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  • Platforms: Dreamcast, Gameboy Advance, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, iOS, Android, and PC.
  • Suggested Platform: PlayStation 3
  • Developer: Smilebit
  • Genre: Action, Platformer, Sports
  • Release Date: 10/30/99 (NA)
  • Why Play It?: Great soundtrack, fun, fast paced level, wonderful character and level design.
  • Why Skip It?: The somewhat clunky controls take some getting used to.

“JET SET(GRIND) RADIOOOO!” Anyone who owned a Dreamcast surely knew about Jet Set Radio (Jet Grind Radio in NA, but most know it as Jet Set), the quirky yet cool arcade style Rollerblade graffiti game. Unfortunately, I never owned a Dreamcast until recently, but if I did, man, I’d be playing this game long ago. One of my friends who is pretty big on Sega games would play it occasionally, and I’d watch him in awe of such a cool looking game. I never actually started playing JSR until they re-released it in HD for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, iOS, Android, and PC in 2012. Then I played the hell out of it. I was immediately drawn in by the catchy soundtrack, awesome visuals, and amazing style of everything. Turns out, I’d be a Rudie from then on out.

Jet Set Radio is an arcade style Rollerblade graffiti game. You’ll tear up the streets of the fictional (but very based on Tokyo) Tokyo-to as you gather paint cans and paint graffiti at the appropriate locations. The levels start as small pieces of one big level that you’ll eventually work towards. As you cover more and more of each level in graffiti, the police will get more and more aggressive in trying to catch you. There are three different types of graffiti. The smallest size requires a single button press, but the two larger sizes require you to stand still and follow the on-screen control stick prompts, instructing you on moving your control stick in specific directions to finish your urban work of art. If you can complete an entire work without getting hurt or having to stop and come back, you’ll receive the maximum number of points.

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You’ll do a lot of grinding through Tokyo-to’s streets.

This graffiti dynamic results in each stage becoming like a puzzle; you’ll need to find out which graffiti locations are in the toughest areas in terms of police resistance and hit those first, before reinforcements arrive. The small graffiti you can hit last on the go. You only start with three different characters, but you’ll collect many as you play the game. Each has different stats so you can play as the character who fits your play style. You can play as a character who has a low graffiti skill, enabling them to carry many paint cans on them at once and their prompts to complete graffiti will be simpler, but you won’t receive as many points as a character with high graffiti skill, carrying less cans, but having more complicated maneuvers to perform. Throughout your adventure in Tokyo-to, you’ll deal with an increasing police resistance, from simple foot solders to tanks and even helicopters with heat-seeking missals. You can grind and do tricks for extra points, and every level contains a small loop that you can perform continuously for many points, although, they are not that simple to pull off. You can also collect graffiti souls, hidden in often hard to reach locations, enabling you to change what kind of graffiti you spray, but you can also just create your own.

The story presented in Jet Set Radio is fun and wacky, but sends a powerful message. Initially, your Rollerblade gang, the GGs’ turf, Shibuya-cho is attacked by one of the other three rival gangs,  the Love Shockers, Poison Jam, or the Noise Tanks. It’s up to you to find out who’s messing with your turf and why, and eventually leads into a whole big ordeal about a gang of ruthless mafia-style men, the man who wants to oppress creativity and recreate Tokyo-to in his own image, and a supposedly magical record with the ability to summon demons. Ultimately the theme comes down to self-expression. The narrator of this whole conflict is none other than the hard talkin’, truth walkin’, DJ Professor K, the DJ of a pirate radio station, Jet Set Radio, who plays “nonstop, hardcore music”. He’s an incredibly cool character, and a great narrator if ever I heard one. You’ll meet many fun and memorable characters along the way.

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On-screen prompts will guide you through your graffiti.

Jet Set Radio was the first influential game to utilize a cel-shading art style. This is relatively commonplace nowadays, but back in ’99 it was unique and interesting. I’ve always adored the cel-shading style, and JSR is no exception. It really makes the whole game pop and almost have an almost comic book feel to it. The music, mainly by Japanese musical mastermind, Hideki Naganuma is incredibly catchy, and you’ll have his wacky and fun tunes trapped in your head for days. Jet Set Radio is a game that just screams ’90s, and is awfully cool and endearing.

Some would complain that the controls in Jet Set Radio don’t hold up to today’s standards. While it is true that the controls are not as fluid and that there is no free camera control, I do think it just takes a bit of getting used to. There is a tutorial mode after all, so there’s no reason not to practice a while if you don’t feel comfortable with the controls.

Jet Set Radio, as stated above, initially game out on the Dreamcast at the end of ’99, and is a cult classic. It got a Gameboy Advance port, but no one really talks about that (and for good reason). It later got a sequel, (which is actually not a direct sequel, but a re-imagining) Jet Set Radio Future as a launch title on the Xbox in early 2002. The Jet Set Radio fanbase is mostly split, with a good portion preferring JSRF and the rest preferring JSR. Regardless, they are different games, with JSR being more of an action/arcade style, and JSRF being more of an adventure and exploratory game.

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Captain Onishima will stop at nothing to catch you.

While I’m in the JSR camp, both games have their own fanbases, and typically, you fall into the category of whichever you played first. In 2012, Jet Set Radio HD was released for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, iOS, Android, and PC, and is the definitive version of the game. The cel-shading looks great in high-definition, and there is a bonus interview video that is great for any fan of JSR to watch. Not only that, but creating your own graffiti takes up a ton of space on the Dreamcast. Even so, the graphics on Dreamcast still hold up today. The original release in NA was renamed Jet Grind Radio, pretty much only to try and sell more copies, as the Tony Hawk games were pretty popular at the time and they figured the term “grind” would get some head-turns. The original Japanese release of Jet Set Radio was actually pretty buggy and limited in comparison to what most know and love and got a re-release titled De La Jet Set Radio. There are actually a few soundtrack differences and voice actor differences between JSR and JGR, so it’s fun to play both and hear the changes.

Jet Set Radio, despite being a cult classic, is a great window into the ’90s. It shows a less complicated time of gaming, when developers took more risks and made some crazy-awesome and fun titles. Jet Set Radio is a defining moment for gamers and should be given a shot by everyone at least once.

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