Set in the city of Tokyo-to the plots revolves around gang warfare and corrupt police and government institutions. In an attempt to stop the freedom of expression of its citizens just about everything that kids do has been outlawed, including skating. In an attempt to fight back against the powers that be rebel groups of skating gangs have sprung up to try and claim back areas of the city.
Starting with one character you must build up the gang known as the ‘GGs’ in order to battle both the other gangs and the police department and what better way to lay down chaos and anarchy than by covering everything in graffiti? The game works by presenting you with a number of small missions to undertake, these missions involve skating around areas while avoiding the police and painting over the marks left on walls and other structures by rival gang members. It sounds simple but in reality the police department will do everything from using run of the mill foot troops, to calling in tanks and the odd apache gunship in order to stop you.
What sets the game apart is undoubtedly the visual style. By using the cel-shading technique Sega has managed to create something completely unique and fresh. While at first the new graphical style may seem nothing more than just a cosmetic touch, without it the game would feel extremely flat. What the Cel-shaded look does is make the game a sort of living comic book, excellent considering the Japanese setting. Everything just seems to feel right about the look adding huge amounts of charm and really making Jet Set Radio one of the leading titles on the Dreamcast.
The quirky atmosphere developed by the visuals is further enveloped into the mind by the excellent Japanese techno-cyber pop soundtrack. Again being much more than just a cosmetic touch, if it was not there the game would be seriously lacking in the heavy levels of fun and charm brought by the music, all of which is of an excellent standard and not annoying in the least, something that cannot be said about the Xbox version.
However the game is far from perfect and the controls have to take the main blame for this. Your characters jump, grind, perform tricks and paint with relative ease. The problem comes when you are trying to turn to jump onto a rail. When you need to do this the camera is incredible awkward and more often than not you will completely miss the jump and have to try again. Not a problem most of the time but when the last few seconds of the clock are ticking away and you miss the rail for about the fifth time it can be very frustrating. Saying that though, with practice the problem soon disappears.
While the game has you doing more or less the same thing throughout, the variety of locations is excellent. Meaning you never find yourself getting bored with the constant spraying action. Some levels are set in sewers while others are abandoned train yards, neon heavy high streets or old junkyards each portrayed with their own unique and personality. Complete all the missions in one area and you get a boss section where you have to drive out a rival gang once and for all by ‘tagging’ them ten times each before the timer runs out.
Another problem with Jet Set Radio is that it really is to short, and accomplished skaters will not have too much trouble racing through the game. Once you manage to work out where all the areas to spray are the levels can be finished without much trouble. That is not to say the game does not offer up a challenge, it certainly does as finding all the areas that have to be sprayed can prove tricky, it just wont take you forever to finish it.
Overall, Jet Set Radio is inspired, mixing skating with the Japanese influences has created a beautiful and charming game that every Dreamcast owner should have, and the rest of us should get a Dreamcast to play. While short lived the game offers enough charm and incentives to keep you coming back to it even when it has been finished, and customisable graffiti and a large amount of playable skaters help keep the action fresh throughout the madcap levels.
With a bit more attention spent on how the camera works and a rethink about using the time limit as a way to push up difficulty this would be up there with the all-time classics. As it is though it's an enjoyable experience that really should not be overlooked.