Sunday, 25 April 2010

Retro Monday: Jet Set Radio (Sega Dreamcast)

Ok, so we haven't been posting with as much ferocity as usual. This is due to us all having busy lives, and also being rather lazy. We're also of course playing games. So technically we're doing research. Dr Sanchez is finishing Bioshock 2, whilst I completed Gears of War 2 t'other day. But to make up for this abhorrent laziness, I'm now going to chat about one of my favourite games of all time. One of them top 5 moments, you know? In the upper echelons of my gaming life, this game really did make my soul sing. It's Jet Set Radio...

The more observant of you have noticed this American box art,
in which it's called Jet 'Grind' Radio. Those crazy Americans!

This, to me, is a very mythical game. Around the time it was released, I never owned a Dreamcast. I owned a Nintendo 64. Whilst it was good, It's only recently that I feel a little cheated, that I picked the wrong console, that I wasn't old enough to appreciate the beauty, the grace, the forward-thinking of the swirly Sega dream-machine.

But I was lucky enough to know someone who did. My older cousin. He lived in the Midlands, and we would regularly visit in the summer holidays, so this meant the Dreamcast was a mythical beast. Everday when he'd go to work, I had a limited time with it, to play the games he had, and still I fell in love with the console. That time-pressure, that limited opportunity made it all the more important to me when playing, and made it all the more special. The instant Jet Set Radio burst onto the screen, I was hooked.

The basic premise of this game is futuristic Neo-Tokyo, where graffiti and fun is outlawed, and you set up a gang of rollerblading graffiti bad-asses to spray the town in colour, beating the other gangs and unravelling a nefarious plot by the evil corporation The Rokakku Group. It's hardly Heavy Rain, but the premise was fair enough. To be honest, you have to make very little excuses for a game which involves tagging a city whilst on rollerblades, whilst listening to Japanese Break-Beat.

The game was dripping with style. One of the first games I remember being genuinely 'cool'. Games tend to orbit their own planet of cool, looking interesting and relevant only to those playing games. No-one would come in whilst you're playing Mario 64 and go, 'Ooooh that looks really cool!'. But JSR was. Bright colours, slick graphics and really eye-popping graffiti made this game look absolutely gorgeous. The cel-shaded graphics and art style were so beautiful, it was a game that was just as enjoyable to watch, as to play.

The art style was really, really beautiful. Really interesting looking characters, all with personality. You only have to look at Combo, the MASSIVE black guy with Kangol hat, boombox and huge gold chain with the Yen symbol on it, just to see how cool this game was. I ALWAYS played as Combo. Each level was uniquely different. Not only well designed, but different in style. Every part of the city was interesting to interact with, but also looked good. Whether it was the junk yard, or the rooftops at sunset, this game looked stunning, thanks to some clever touches and decisions at the design level.

And now we come to perhaps my favourite part of this game, and the part of the game which has remained with me for the longest time- the soundtrack. A beautiful concoction of Japanese J-Pop, Hip-Hop and Break-Beat. Basically the funkiest, most bizarre collection of music I've ever heard. Made so unabashedly with disregard for coolness or popularity. Only the Japanese could make something like this. So weird, so uninterested in any kind of criticism or previous music, it was ground-breaking. From the salsa-inspired 'Funky Taxi', to the sounds of Jurrassic-5 and Mixmaster Mike, this was a game with a mix of original tunes and famous artists, all incredibly blended together.

You really have to sit down and think about the time in which this was released as to it's importance in video games and music culture combining. At the time Jet Set Radio was released, very few games were using soundtracks, let alone music by recording artists. Tony Hawks Pro Skater was one of the few, but even then it was a mix of Punk and Hip-Hop, with no real flair or diversity, just tracks the fans would like. This was a game that had a soundtrack that was largely created for the game, and yet were still standalone pop tracks. I'll leave with the menu screen music, the track most people remember from the game, and a track which you'll now continue to hum for around 6 hours or so...

I think it's a testament to the game that the things I remember most and talk about are the visual and audio aspects of it. I can talk about the rhythm-action aspects of the graffiti spraying, or the tenseness of running away from the police, but that's not what this game was about.
This was a game that was heavily, heavily concerned about style, almost at times over substance. But this was the point of Jet Set Radio. It wasn't a game you bought a strategy guide for. It had depth, and collectables, and all that shit, but it wasn't about that. It was about the music pumping, about doing tricks with ease, and spraying your tag all over the city, and feeling genuinely bad-ass.

I never completed Jet Set Radio. Mainly because I ran out of time at my cousin's house, and also because it was damn difficult. But I didn't need to. Never has a game filled me with so much fun, so much genuine feeling of cool, like I was playing a game with it's finger on the pulse of modern society. If any of my words have in anyway affected you, I implore you to try this game. It hasn't aged all that much, and you can pick it up for cheap. If you've never played Dreamcast, now really is the time.

Or, as I've just learned from Kotaku, it's more than likely coming to Xbox Live. So it may not be so retro after all!


  1. I really love this game....and i love Dreamcast too....The BEST CONSOLE!!!! :D

  2. you made 2 mistakes at the beginning, jet set radio is not set in a futuristic neo tokyo you are talking about sequel jet set radio future for xbox (the 1st image you put up is from it)the rest is pretty good