“How do I get rid of these nasty roaches?” “Easy… just burn your house down!”
I played Jet Set (actually, Jet Grind) Radio on Dreamcast when it was first released. I love this game. And it was such a loving tribute to one of Dreamcast’s finest that the game was released more than a decade later on PC. Somehow, even after so much time, the game feels as current now as it did then.
You’re on a team of roller-skating graffiti artists known as the GGs that starts as a group of three, and expands as new skaters show up challenging you to prove you are as talented as they are. Early levels have you tagging buses and billboards while the local police department tries to stop your vandalism. Soon you meet rival gangs and paint over their graffiti to claim turf. Local police turn into SWAT teams until they turn into, perhaps, private military contractors. All over a little street art. Jet Set Radio is as much about tagging walls as it is avoiding and taking down the fuzz. And it’s all so much fun.
The soundtrack is a mix between dance and turntable music–fitting for a counterculture game. The music is the only thing that hasn’t held up as well since Dreamcast. Kids just don’t listen to music like this anymore, but I still have nostalgia from playing in my room. I love the song “Bout the Town”. It’s the only rock song in the game. I found out the band is called “Reps”, but I’ve searched endlessly for information about the band and song, and there’s almost no information to be found. The only information is that the song is in Jet Set Radio.
Let’s talk technical. The upgrade from Dreamcast to PC is huge. Sega handed porting efforts over to Blit Software, who clearly had access to the game’s source code, allowing them to make sweeping improvements. The first thing to note is high-definition and widescreen graphics. The amazing part is that it still holds up graphically. The game was released when “cel-shaded graphics” were a big deal, and it was among the cel-shaded games of the era. The cartoon aesthetic keeps the game looking modern, polygon count be damned. The draw-distances are long and the anti-aliased graphics are sharp from start to finish. Amazing what retaining the source code can do to a game. I played at a 1920×1080 resolution, and it looks like it’s running at 60 frames per second. The resolution (on PC) can go higher still.
At nine hours of playtime, it’s a shame the game is short. At the same time, it’s a nine hours I’d gladly live again. The towns and cities you explore are filled with personality. People jump out of the way if you’re about to skate into them. There are busses and trains. There are rooftops and sewers that can be explored. Towns are presented in daylight, sunset, and nighttime.
I know a lot of this review is nostalgia talking, but Dreamcast was the end of the hardware era for Sega, and it’s nice to see that, for one, they still haven’t forgotten their back catalog. But for another, becoming a PC publisher made a great game even better. Five stars.