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JSRF: Jet Set Radio Future (Xbox) artwork

JSRF: Jet Set Radio Future (Xbox) review

"Originally debuting on Sega's now defunct Dreamcast platform, Smilebit's Jet Set Radio brought urban street culture into the home for those of us too lazy to get off of our sofas and find it ourselves. It's controversial anti-establishment message worked so perfectly with the graffiti-spraying-grind-fest style gameplay that Jet Set Radio quickly became the talk of the town. Gamers applauded JSR's original approach to roller blading action, while politicians lamented it for it's morally lax value..."

Originally debuting on Sega's now defunct Dreamcast platform, Smilebit's Jet Set Radio brought urban street culture into the home for those of us too lazy to get off of our sofas and find it ourselves. It's controversial anti-establishment message worked so perfectly with the graffiti-spraying-grind-fest style gameplay that Jet Set Radio quickly became the talk of the town. Gamers applauded JSR's original approach to roller blading action, while politicians lamented it for it's morally lax values. No matter where your stood however one thing was certain, Smilebit had crafted something unique. Even still, mainstream success mysteriously eluded them and Jet Set Radio had to eventually settle for something of a cult following. Of course, a game this good deserves better than a cult following and once more Smilebit have stolen a spray can, strapped on the blades and gone in search of the mass market appeal they believe Jet Set Radio so rightly deserves. Their vacant white wall? The Xbox. The tag they have in mind? Jet Set Radio Future!

Let's Look At The Funk

Something is afoot in the city of Tokyo-to and the evil Rokakku Corporation seems to be behind everything. With the help of local authorities, Rokakku Corp chairman, Rokakku Gouji, has been silently clamping down on the population's civil liberties and generally making their life a lot less exciting. Pirate radio DJ Professor K has noticed the writing on wall (sorry) however and has seen fit to enlist the aid of the hippest street gang in all of Tokyo-to, the GGs. Their mission? To spread the word, share the music and bring down the establishment, anyway they can...

Playing like a parent's worst nightmare, Jet Set Radio Future tasks the player with the job of redecorating Tokyo-to, one spray can at a time. By skating around each area, the player will discover certain ''marked'' locations that could do with a splash more color. Each location is marked on the map and access to which can range in difficulty from the easy to reach, ground level style store fronts, to the more difficult rooftops and billboards. These high altitude locations often require some intense jump/grind combos to reach, but thankfully the player will be up to the task as each move is explained via a reasonably thorough tutorial early on in the game. Once each area has been suitably tagged and is looking dope, it's time to grab your gear and move onto the next area so that the process may begin again. If that's sounding tedious then don't fret it as there's a gnarly range of areas to explore, from downtown city streets to shopping malls and high rise districts, variety is everything. Each of the 9 areas has been very well designed and contains an almost limitless number of grind-able surfaces and hidden corners to explore... some of which may even conceal a surprise!

The core gameplay of the original JSR has remained pretty much intact for the Xbox update, only now Smilebit have listened to the requests of the fans and have delivered a series of refinements that make JSRF a far more bodacious experience. Gone now are the grueling directional pad combinations used when tagging up graffiti. In their place is a new streamlined system that's as simple as a single press of the button. Also left by the wayside are the stifling time limits that forced the player to complete an area on time or risk sacrificing a life and starting again. Finally there is much less emphasis placed on out-witting the police and more on exploration and grinding. While each of these refinements are minor, when combined into the greater whole they help the flow of JSRF's gameplay immensely. Don't worry, JSRF's still the same high speed thrash skating adventure it always was, just now it's new and improved for the new generation!

Understand The Concept Of Love

If you're going to understand the appeal of JSRF then first you must understand it's style, as style is what this game is all about. The original Jet Set Radio broke new ground with it's pioneering use of cel shading as a means to present a game and in keeping with tradition, Smilebit have returned to the very same well for a little more love. With the power of the Xbox now behind it, JSRF's cel shaded graphics reach new levels of detail and style never previously thought possible. The once seemingly empty streets of Tokyo-to are now thrumming with activity as people go about their business, pigeons feed and the traffic flows by. This sense of activity, combined with the stunningly detailed backgrounds, conveys the perfect atmosphere of a bustling modern metropolis. As the player skates around each map it becomes harder and harder not to notice how vibrantly colored everything is. At times you may even want to take a breather at a particularly scenic spot and get lost in the spectacle of it all! If you've grown tired of cel shading over the years then you're not alone, but perhaps it's now time to return to the beginning and check out what the original creators really had in mind for the style as JSRF has the potential to blow your mind!

If JSRF's graphics don't get you then it's music surely will. Smilebit music composer and all round sound guru, Naganuma Hideki, has once more gone above and beyond the call of duty in fashioning one of the most finely crafted soundtracks around. Unlike the first installment however, this time Naganuma-san has brought along some friends and the musical sounds of Cibo Matto, The Latch Brothers and Guitar Vader, help round out the talent pool. JSRF's hip hopping techno inspired street beats are sure to keep your feet tapping long after the game is finished. The ambient background effects are equally well implemented and help build the feeling of skating through a busy metropolis. Background conversations can be overheard as you skate by, while knocking over a pedestrian will result in some very harsh tones. Also worthy of a special mention is the excellent Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound support that manages to elevate this game above the pack. JSRF may not be my first choice of game to show off the wonders of Dolby 5.1, but it does add enough to the experience to make checking out this feature worthwhile.

This Is Most Disturbing

Much like the original game, the proverbial fly in the ointment comes in the guise of 2 rather annoying issues, the first of which is the game's length, or lack thereof. With the exception of the last 2 levels, most of JSRF shouldn't pose too much of a challenge to the average gamer. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, the control system continues to be somewhat arsed up. It's not that they are terrible, far from it! For 90% of the time everything controls smoothly and flawlessly, but it's the other 10% of the time that it doesn't that is important. Isn't mathematics a bitch? Whenever the situation calls for some precision movement, JSRF's controls falter faster than a drunk on pay day. This can become quite aggravating as many of the later areas have graffiti locations tucked away in hard to reach places. Trust me when I say that there will be times when the player's patience will be severely tested. Quite why these issues weren't addressed is anyone's guess as these problems have been a part of the franchise since it's very inception...

Would You Stop Playing With That Radio Lord? I'm Trying To Get To Sleep

In the end the question remains, did Jet Set Radio Future achieve the level of success that Smilebit thought it capable of? In a word... no, and still the reason why continues to elude most of us. Jet Set Radio Future is a great game that has a lot going for it. Stylish, original, and fun are a few adjectives I would use to describe it, but unfortunately it would seem that this franchise was destined to miss out on the commercial success that it so richly deserves. If this is to be the series' swan song however then all the better as what we have here is truly something special. If you are looking for a game that is a little different from everything else on your shelf and you have the patience to deal with the sometimes fickle controls, then Jet Set Radio Future is the game for you...

* Smilebit have refined the gameplay from the previous Sega Dreamcast based installment
* Original graffiti game concept
* Fast grinding action
* Large maps with many areas to explore throughout
* The single best ever use of Cel shading as a means to present a game
* JSRF has an a soundtrack so good it's worth buying on CD
* Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound support

* The controls can be rather difficult at times
* It's not a long game

midwinter's avatar
Community review by midwinter (August 27, 2004)

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