A while back we wrote about Sega’s release of several classic games for free on Steam. Of course I, as any enterprising yet flat broke gamer would do, jumped on the prospect of getting my hands on pieces of gaming history for literally nothing. After puzzling over what the Hell Yeah series entailed I instead switched my attention to something a little more interesting and familiar, and as I have commandeered this installment of Michael’s Mothballs, it is this iteration’s featured game:
Jet Set Radio (2000)
Now, Jet Set Radio is not to be confused with Jet Set Radio Future. JSR was released on the Sega Dreamcast in 2000, but JSRF was released two years later as a launch title for the original Xbox. Remember the halcyon days of the early 2000s? I try not to, elementary school was a rough time. Multiplication is still really hard and I can barely remember the state capitals. Anyhow the game released on Steam is the original Jet Set Radio, just polished a bit. Jet Set Radio is set in the near-ish far-ish future where roving gangs with magnetic rollerblades roam the streets of Japan spraying graffiti in order to mark their territories. This struggle for dominance is narrated by Professor K, the exuberant DJ of the titular Jet Set Radio.
You play as any number of characters in your own street gang, the GG’s, with more unlocked as you complete HORSE-like challenges against new characters. Each character has their own style and their own loadout of proficiencies in either Technique, Power, or Graffiti.
Right off the bat it’s easy to see why this game was popular when you were a kid; the colors are bright, and the cartoon-like cell-shading gives the game an added sense of whimsy. It’s all very stylized and interesting and gives the game a really distinct kooky feel. This visual aesthetic is also heavily supported by the rapid techno music that passed for “hardcore” back in 2000 that is constantly going on in the background. It harkens back to the extreme sports games of the late 90s and mid-2000s, most notably the Tony Hawk games.
Fun fact: I’m very much into street art and graffiti art, which makes Jet Set Radio’s focus on it more alluring for me. Players collect tokens scattered throughout each map that unlock a new graffiti art piece to use in your gang’s quest to dominate the streets. While the game explicitly warns against graffiti as an act of vandalism, it also makes the act of vandalism a necessary part of the game to proceed. Every stage centers around your character painting over the tags of rival gangs while avoiding the ever-growing and comically unnecessary firepower of the local law enforcement. Maybe in the future street gangs have gotten to a weird Clockwork-Orange-like level and the deployment of SWAT teams and tanks to take out one kid with a spray can (Well to be fair a max of 15 spray cans) is more understandable but at this point it seems a bit like overkill.
Each level consists of driving off rival gang members, chasing them about and covering them in graffiti to establish dominance, then covering the stage in your own tags. The concept sounds repetitive, but simple enough that it could be buoyed along by the game’s aesthetics. That’s what I thought, for a time. After a bit the game’s controls really began to get to me. The characters move around on roller skates, which makes their disability to gather momentum make sense, but it’s often to a ridiculous extent. In a game where the characters’ motion is what’s supposed to make it fun, forcing the player to mash and hold the “speed up” button to achieve a moderate level of speed and control really kind of shoots the game in the foot. While there is a sort of grace the characters have as they leap about the stage from ground to rail and back, it’s all the more aggravating when you watch your character plummet to their death for the fifth time because they suddenly lost momentum mid-air. This feels like a feeble gripe compared to the nice things I was saying before but the controls and responsiveness got so difficult to deal with I eventually turned the game off.
Those who have played Jet Set Radio Future may remember the game much differently, and maybe that’s because Sega had the chance to refine the game a little bit before they released it for Xbox. I certainly remember more responsive and fluid controls, but then again that was many, many moons ago. Since then games have improved and many Tony Hawks have been released, so that the mechanics of video game skating and motion have been improved. If you think that you can handle the game better than I can or just want to listen to what was considered rave music back in the early 2000s Jet Set Radio is free to download on Steam, so the only thing you’ll be risking is your time and space on your hard drive. If anything the game has taught me the exact reason why no one rollerblades anymore.