Jet Set Radio Future – Review

There are many things you can copyright in the modern world today, whether it be a design idea for a new invention or a simple slogan. But one thing you cant is ideology. Anyone can pick up an idea as theirs, and use it for their own benefit. A good way to advertise is to steal a popular idea everyone agrees with, and then twist it to identify that idea with your product. Some of the ideas most ripe for the picking these days deal with rebellion and counterculture, and the tech sector is no exception. IBMs Linux campaign has sprayed graffiti on the streets of Chicago and San Francisco (and earned them thousands in fines), and Apples "Think Different" campaign has shamelessly plastered their slogans and logos on images of Rosa Parks and Gandhi, saying on their web site, "Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers... We make tools for these kinds of people."

The world of video gaming has been paying attention to these opportunistic ad execs, as you can see from Rockstars recent State Of Emergency, a 3D beat-em-up with a plot ripped off from the infamous Seattle protests of 1999. Sega has also jumped on the revolutionary bandwagon with their Jet Set Radio series, in which you take charge of a skater gang and tag graffiti all over the city while taking on the cops.

One cant help being cynical about Jet Set Radio Future (JSRF), the second installment in the series, when you see the advertising campaign. Though they don't sink to Apples level, television commercials urge you to "Tune in to the new revolution!" and double-page magazine spreads boast about "self expression." It appears the revolution will indeed be televised, and you'll take down The Man by sitting in your basement with Bill Gates. But it isn't fair to dismiss JSRFs radical sloganeering solely for being on the Microsoft Xbox, regardless of how you feel about the anti-trust brouhaha. That would be the equivalent of an anarchist ignoring all political work published by big companies like Simon and Schuster.

What sets JSRF apart from the shameless co-option of Rockstar's State Of Emergency is that it backs up all the talk with a fresh individuality. Its strongest point is the presentation, as no other game comes close to looking or sounding like it. JSRF shines with a unique spirit that makes the game amazing to watch and listen to. The graphics are made by the newest "all-the-rage" video game technique of cel-shading, and Smilebit has worked hard to make this sequel even more visually arresting than the original. Character models are far more detailed and complex, and the world of JSRF is a giant, dazzling playground even bigger than the original's. As far as the music goes, the soundtrack is unlike anything you've ever heard, bringing the techno-on-acid sounds of Hideki Naganuma and Co. into a game world where they fit like a glove.

The game plays much more smoothly than its predecessor, which got a lot of complaints for its controls. Smilebit was listening, and a lot of changes have been made. Tagging and camera control no longer share the same button, and a trick system was built in that, while simple, solves a lot of the issues that hurt the original. You can now line up strings of patterned tricks during grinds and jumps that speed you up, tag graffiti without being forced to stop and repeat joystick-turns, and tag battles were fixed by adding a way to lock on to your enemies Zelda-style.

The most radical change is in combat, as encounters with the police and thugs are now separate from the main graffiti game as mini-bosses spread out through the levels. Smilebit needed to work a little more on the combat system, because almost all of these battles border on pointlessness. Not only are the enemies easy to kill but battles are lengthy and boring, especially later in the game when you need to use a hefty amount of spray cans to beat them.

The big problem with JSRF isn't readily apparent, but I figured it out after some time: there is a total lack of urgency. All the tension of the original Jet Set Radio, as well as the frustration, has been sucked out, and that's a double-edged sword. With no time limits and no cops harassing you while you are trying to tag, missing a jump or running out of cans is never a big deal, and the threat of losing your progress is rare and minor. Throughout the entire game, I died maybe two or three times, and I won every single race and tag battle on the first try. That isn't necessarily bad; however, a game with no tension can never quite reach greatness. Though I enjoyed this game a lot, I never was "into it" like you get with classics that excel in creating tension like Soul Calibur and Thief or even Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.

JSRF also brings to light the obstructive nature of the Xbox hardware. I would have loved to burn the mind-blowing soundtrack to a CD, or at least to the Xbox hard drive for use in other games, or maybe read the DVD and transfer the files to my computer with a cable, but no such luck. After buying a $300 piece of hardware and a $50 game, its a real disappointment to not be able to extract the tunes somehow. Even worse, the official soundtrack on sale in Japan cuts out a dozen of the tunes, so my only viable option to get these songs is from an online program like Morpheus. There's no technical reason the Xbox couldn't do some of these things, but Microsoft has chosen to not take full advantage of their technology, which is their main weapon in the console wars. I predict this will come back to bite them later on.

While that can't be blamed on Sega, its one of the few small problems that keep JSRF from the high echelons of gaming. Still, its a fun, accessible, lengthy game with no glaring problems, plus some of the best game music and visuals of all time. If you're looking for something unique and quirky on the Xbox, this is your best bet hands down. Rating: 8.5 out of 10.