Jet Set Radio Future (Retro)

In 2015, talking about “Jet Set Radio Future” on the Xbox (original) is becoming increasingly difficult. It’s hard to mention it without the Dreamcast original, Jet Set Radio, cropping up. The equivalent would be talking to someone about Street Fighter 2, and then them continuing the conversation by talking about Street Fighter 1 – they’re both very similar games, but there’s a world of difference in the fundamentals.Future isn’t a director’s cut of the Dreamcast game, it’s a complete remake, or maybe it’s a sequel – nobody really knows. Let me begin by asking you to put Jet Set Radio Dreamcast out of your mind. Forget the janky character designs, forget the indie-rock soundtrack, forget the passable skating mechanics and definitely forget about graffiti system, but remember the plot.

Now with that out-of-the-way, let me tell you about Future from the ground-up. This beautifully cel-shaded masterpiece is set in Neo-Tokyo. It follows the GG’s, a youth street gang on magnetic roller-blades, armed with spray paint in an attempt to non-violently crush the fascist government through the medium of street art and dancing. All with help from the charismatic “DJ Professor K” of the pirate station, you guessed it, Jet Set Radio.

Painting and skating, two core themes of the Jet Set series. Now, I’m a guy that falls flat on his face when placed on wheels, I don’t know how people do it. And as far as painting is concerned, I can just about make a Space Marine look good. In reality this game shouldn’t appeal to me, but let me tell you: having played anything I can get my hands on from “Rosco Mcqueen Firefighter Extreme” to “Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon”, Jet Set Radio Future is my favourite game, ever.

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There’s nothing complex in the gameplay. One button to skate, another for jump and a third button for spray painting make up the satisying core mechanics. Grinding a rail simply requires you to jump on it – oh, and you’ve got magnetic skates, so there’s none of that balancing business you might find in other skating games. That might sound a little too simplistic for some, but believe me; grinding on a twisting, turning, upside-down-ing track with the speed of an F-Zero vehicle never loses its charm. The game manages to stay fresh by having you make quick, active decisions about which path to take next to spray that tag, or pick up that item.

Now the visual intensity of the game is incredible, it’s like candy-flipping in Disneyland. One minute, you’re skating down a Chinese dragon statue in the neon light club district of 99th street, the next minute, you’re navigating the complex ghettos of Kibogaoka hill. The best part of the levels isn’t just the aesthetic appeal, it’s the way they seamless blend into the gameplay. Each zone is circular and loops in on itself in one way or another, it’s less like a race track and more like a rollercoaster that you personally decide how to navigate – you could wallride up buildings and skate a high road, or you could grind rails down below and take a low path. But to imply there are only two paths to each zone is an understatement – imagine you had to do a lap around your city centre, think of all the side routes and back-roads you could take and you have an idea of how complex the zones in Future can be.

The biggest, most noticeable upgrade from the Dreamcast game to the Xbox is the “tagging” mechanic. As previously mentioned, one of the central parts of Jet Set Radio Future is covering Neo-Tokyo in graffiti. In the Dreamcast game this meant engaging in a clunky, quick-time event. In Future, all you have to do is go to a tagging spot, and pull the spray paint trigger. This allows you to keep up with the pace of the game, not having to remove yourself from a grind rail, then stop and mess about with the analogue stick to spray. Jet Set is a Sega game after all, so you gotta go fast.

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Now, I’ve kept what I feel is the most important part of the game for last. You should never have Jet Set without the Radio, because you wouldn’t want the other option in your ears (for all you Spectrum veterans out there). Outside of rhythm games like Guitaroo Man or Beat the Beat, music isn’t often an interactive part of your gaming experience. You might choose to listen to the beautifully composed orchestra of a Zelda game outside of playing it, but when you were a kid you could probably live with muting the TV to secretly play games when you should be asleep. What I’m getting at is that the soundtrack to Jet Set Radio Future is just as important to the game as the skating and tagging. There’s something in there for everyone and I owe a lot of my musical taste to this game. EDM, Hip-Hip, Rock, J-Rock, J-Pop and Indie to name a few genres touched by Future, and everything is catchy. All the bands that comprise the soundtrack are real bands, but in a 2002-emerging-talent-on-radio-one-with-Zayne-Lowe-after-9pm kind of “real band”.

When the music plays, man, if you weren’t sat down playing games, you’d want to be up dancing. Each zone has a carefully composed setlist: underground rap in the underground sewage facility, bubbly J-Pop in the bubbly shopping district of Chuo Street, funky Indie Jams for GG’s funky home turf of Dogenzaka hill, the list goes on. The soundtrack doesn’t simply give your ears a bit of entertainment, it ties the whole world of Jet Set together, it embodies the freedom of expression that the gangs of Neo-Tokyo are fighting for in their skating and painting lives.

There’s so much that goes on in Jet Set Radio Future that you just can’t describe within a word limit. So I’ll just tell you to go and buy it, you can find it for a fiver online. A final quick tip though – don’t buy the version that comes bundled with a copy of Sega Rally, that copy won’t work on your 360 – buy the solo copy of the game.

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