There's no denying that Sega definitely tried during their Dreamcast years. After the failure of the Saturn in the North American market, Sega went all out with it's next console. Not only did the Dreamcast bring a time of rejuvenation to a company that had it's reputation practically destroyed due to failed hardware, it brought a time where Sega once again proved how masterful they were at developing games. Some of the most original games from Sega came out during the Dreamcast era, such as Crazy Taxi, ChuChu Rocket!, and Shenmue, and they even updated some of their classics such as Ecco the Dolphin and Sonic the Hedgehog.
During this era, Sega had their creative juices flowing and their internal development house Smilebit came up with a positively unique game for the Dreamcast that garnered critical praise from reviewers and critics. Gamerankings.com has the game listed with a 91% average. It had a huge marketing campaign with it's rough edge and crazy new graphic style that Sega was calling "cel-shading", which technically wasn't new. What did Sega do to promote this game, you ask? Sega threw an event in San Francisco called "Graffiti is Art" contest to commend graffiti artist with there talents (which actually caused an uproar with the mayor of San Francisco and led to an anti-graffiti task force removing graffiti from buildings a few blocks away. Atari pulled a similar stunt in 2005 for advertising their shameful Mark Ecko's Getting Up game). It was deemed an extreme inline skating Tony Hawk like game with graffiti thrown in. The game was Jet Grind Radio (Jet Set Radio in Japan), but despite the hype and praise, the game didn't do so well in stores.
Why did the game sell so poorly? Was it too Japanese for our taste? Did it have something to do with the fact that the game was released on the same day as another big name Sega game came out, NBA 2K1? Whatever the case may be, it's depressing that such a stylish game with plenty to do was not a consumer success.
The game is a rather simple concept: graffiti paint or "tag" the hell out of every possible facet of the city of Tokyo. The games follow the story about Rudies or roller skating gangs. More specifically you play as the street gang know as the GG's. Your main goal of each game is to cancel out all the other street gangs graffiti by tagging it with your own designs.
What so special about the game then? From a technical standpoint, the original game had so much substance and soul that other titles only dreamed about. It had a wonderful cel-shading look that made the game look like a cartoon come to life (although there were games that featured cel-shading prior to what Sega wants you to believe, such as Fear Effect). Everything in these games certainly come to live, no matter what locale you are vandalizing. Also, the music between the two games are almost pure perfection, headed up mostly by Hideki Naganuma, whose most recent work includes Sonic Rush for the Nintendo DS. There are unfortunately only two real games in the series and although both share obvious similarities, they both have a slightly different emphasis on gameplay.
Will those crazy Rudies ever come back to a console? After the abysmal sales of the Dreamcast and Xbox versions, it's hard to say yes. The games always had a unique freshness with it's artistic style and cel-shaded graphics (although it seemed like for a time everybody was doing) that was and still is rivaled by few. And it never felt so good to do something illegal, even if it's as small as tagging a wall.
Jet Set Radio (ジェットセットラジオ) / Jet Grind Radio - Dreamcast, Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, iOS, Android (2000)
You begin Jet Grind Radio with Beat, the lone member of a gang known as the GG's (not much of a gang, I'd say.) Right from the get-go, you will face challenges from the first two characters, Gum and Tab. This acts as a tutorial - if you pass, they'll join your gang (this is how all of the recruiting is done in the game except for Cube and Combo). From there you are thrust into a gang war between every gang in each Tokyo. The Love Shockers hail from Shibuya-cho (which is actually you're turf, but they're trying to get in on it), Poison Jam resides in Kogane, and The Noise Tanks congregate in Benten. You start off in Shibuya, but then you get to choose where to go after that. The story is actually rather ridiculous, with some deal with an evil corporation called the Golden Rhinos headed by the dastardly Gouji Rokakku. He's a crazy business man searching for some magical record called the Devil's Contract that will enable him to take over the world. Typical Japanese weirdness, if you ask me. All of the developments in the story are told through the hilarious and upbeat DJ Professor K, broadcasting from his pirate radio station appropriately called "Jet Set Radio".
Each time you select a stage, you are dropped off with no spray paint, a number of specific locations to tag, and a time limit. Spray cans are located everywhere, so finding them isn't hard, and they respawn after a minute from picking them up. Through the level, you'll find red arrows on designated areas, mostly on walls and the sides of buses and trucks. Once you reach the arrow and press the L button, the game takes a cue from rhythm games and becomes a Simon Says style combo game. Arrow directions are shown and you must input these directions with the analog pad. Keeping the entire combo running will give you the maximum amount of points, but if you screw up, you lose a precious paint and need to start tagging again, can which could spell disaster if you're being chased.
Speaking of being chased, the more you spray paint the town, the more police units or gang members come after you. It's utter police brutality as foot soldiers tackle you if you're too slow. Paint about 70% of the town, and they might call in tanks, helicopters, the SWAT team, or whatever else they can find, including flamethrowers and suicide bombers. In the beginning of the game, you are constantly pursued by the police chief Captain Onishima, who, to say the least, is completely insane. The fact that he is constantly shooting at you always gives a sense of urgency. In fact, this game is all about being fast. With a strict time limit and limited life, you are constantly on the move, making the game ever so difficult because you have to stand still when painting graffiti (for Medium and Large tags anyway; you can move and paint at the same time for Small tags). Also, different size tags mean different quantities of spray paint they need. Small tags need one, Medium tags need three, and Large tags need a whopping seven. Considering you can only hold a limited number of paint cans at one time, this can get annoying.
There is no multiplayer, but you can take Jet Grind Radio online. For what, you might ask? The game comes with 102 graffiti designs (you have to unlock most of them through finding graffiti soul icons), and you can choose with using one at a time for each of the three sizes. The purpose of going online was to actually grab any picture and be able to load it on your VMU, and in turn be able to turn whatever image you saved into customized art in the game. Wanted to tag over Poison Jam's graffiti with a picture of the famous Mona Lisa painting? SegaNet let you do it. Jet Grind Radio also lets you make your own graffiti tags with a bare bones editor so you can get creative as well. You won't be able to make beautiful masterpieces like the art in the game, but it helps add a nice personal touch..
One particularly major problem with the game is the somewhat unresponsive controls. The boost button seems to only work when it wants to, leaving you in frustration when trying to run away from enemies. Smilebit also simplified the game were you only had to use two face buttons and the shoulder buttons, but in effect this is kind of a bad idea. Since there is no "grind" button a la Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, it's too easy to get caught on different surfaces and fly off in some direction that you didn't want to. And why is the button to realign the camera also the same button to start tagging? Smilebit should've added a button mapping option to make it a little bit easier to control. Additionally, some of the areas can get a big large - so heaven forbid you run out of time or life, because you need to start the whole stage from scratch. The stages where you need to race other skaters and tag them can also get pretty annoying.
For the US release, Sega added two new areas (Bantam Street and Grind Square), new graffiti designs and new music from artist like Rob Zombie and Jurassic 5. In 2001, Sega Direct, Sega's online store, would sell De La Jet Set Radio which was the US version of the game for the Japanese market. It's extremely rare and unlike the original Jet Set Radio, De La Jet Set Radio is entirely in English.
Once again, Jet Set Radio Future begins with freedom of expression being pretty much banned in the streets of Japan. So it's an all-for-one free-for-all between the different gangs a to not only fight for their turf, but stop the evil Gouji Rokkaku from trying to take over the world yet again. All the old characters are back, although they went back to using the original Japanese names for a few characters (Tab is now called Corn, Mew is called Rhyth, etc.) DJ Professor K is also back, sporting some gray hair now and a bit more mellowed out than his previous stint. Captain Onishima is gone and has been replaced by the equally psychotic Captain Hiyashi, but he seems more annoying than funny in this version. All the gangs are back, but this time there are even more than before (including Rapid 99, The Immortals, and the Doom Riders).
For this release, Smilebit felt as though the original game was a bit slow (which I never felt was slow at all). So you no longer need to stand still to tag - you can just skate right on by, with no motions to input. You simply press a button at the graffiti icon and you will simply just paint, no matter what the size of the tag is (this time with five sizes: Super Small, Small, Medium, Large, and Extra-Large). You can be moving at high speeds and still be able to tag graffiti without ever stopping. The camera align button was changed to the L trigger, with the tagging button moved to the R trigger, fixing one of the major problems of the original. The time limit has also been removed entirely, and some of the trials when facing opponents are easier, since you don't automatically get a "Game Over" when you veer off a little bit. Unfortunately, you still can't directly control the camera, other than recentering it behind your character.
The trick system has also tinkered with. Instead of just randomly having the game do tricks for you (there actually wasn't a button in Jet Grind Radio to do any tricks on your own), the game has the X and Y buttons for executing various moves. The tricks aren't for just collecting points now, as pulling off tricks now lets you go faster, and in a half pipe, make you jump higher. It's a nice little addition.
Instead of the wave of enemies the first game threw at you after tagging several spots, Jet Set Radio Future has trigger points that have you facing off against the police or the Golden Rhinos in the confines of an electric fence that appears out of nowhere. These areas are not fun for the fact that every single enemy is easily beaten by the same tactic: run at them full speed to knock them over, then spray their backs when they're down. It's really disappointing after the whole army chasing you feel from the first, although it does make the regular sections of the game easier, since you don't need to constantly run from them while being caught in the middle of a tag.
The areas in this game are huge and gorgeous. Everything comes to life thanks to the Xbox's hardware being able to pull off so many objects on the screen at once. The human population seemed pretty sparse in the original, but this one has you feeling claustrophobic because of all the people and vehicles everywhere. The areas are so big, however, that getting lost at first is a sure thing, and sometimes is just too hard to navigate through (I'm looking your way, Sky Dinosaurian Square, Pharaoh Park and The Skyscraper District). The character models have been upgraded and look even better than before, thanks to some snazzy redesigns.
The music again was largely contributed by Hideki Naganuma and this is honestly one of the greatest OSTs of all time. A perfect blend of techno, house, and hip hop genres pump through the speakers, all in glorious Dolby 5.1. Some of the artist include Scapegoat Wax, Deavid Soul, and Latch Brothers (which is the Beastie Boys' side project).
The biggest addition to this game would be the inclusion of multi-player modes. There are five total that range from racing around a section of the city, to quickly spraying the town as fast as you can, to even trying to spray each other in the back. They're all quite fun, but lack of Xbox Live compatibility hurts the most.
There are some glaring problems with this game however. While the action is technically smoother than the Dreamcast version, there is some very noticeable slowdown in the game, especially in the garage. Jet Set Radio Future is supposed to be a sequel, but feels more like a retelling of the original story (much like Starfox 64 was a retelling of the SNES Starfox). While the graffiti editor is back to make your own art, you can not go on Xbox Live to upload pictures to use at graffiti. Also, due to the simplifying of the graffiti aspect of the game, Jet Set Radio Future is also easier. But, by all means this does not mean that it is a bad game - overall, it's a more finely tuned game than its predecessor, even if some of the changes aren't necessarily for the better.
After Sega released Jet Set Radio Future>, Microsoft bundled the game with Sega GT 2002 and sold it with their Xbox consoles as a pack in. It's actually quite odd that it is harder to find the actual original copy of Jet Set Radio Future than the bundle disc.
THQ had a deal with Sega to publish all the games they made for the Game Boy Advance in North America. This deal also meant they could develop games using Sega's properties. One of the games that was made by Vicarious Visions commissioned by THQ was Jet Grind Radio. Using the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater GBA engine, Vicarious Visions tried recapture the Dreamcast game's magic into the tiny portable. And for the most part, they get the job done.
The game's story and setup is exactly like it's Dreamcast counterpart. The story is actually progressed the same way with the exact same dialogue at times. The graphics actually perfectly recreate the atmosphere of the Dreamcast game and all the levels are taken from it as well. There was a few omissions from the 128-bit version due to the new perspective. Vicarious Visions actually fixed the controls in which the boost button actually responds when you press it! The most impressive thing about this game would have to be in the sound department, which Vicarious Visions got Shin'en of Iridion 2 and Nanostray fame to create the music and sound. There are only six songs, but the music is so good and surprising that they were able to be so accurate to the source material, but it does loop too quickly. The sound is also great, only for all the yells and "Yeahs!" from the Dreamcast game are in here as well. Heck, the graffiti editor is here as well. The biggest addition to this version would be the multi-player modes, which weren't featured in the original.
The biggest strike against the GBA version is it's awkward 3/4 perspective that makes judging jumps more difficult than it should. This also means running away from your enemies is a lot more tedious this time, seeing how you can't tell their distance in respect to your player. This is extremely infuriating in the case when they release the helicopters at you. When they fire missiles toward you, the movement is so sporadic that it's difficult to avoid. And unlike the first game, when you get shot or hit from any projectile, you do not fall down. This could mean certain death when it comes to tagging a wall and you don't realize that you are actually being shot.
On a side note, this is the only Jet Set Radio game that lets you play as DJ Professor K, once you unlock him that is.