Platform: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 (version tested)
Developer: Smilebit (Original), SEGA
One of the most pleasing aspects of sitting down for a little bit of hands-on time with SEGA's HD reboot of Dreamcast classic Jet Set Radio is seeing just how good it looks. The oft-repeated mantra of "graphics aren't everything" is well-worn, but it's difficult sometimes not to feel a slight pang of disappointment at some of the re-releases out there. the expectation that comes with those two little letters - HD - often encourages one to imagine a game from the past rocketed into the present day, shining, shimmering, and splendid.
And sadly that's not always the case. Sometimes the reality, no matter how much it's been dipped in HD gloss, can live up to our memories. The disconnect between past and present, the fact that we've seen and done more since playing many of those games of yesteryear, none of those differences influence our timeless memories. But they're all too stark a reality on occasion when the re-release arrives.
Jet Set Radio HD is going to change all of that. It looks almost impossibly good, when you consider that this is a game over a decade old. The cel-shaded graphics are utterly timeless, though. A pioneering artistic technique at the turn of the millennium, the use of cel-shaded graphics has become far more commonplace, but few games have combined it wth such unique visual stylings, and deployed it in such an emphatic manner.
For those of you who never played the original, the premise is winningly simple. You take on the mantle of Beat, the leader and founder of the Graffiti Gang, and hit the streets of a fictional Tokyo. The rival gangs have been out in force, tagging the city with their logos and motifs, and it's up to you to take the city back and grow your gang, one can of paint at a time. This is done by tagging everything from walls to buses to police officers' jackets to apaches trying to blow you up, making sure you stamp your mark over those of any rivals.
You can tag a surface by punching the right trigger. Some surfaces will be amenable to a quick-tag, one spray and you're done. To really make your presence felt, though, you need something a little more impressive. For larger tags, you enter a little mini-game that sees you responding to prompts with analogue stick movements, chaining together sweeps of the stick in a fluid motion for maximum points
For returning fans, you'll be pleased to know that the action's not changed a bit. Sweeping around Shibuya bus station brings everything back in seconds, and it wasn't long before I was grinding up and down the terminal stairs, hotfooting it away from killjoy cops, and tagging parked cars whilst backflipping over them. It's still a colourful, euphoric experience, that's an utter delight to play, and it was with genuine regret that I looked up to see a little line of eager players had formed behind my station.
However, I wasn't quite done yet. The graffiti tag creator makes a welcome return, giving players the opportunity to create their own graffiti masterpieces. There are already some cracking pieces of artwork in there, but it's nice to be able to stick your own label on the surfaces of Tokyo-to. As Professor K explains, spraying is a means of expression. There's also in-game user generated content to come, courtesy of SEGA's promo competition (there are still a few days left to enter), designed to root out some incredible talent to sit alongside Inkie's originals,
Of course, there is a slight difference with this game, but it's one that anyone who played Jet Set Radio Future will appreciate, and that's the addition of full camera controls on the right stick. Keeping an eye on the trigger-happy forces that are hellbound on stopping your artistic endeavours is far easier now, even if there's no "invert" options for oddball players such as myself.
There's a question mark, too, over the exact nature of the soundtrack. That SEGA has preserved the original J-funk of Hideki Naganuma is crucial, but in spite of some serious effort most of the NTSC- and PAL-specific tracks don't make the cut. This means no Rob Zombie or Jurassic 5, which is frankly fine with us, but no Mixmaster Mike or Deavid Soul either, which is a bit of a shame. That said, 16 of the original 30 tracks will be in the HD game, with the likes of B.B. Rights’ “Funky Radio” and Guitar Vader’s “Magical Girl” amking the list, and you can check out the full rundown here.
Importantly, everything we loved about the original is just how we remember it. There's no diminished quality, no slightly disappointed familiarity. This is no simple slice of nostalgia, Jet Set Radio is just as good a game as it always was, undaunted by time. The way it looks, the way it sounds (the voice-overs are still brilliant), its slick-and-speedy, pick-up-and-play charms, the various challenges and quintessentially Japanese quirkiness, these are all unchanged. In fact, with an improved aspect ratio and dressed up graphics, Jet Set Radio might be even better than you remember.
Jet Set Radio HD has been confirmed for release this summer, on PC, S3 and Xbox 360.