Jet Set Radio HD (PS Vita) Review – Killer creativity overrides control flaws

Posted on Nov 1 2012 - 10:00am by Sean-Paul Adams

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Oh my yesteryears, how I miss you so. I’m dating myself, but I remember when Jet Set Radio was a 2000 Dreamcast release. My 17 year old self fell for the bright colors and distinctly Japanese urban vibe. We got to know each other very well.

Fast forward to today. SEGA no longer makes consoles, we have a black president, and I’m a more mature and discerning gamer. Plenty has changed, so when SEGA announced that it would release an HD update of its iconic and much-beloved JSR, many questions arose. Would there be changes, however slight, to have it use contemporary gameplay design techniques? Would SEGA simply slap a HD filter on the game and call it a day? Would it hold up after 12 years of nostalgia? Walk with me, as I have many things to tell you.

The basic idea is this: you’re a member of a skate gang. You roam the streets of Tokyo-to spraying graffiti over rival gangs’ turf and tags, and running from the cops in an effort to free the city from the forces of oppression. This game is a unique chapter in videogame history, and it would do you well to play it.

This game is a unique chapter in videogame history, and it would do you well to play it.

Considering that this an HD remake of a 12-year old Dreamcast game, you’re probably wondering how it looks. In simple terms: amazing. JSR HD is what one should expect from a HD update.

The colors are crisp, the image fills the entire screen without letterboxing or stretched visuals, and most importantly, the lines are crisp. That last part is especially important as many older games ported to the current systems are jaggy or blurry messes if an HD filter isn’t available.

JSR HD‘s visual style has aged remarkably well. So well, in fact, that I’d say it could be from a game half of JSR’s age. The cel-shading that SEGA employed gives the game a timeless, stylized look will impress for console generations to come.

The original’s controls are slightly clunky and the camera is almost unbearable at times. SEGA has been so kind as to address one of these issues in the HD update. The Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers have dual analog sticks, so the camera, thankfully, is now mapped to one of them. The new camera control feels completely natural, especially when you compare it to the original game’s camera that moved on it’s own and had to be reset all the time–with the same button you used to graf!

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Tagging in the Dreamcast version causes the camera to make cinematic pans and passes to build tension, or stay right behind you while the bad guys close in. That’s still here and incredibly aggravating. Police officers, S.W.A.T., tanks–they can all close in on you while tagging and you’d never be the wiser as you can’t turn the camera see them.

Which brings me to my biggest gripe: Right from the get go, simple tagging commands didn’t translate well to the PS3′s analog sticks. While it did get easier the more I played, there were still too many times when I looked at my controller to make sure I input the correct command. And I still got a few of them wrong. It may have been that it’s been years since I played this game, but I did beat the original many times over–muscle memory, y’know? Something is definitely afoot.

That said, I’m happy to report that nearly every track from JSR’s incredible score makes an encore appearance, ranging from  “Sweet Soul Brother” to” Let Mom Sleep.” In fact, JSR HD features songs available from all regions (Japan, North America, Europe) so this is possibly the most complete JSR soundtrack ever created. In fact only two songs are missing: “Many Style” and “Yappie Feet.”

Many old parts return with a fresh coat of paint, but there’s one new component added to the mix: online leaderboards. If you remember, every stage is timed and scored. Now players can use those scores to compete online for top ranking. It’s not a major addition, but in this age of online competition, it’s nice to see that older games aren’t falling behind in this regard.

Jet Set Radio HD is a beautiful dive into the glory days of gaming. The visuals are top-notch, nearly all the audio is present, and the style that made it a hit have returned in full force. For those who somehow missed it the first time around, you owe it to yourself and the gaming community to sit down and play Jet Set Radio now, despite its control flaws.


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Growing up the son of a West Coast Video Manager, Sean-Paul has literally been playing video games for as long as he can remember. Starting as a wee little boy in his room with a 7-inch black and white TV and his Atari 2600 with Tank Plus, not much has changed, just the room and television have gotten bigger. When not gaming, Sean-Paul is usually cooking, watching anime, or riding his bike around NYC and dreaming up his next computer build.

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