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JSRF: Jet Set Radio Future (Xbox) artwork

JSRF: Jet Set Radio Future (Xbox) review


"Jet Set Radio Future is an easy game to like even if it's an impossible game to love. It's dripping with the sort of self-consciously hip style that only Sega could pull off, and were it human, I'd expect nothing less out of it than oldschool checkerboard Vans and a garish blazer to go with 'em. Funky, pseudo-cartoony graphics lend developer Smilebit's graffiti/skating hybrid an impeccable sense of popping, colorful style, with areas like nightlife hub Benten Street brought to life by its orient..."



Jet Set Radio Future is an easy game to like even if it's an impossible game to love. It's dripping with the sort of self-consciously hip style that only Sega could pull off, and were it human, I'd expect nothing less out of it than oldschool checkerboard Vans and a garish blazer to go with 'em. Funky, pseudo-cartoony graphics lend developer Smilebit's graffiti/skating hybrid an impeccable sense of popping, colorful style, with areas like nightlife hub Benten Street brought to life by its oriental neon signs and the spiraling dragon statue that spits pink plastic "flames" into a fountain at its center.

JSRF's characters are just as vivid. I've always dug Combo, every Japanese person's image of the mythical "black guy" complete with an enormous gold necklace and a boombox; and you'll square off against just-as-cool villains like the Immortals, mummified punks that call the Egyptian-themed Pharoah Park their home. Props must also be given to the soundtrack, a fresh mix of weird J-pop and white-boy hiphop delivered by the tongue-twisting DJ Professor K that I'll never grow tired of. You know you want to listen to a coked out Japanese lady rant about birthday cakes and the Vietnam War.

Even better than its impeccable style is JSRF's fluid, streamlined handling. Awkwardly hitting L to keep your rollerskates blazing is out; smoother controls and automatic, infinite grinds [skating neophytes, think sliding on top of a handrail] are the future. Couple that with the Xbox's beastly power, and you're left with some absolutely enormous levels that are a blast to explore--scaling that dragon I mentioned earlier is as easy as hopping on and spiraling up, and it's one of the least impressive feats you could hope to pull off. The sewers have criss-crossing pipes for your grinding pleasure, while one of the residential districts would be intraversible without the carefully placed telephone lines that end just as soon as they begin, forcing a vigilant eye for where you should hop off and catch the next one.

It only makes sense that you'll get to skate a crimson roller coaster miles above the streets of Tokyo, and it only makes sense that there are fire-breathing statues of titanic dinosaurs lining the tracks. Feel free to hop onto T-Rex's head and unlock a new graffiti tag to spray if you've been too lazy to design your own.

But amidst all the synaesthetic candy, Smilebit lost a good chunk of what made the Dreamcast original so slick. Cutting the original game's timer to accommodate the enormous levels is somewhat understandable but fully lamentable. It forced you to plan your spraypaint attacks and dash about briskly yet never really cramped your ever-present style, and this time around it's quite sorely missed. Partnered in truancy is getting to actually spray your graffiti with the analog stick. Spinning it around every which way to leave your mark wasn't just more viscerally thrilling than holding down a trigger, but more challenging as well: the fuzz were always right around the block. Could you pull off that twenty-motion tag before a SWAT team tear-gassed your neck of the neon woods? Decisions, decisions...

...not that you'd have to make those decisions any more even if it took five minutes to drop a tag, since for any intents and purposes, every last bit of opposition is gone. JSRF is sterile. Where are the jetpack soldiers, the whip-toting freaks, the hulking tanks that made Jet Grind Radio so endearing? What little protecting of the law is done by the protectors of the law happens in rote, simple battles that are sectioned off from the rest of the game instead of worked into it. Grinding off fire escapes, wallriding off billboards, and hopping from fiftieth floor rooftop to fiftieth floor rooftop of the Skyscraper District would be fucking insane if there were a helicopter or three intent on swatting you from the sky--marking the joint up without 'em just isn't as satisfying. And just imagine how cool it could be if rival gangs actually tried to undo your progress instead of just letting you mark up their territory at will!

JSRF ends up as really nothing more than a Rare-esque scavenger hunt thanks to bumbling backsteps like these. The coolest bloody Rare-esque scavenger hunt you'll ever see, mind you, but a Rare-esque scavenger hunt just the same. It's a fun game to play, but a shallow game to play--superficially and aesthetically slicker than its Dreamcast gramp but without much of that game's lasting depth. I dug it back in 2002, and picking it up five years down the line it's sweet to play for an hour a day, but I can't help but wonder just how good it could have been if Smilebit hadn't fumbled the fundamentals. With all the sales records it blitzed, I'm sure we'll never get to find out.

Rating: 7/10

mardraum's avatar
Community review by mardraum (April 29, 2007)

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