Jet Set Radio is the very best kind of anachronism. It harks back to a time when games didn’t have to be saturated with gore and grit, and when innovation was prized above the creation of another series that publishers could milk for annual updates. It’s a primary coloured glimpse at the world we all wanted, a nostalgia trip fuelled by some of the finest graffiti tagging gameplay the console world has ever seen.
The game is all about territory and time. You play a member of the GGs, a misfit band of roller blading Banksys determined to mark the streets of Tokyo-To with their unique brand of tags. Of course rival gangs and the police have other ideas about that, and so begins a pitched battle of wheels, spray paint and tear gas.
This is a multi-layered beast. On the one hand, simply tricking around the enclosed levels is a joy, sparks flying from your electric powered skates as you look for the fabled infinite line that hides in every one of the game’s stages. On the other, you’re collecting spray cans and replacing one gang’s defacement of public property with your own.
Then there’s the police, led by the insane, dishevelled Captain Onishima, who dogs your every move. What starts off with riot shields and a massive handgun quickly escalates to rocket firing helicopters and canisters of choking gas. Soon you’re dodging motorbikes and gunfire as you try and make your mark on the city walls. It’s tough out there, and the bright colours and gorgeous cel-shaded graphics hide an arcade experience that’s far more hardcore than it might appear.
The levels themselves are all alive with the comings and goings of the city. Cars crash into you, pedestrians leap out of the way as you streak past, gusts of colour exploding from your spray can-wielding hand. Everything pops out of the screen in a way that few games before or since have managed. And the jagged black lines and bold blocks of colour make for a HD remake that looks just as vibrant as a game built from scratch for high resolution televisions.
Just like in the original you can create your own tags, plastering a digital city with art that you’ve created pixel by pixel. Plastering your tags with swipes and twists of the left analogue stick still feels ingenious, a mini game that captures the action it represents remarkably well.
You can recruit new skaters by defeating them in a variety of trick-copying tasks too. Each one has their own strengths and weaknesses, and they bring with them new art for you to play with. Every action hums to the sounds of the titular radio station, with the ebullient Professor K bouncing around the screen, laying down the narrative alongside the beats.
Jet Set Radio captures the positivity and rebellion of youth in one fell swoop, with its garish colours and spectacular soundtrack combining to create a moment preserved in time. To the pounding of perfectly chosen songs, you’ll traverse a city-playground populated by hilarious roundabouts and patrolled by the sort of hated bullies we can all rail against. This is a HD remake that deserves to find the audience that its inspiration never quite managed to.