over the original. Jet Set Radio HD gets an 7 out of 10.