Jet Set Radio was a game ahead of its time, being one of the first video games to use cell shaded graphics.  Originally released for the Sega Dreamcast, Sega published the game on June 29, 2000 with a US release of October 30th of the same year.  The story is very basic.  You are in Tokyo-To spending your days skating and spray painting walls.  A pirate radio station led by DJ Professor K, named “Jet Set Radio,” broadcasts what the rival gangs are up to.  It is up to you to re-tag all three zones (Shibuya-cho, Benten-cho, and Kogane-cho), with your own gang tag and become the top graffiti artist in Tokyo-To.

After twelve years, Sega has re-released Jet Set Radio HD, a high-definition version, with much anticipation coming from fans of the series.  This is not the first attempt at a spin off; the game has had a Gameboy version: Jet Grind Radio and a prequel, with improved graphics, yet oddly named: Jet Set Future, released for the original Xbox. However, does this new HD version of the game stand the test of time?

Actually, rather well.  Jet Set Radio HD aged nicely, with its unique style of art that was basically more due to the limitation of the hardware at the time.  Compared to today’s graphics, it might look like a far better textured Minecraft game that allows you to do crazy rollerblading stunts while spraying the city with your art.  One of the first hurdles I had to get used to with the game is how unforgiving it is.  I have forgotten how games used to take a lot of time to master.  It was a test of stubbornness and a trial in patience to finish the game.  Sadly on the HD version, the tutorial is poor.  The game is a direct port from it’s original, and though I can’t remember whether the original even had a tutorial, when it came time to tell the player how to move, jump and skate faster, this version just decided to quickly flash prompts as to what to do, and hope you’ll push random buttons to figure it out.  It seemed odd that Sega did not put some extra time to make sure that newcomers to the series will know what to do and avoid further frustration. Still, my hardheadedness and nostalgia kept wanting more and I turned the Xbox back on.I continued playing the game and discovered the steep learning curve of the original Jet Set Radio is still in place. You first have to climb a really steep hill before you get to free ride all the way to the bottom.  As the game progressed, so did the difficulty.  Getting new graffiti tags, accepting challenges from other skaters with the ultimate goal of joining my gang was not an easy task.

As soon as I started skating in game, I started to vaguely remember how it used to play.  I’ll be honest and say that I played more Jet Set Future than I did Jet Set Radio since Crazy Taxi used to own all of my time when it came to the Dreamcast, but there was something so familiar to it that kept me wanting more.

After repeating the first stage a couple of times, I started to get the hang of it: how it was necessary to tag the bigger items first so the cops would not come get me when I’m in the middle of my creations,  how to angle myself to get on top of things when I’m in mid-air, and the fact that if you do tricks, you’ll move faster.  I am tagging like no one has tagged before, jumping from roof top on top of a bus, and clearing a group of cops that were after me with a vengeance when an achievement pops and my game freezes. Not just a light freeze, but a hard lock that forced me to restart my Xbox.

Allright! No big deal. It happens, right?  So, I started my run again and finished it without too much trouble. Then I started to do a challenge mode to get “Garam” to join my gang. I was on the last move on a run that took me more than two hours to perfect when an achievement pops up again and the game hard locked my machine again.  It took all the willpower in me not to toss the controller out the window and fire off a barrage of profanity that would have made a sailor cry.  I think that an Xbox Live game that retails for $9.99 should not have this level of bugs in the software.

I had played the game for over five hours when I finally finished the first chapter.  As I wrote the review, my head was spinning with possible routes and different tricks I could possibly attempt in order to get this one stage done.  When was the last time a game had you that enthralled with it after you turn your console off? Very few games have that grasp on us any more.

One of the many stages involves following and tagging from behind three thugs from the opposite gang with spraypaint, ten times each.   It can be nearly impossible and it will require for the player to have the utmost patience, as you’ll repeat this stage over and over again until you master it.  Now, don’t get me wrong and think this game is too hard to play. It is not.  It won’t hold your hand, but somehow this makes it when you pass a stage that much more rewarding. When I got closer to clearing the stage, my heart would pump in anticipation, and hoping I would not screw it up in the last second. Once the stage was clear, it was not unusual for a sigh of relief to escape me.

Jet Set Radio HD is for those of us who are still nostalgic fools of the Dreamcast era that just adored the series and its high rewards after many hours of game play.  For those of you new to the game, you’ll find a fantastic, unique game that aged well with updated resolutions to play with widescreen televisions, with achievements and online leaderboards to keep you coming back for more.  If you are achievement person, this game has the new 400 achievement point limit, giving you plenty of targets to chase after (if you don’t mind having your Xbox crash regularly).  Within the first few levels you’ll be able to unlock a Jet Set Radio hoodie for your avatar and a spray can prop that will make your avatar look like the next Banksy.  Speaking of Banksy, did you know that the graffiti art of the game came from the head of creative design at Sega, who later became a Banksy collaborator by the name of Inkie?  Neither did I!

Jet Set Radio was also known for it’s music and Sega made a huge effort to bring the entire soundtrack to the HD version.  With huge success, Sega secured the Japanese, North American and European soundtracks, having the game contain the worldwide soundtrack.  Outstanding work indeed!   The tracks are:

  1. “Grace and Glory”
  2. “Humming the Bassline”
  3. “Let Mom Sleep”
  4. “Moody’s Shuffle”
  5. “Rock It On”
  6. “Sneakman”
  7. “Sweet Soul Brother”
  8. “That’s Enough”
  9. “Super Brothers”
  10. “Magical Girl”
  11. “Dunny Boy Williamson Show”
  12. “Miller Ball Breakers”
  13. “On the Bowl (A.Fargus Remix)”
  14. “Up-Set Attack”
  15. “Electric Tooth Brush” by Toronto
  16. “Everybody Jump Around” by Richard Jacques
  17. “OK House” by Idol Taxi
  18. “Bout the City” by Reps
  19. “Funky Radio” by B.B. Rights
  20. “Mischievous Boy” by Castle Logical
  21. “Yellow Bream” by F-Fields
  22. “Just Got Wicked” by Cold
  23. “Dragula” by Rob Zombie
  24. “Slow” by Professional Murder Music
  25. “Improvise” by Jurassic 5
  26. “Patrol Knob” by Mixmaster Mike
  27. “Recipe for the Perfect Afro” by Feature Cast
  28. “Funky Plucker” by Semi Detached

If you are in the market for a good, addicting game that will challenge your gamer nerve to the max, look no further. Do keep in mind, that the game will freeze on you at the most inopportune time. Jet Set Radio HD is here to bring music for your ears, an unique art style that withstands the test of time for you eyes, and challenging levels for your brain to master and keep you coming back for more.  Not a bad deal for $10, but the game’s stability issues make it a teeth-grinding nostalgic trip through yesteryear.