Review: Jet Set Radio HD

It’s hard to believe it’s been 12 years since the original Jet Set Radio hit the Dreamcast (with a slight name change to Jet Grind Radio).  It seems like just yesterday that I fired up the Dreamcast and plowed through the streets of a vibrant Tokyo-to tagging anything that stood in my way with the incredible soundtrack blaring as loud as possible. It was definitely a great time to be a gamer, and JSR is one of the handful of games that define the system. That list is even shorter when you narrow it down to games that are still fun to play now, and thankfully, JSR has held up really well — with a few caveats. This gorgeous HD remake brings with it some major enhancements and even some bonus features to hook those who thought they had their fill a decade ago.

With this being an HD remake, the biggest change on the surface are the graphics. Many of the game’s assets have been reworked so the game is now in widescreen and major things like the characters and some parts of the environment are all crystal-clear. The biggest issue is that not everything has been redone and boy does it show. When the game begins and you see a pristine Professor K next to a blurry thing that you know is a JSR logo, you can’t help but be a little bit disappointed. It’s clear that a lot of work went into this and it was a labor of love, but the existing art being re-used sticks out badly here and hurts the presentation a bit. Don’t get me wrong – the reworked graphics are outstanding, and the overall visuals are still quite bold and appealing, but their flaws stick out more now than they did before due to the improvements not being spread across every area.

The basic concept of riding around on inline skates tagging walls, street corners, cars, rival gang members, and occasionally the evil graffitti-hating cop Onimisha is still fun. Unlike the original game, you no longer have to tag and center the camera using the left trigger, and can now use the right stick to move the camera around as needed. At least in theory – the default camera is still pretty jittery, and the right stick controls helps you out a little bit, but don’t quite make up for getting in one of the game’s many tight spaces and getting stuck there due to the camera not moving with you. It will result in some needless deaths as cops and/or helicopters SHOOTING MISSILES gang up on you.

Outside the camera, the controls are great. The modern-day analog sticks are worlds better than the DC’s, although I found the 360’s was easier to use than the PS3’s. Even after playing the PS3 version for a week longer, I still found moving the stick for tagging much easier on the 360, and character movement is a bit easier with the 360 stick. The biggest difference to me was the left trigger. The 360’s is just a lot easier to use than the PS3’s weirdly-curved one. The shape makes it easy for your finger to slide off, and having a shape like the 360 and DC’s that ensures a firm hold on the button really helps out. While each version is identical otherwise, the controls make this a must for the 360 if you’ve got both systems.

While there are some issues with the remake’s controls and graphics, the gameplay and soundtrack have held up marvelously. All but one of the original game’s songs has been re-licensed, and you can still listen to the music as much as you want to outside the main game with the in-game radio. The diverse rock, J-pop, and rap soundtrack was mind-blowing in 2000 and is the same way now – largely due to no game since, including JSRF, featuring as diverse a soundtrack as JSR. It’s full of instantly-catchy music that sticks with you long after you play, and is one reason why its OST is on my MP3 player at all times.  The voiceovers have held up well too – they’re just as broad and fun to listen now as they were when the game was first released.

Closing Comments:

Outside of the HD remastering being a mixed bag and the camera controls not being completely fixed, JSR is still a blast to play and well worth your time and money. A mere $10 gets you the best version available – not possible, but available — of an outstanding game with a sense of style all its own. The inclusion of bonuses like JSRF songs and a documentary discussing the history of the series give reason for even the most dedicated owners of the original to pick it up.

Version Reviewed: Xbox 360 (XBLA)