Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was a huge deal in the late 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, almost everyone was playing it – and it didn’t take long for Japan to release their own skating game partially inspired by the series.
While Tony Hawk focuses mainly on freeroam skating with no real risks aside from failure and a clicking down timer, Jet Set Radio instead opts for a proper storyline – a street gang that sprays graffiti across an alternate universe Tokyo while avoiding the authorities and settling their debts from rival gangs.
One of the best things by far about the game, and is pivotal not only to these types of games but to the personality of the game itself, is the soundtrack. Composed by Hideki Naganuma, the OST features a wide variety of tracks of different genres ranging from electronic dance to hip hop. Each song fits the world that Jet Set Radio takes place in and when you first hear “Let Mom Sleep” on the title screen, you know exactly what to expect from the game.
Much like the Tony Hawk series, there are a lot of additional characters to unlock and play as – I mean, more than you’d expect from a game like this. Some can only be accessed by beating them in showdowns like races or copying their skating techniques, while some are unlocked through extra game completion in some form or another. Not only this, but each character has different stats based on three different skills: Power, technique and graffiti which dictate how fast you spray graffiti or how well you do at skating around Tokyo. There is also a sneaky spray can stat that determines how many cans each character can carry.
The artstyle is vibrant, unique and easily identifiable as being associated as Jet Set Radio. Being the first game to fully use cel shading set it apart from other games and gave the game it’s distinctive style that is prevalent today, alongside it’s low poly models and texturing.
The game itself is very fun albeit it can be stressful at times as the controls are a bit weird, even with a console controller such as an Xbox or PlayStation one, and sometimes you can take unnecessary hits from the enemies because of it – or maybe the map doesn’t make it very clear where a landmark is. The variety of moves that can be pulled off by each character is small, but each character has their own moveset and techniques and to see what each person is capable of is very fun.
Even after the story missions there are “freestyle” levels which have you just run around in a 10 or 15 minute time limit getting as many points as possible without interference from enemies.
Although Jet Set Radio’s graphics don’t hold up great twenty years after release, the game is a joy to play with a small selection of different options that enhance the experience as well as its aesthetic style and eccentric soundtrack makes it one of the Dreamcast’s underrated gems.