Often times, games come out that possess either a great form (i.e. graphics, sound, artistic flair), or a great function (incredible gameplay, innovative system). Usually we only see one or the other in many games that are currently available. Thus, it's often surprising when a game comes along that not only triumphs in its form, but its function as well. Games like those are far and few between. With Jet Set Radio, Sega has not only created a game that's incredibly involving and fun to play, but has created an artistic style that is likely to be mimicked for years to come.
The storyline of Jet Set Radio may sound a bit cliched, but it serves it's purpose well. You are part of the GG's, a gang in the fictional city of Tokyoto who is fighting over control for the entire city against 3 other gangs (called Rulers): The Poison Jam, the Noise Jam and the Love Shockers. While this is going on, you also must stop the advances of Lieutenant Onimusha and his police force. But is that all there is to it? Or is there an evil force at hand, playing a game of chess, with you as his pawn?
Enough with the melodramatics, and onward to the visuals. Graphically, Jet Set Radio is one of a kind in the video game world. Using a special cel shading technique created by the developers at Smile Pit, it shades the outlines of your characters, as well as your enemies, giving them a distinct 2D look. This is especially impressive during the cutscenes before each level, as you have rival gang members dancing about just before you enter their turf. Speaking of turfs, the levels in Jet Set Radio are huge, interesting and full of people. For example, take the Love Shocker's turf. Not only do you have a busy road with cars coming from each direction, but you have a dozen or so bystanders walking on the street, as well as little kids playing in the playground. Each level is filled with so many different events that it's hard to keep your mind on what you're supposed to be doing. The characters that you can play as are all designed amazingly. They all have some great designs, such as the big man of the group, Combo. He's a rather tall and large black guy carrying around a boom box on his shoulder, and wears the Yen symbol around his neck (read: MONNEEYY!). You have 10 characters to play as, from the 'main' character Beat (complete with headphones and sunglasses), to the eccentric Soda (who looks a whole lot like Bert from Sesame Street), to the ever lovable Gum, who is well...pretty damn cute. The other minor characters such as Professor K and Onimusha also sport some nice designs, with K tattooing his own name across his forehead.
Not only will the amazing graphics distract you, but the music will probably cause you to lose a few games as well. The music is basically all hip-hop and techno material, but at times it's just so catchy that even fans of the type of music will be bobbing their heads to the beat, while tapping their feet (hey, that rhymed!). The voice acting is also superb, especially Professor K, who is the main featured voice of the game. The other characters have their little catch phrases and grunts, so it's nothing too special.
The gameplay is where Jet Set Radio deviates from the norm, and carves out a totally unique niche for itself and for games to come. The objective of each level is simple; you must 'tag' specified locations with your gang's graffiti logo before the time limit expires. In most levels, this requires tagging buildings or floors, but in later levels, this requires even tagging rival gang members. But with this type of vandalism going on, you can expect Onimusha and the police force to be on your tail throughout the game. They'll throw everything at you; flatfooted police men, police cruisers, helicopters armed with missiles, and even the odd tank or two to keep you on your toes. Tagging is done two ways: either just by pressing the L trigger or for large spots, by pressing the L trigger and then following the spraying motions that the computer gives you. By completing the motions successfully, you rack up a higher score. The motions are generally the same, although there are some variations between the 10 characters that you can choose.
For those who tell you that Jet Set Radio is something like a cross between Crazy Taxi and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, let me fill you in: this is totally not like THPS in any shape or form. I made this same mistake when I first started playing it, and when I was writing my FAQ for it, but after careful evaluation, I can see that it is just not true. Any moves that vaguely resemble something that might have come from Tony Hawk are all automated, such as grinds and even stunts. At times I wish that this wasn't true, because it just takes away from some of the challenge of the game, as well as making some parts of it extremely frustrating. It's nice to have automatic grinds, but sometimes when you just want to jump off the game won't grant your wish, no matter how hard you try. It's a simple gameplay problem, but it can seriously be the difference between finishing a level and falling flat on your face.
Aside from this, there are a few very minor problems with the game. The game really suffers from slowdown at times, although I'm not too sure what triggers this. There are times where there were no moving objects on the screen and the game slowed down, but other times when the screen was populated with people and it did the exact same thing. Another problem I have is that the game is much too forgiving about tagging while skating by. You could be totally past the location you need to tag and you can still hit it. Finally, overall the game is way too easy to complete. I know this is supposed to be a fun and arcade type of game, but finishing the game in two days is just ridiculous.
Despite the level of difficulty in the game, it's still an extremely fun title to get your hands on. Even after you beat it, there's still some great features (that will hopefully be left in the domestic version), like the Time Attack modes where you can upload your scores online to compare with other players. Overall, Sega has a real winner on its hands; a game that's not only fun for anyone over the age of 10 to play, but highly marketable as well. With the level of quality that goes into both the presentation of the game as well as the actual gameplay, I wouldn't be surprised if this is one of the titles that helps Sega attempt to weather the upcoming storm that is the PlayStation 2.
· · · Reno