On this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog I stuck it to the man by spray painting Tokyo with awesome graffiti whilst being shot at by insane police men.
This was the first game my family ever bought for the original Xbox. So Jet Set Radio Future is probably the oldest game own, in the sense of when it was bought. Even still, I didn’t play it for very long and forgot about it until fairly recently. And you know what? Turns out it is a fantastic game! It oozes with style from every facet and is just damn good fun to play.
If I had to choose one word that sums up Jet Set Radio Future, that word would be: Cool. This game is cool as hell. The graphics are cartoony and still look good (if a little low fidelity) to this day. Neo-Tokyo is the real highlight of the game. Every place has its own sense of style and colour pallet that makes feel like you are travelling through a real, albeit exaggerated, place. 99th Street is one of my favourite locations as it is swathed in night and filled with skyscrapers covered in neon lights. Whilst places like Rokkaku-dai Heights are poorer and as a result much browner and filled with squat slums. They don’t just look good, either. The level design is of a very high quality as well. There are plenty of areas that are just fun to mess about in and do tricks off of, even though it doesn’t amount to anything. The characters reflect the surroundings, in the sense that they too are stylish and still look unique to this day. Each has their own personality and just look…cool thanks to their strange ‘futuristic by way of the late 90s’ clothing.
The graphics aren’t the only thing this game has going for it. The real star is the music. It is, quite simply, perfect. The mixture of j-pop, electronica, rap and whatever the hell Birthday Cake just fits so well with the style of the game. I would probably go so far as to say that Jet Set Radio Future has the best licensed soundtrack of any game ever. From the Start Menu where ‘Concept of Love‘ plays to skating through Chuo Street with ‘Aisle 10‘ that then mixes into the terrible – yet brilliant – ‘Birthday Cake‘, the music is always fun to just listen to and really adds to the futuristic aesthetic, despite being roughly thirteen years old.
With all this style, it is a shame there isn’t more to the gameplay. Don’t get me wrong, it plays well, it is just a bit basic. The basic gameplay ‘loop’ is exploring the level by grinding and doing tricks whilst tagging over other gang members graffiti, then facing off against said gang members in either a race or a tag-off where you have to tag the other team’s backs. It is fun but simple. The tricks don’t really add anything beyond “you can’t have a skating game without tricks” although they do factor into side goals that involve doing an amount of tricks whilst grinding or in the air or even getting a certain number of points. Tricks also speed you up, which can be a life-saver in a race. Grinding on rails, graffiti-ing, doing tricks and beating up other gang members/police.
The story for this game is insane. It starts off as a simple turf war (through the medium of graffiti) between your gang and a couple of others with the Rokkuko police acting as a barrier between the two. It gets very strange quickly with mind-control graffiti, robot skaters created by the police who kidnap a member of your team to the police literary sending in drones to kill you. It is barely anything more than an excuse to explore the world of Jet Set Radio Future but is fun. The DJ/narrator for this game DJ Professor K the best thing to come out of the story, everything else is basically fluff.
As always, there are some problems with the game. The more platform-y parts are rather bad due to the momentum based movement. It makes it difficult to jump on stuff occasionally. In 99th Street and a couple of other levels the frame-rate drops hard. It feels like it goes from thirty to forty frames-per-second to sub-ten at points. It doesn’t detract too much from the experience, but it is really noticeable. But, apart from that, there is very little wrong with Jet Set Radio Future. I would love for SEGA to remaster and re-release this game so long as they kept the soundtrack. Something which, if you look at the re-releases of Crazy Taxi and the 3D Grand Theft Autos, can be really tricky thanks to licensing and other legal shenanigans. So if that is the reason we haven’t seen this game come back in some form or another, dig out your Original Xbox or Xbox 360 and give the game a go, it is still unique and fun even thirteen years later.
Games completed in 2015: 14 (1 every 3 weeks or so)
And so ends Breaking Down The Backlog for 2015. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in 2016!