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volume 3 issue 4

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12 home / april 2002 / reviews Turn Page BackwardBack to HomeTurn Page Forward

INFO FILE
Title:
Jet Set Radio Future
Format:
Xbox Game
Production:
SEGA
Smilebit
Comments:
A more-than-worthy successor to one of the most entertaining games ever made. It's Tony Hawk for the J-Pop loving artist in all of us.
Overall Rating:
96%

Animefringe Reviews:
Jet Set Radio Future
By Patrick King

About a year ago, I picked up Jet Grind Radio for $9.99 at a local game shop. I was aware of the rave reviews it had received, and knew that I could usually trust Sega for a good time, but I had never been interested in skating games. Even the illustrious Tony Hawk had never really captivated me as much as it should have. Ten bucks for a new (as in not used) game is pretty hard to resist, so I snagged it. As soon as I started playing, I was hooked. I played the original straight through within a week of purchasing it. Thus began my wait for a sequel. When I heard it was going to be an Xbox exclusive, the little evil voice in my head bitch-slapped the nice happy voice that it endlessly battles and convinced me to get Microsoft's 20 pound black behemoth - even though I had already planned on getting the GameCube. So here we are. How does JSRF measure up to the hype it's received?

Pretty darn good. The first thing everyone notices is the graphics. This game features non-stop cel-shaded bliss. It uses a nifty 3D trick (pioneered by Smilebit) to give every polygon a distinct anime-inspired visual style. The effect is fantastic, setting this game apart from pretty much everything else out there - save its predecessor (and a growing number of imitators). For the most part, the game's framerate runs incredibly smooth, no matter how many animated objects are thrown at you. Many city scenes in the game contain forty or fifty animated background characters (birds, dogs, cats, people, etc) on screen at one time. Slowdown is really only apparent in the GG's garage. Each time you earn a new character in the first part of the game, the new character hangs out at your home base, dancing happily to the beat of the background music. When there are 10 or more detailed characters going through his or own unique dance choreography, it's simply too much for a game not quite optimized for Xbox, and the framerate suffers for it. However, since the garage is nothing more than a stage designed for practicing your moves, saving your game, and changing your character, this slowdown in no way harms the gameplay. At the worst, it may disrupt the player's temporary suspension of disbelief as he or she is enjoying the experience.

The graphics are great, but what really matters is the gameplay. Good gameplay is what keeps us gamers coming back to our old Atari (or 8-bit) favorites. Luckily for us, Smilebit doesn't fail to satisfy in this area, either. JSRF keeps things the way Sega likes it - simple. A jumps, B activates the new turbo feature, X and Y implement tricks, while L centers the camera and R is used to spray your chosen graffiti. Graffiti can be picked from the game's default library or the player can design his or her own tags, allowing you to paint the game's world in your own colors, if desired. The control is elegant and easy to pick up, but tough to master. After a few hours of practice, however, the controls start to feel right, and you'll find it easy to navigate your chosen character along the most complex grinds with grace. The camera can be annoying, but the "center" feature remedies that problem for the most part. The only gripe I have in this area is when the camera system decides to change your point of view, altering the controls so you can see what you're spraying. This doesn't happen nearly as often as it could, however, so it's a minor scratch on the surface of a well-polished game engine.

The music in this game is also exceptional. There are 30 tracks, including some remixes from Jet Grind Radio as well as songs from The Latch Brothers, Cibo Matto, Scapegoat Wax, and many other great musicians. As you play the game, the songs from each stage mix into each other in real-time. It's a nice effect, and because of this feature, there is never a moment in the game that lacks a beat. All of the music complements the mood of the game maintaining a very attractive overall style. Trust me - you'll have more than one song stuck in your head after playing this title.

There are a few potential problems with this title, of course. One common gripe voiced about JSRF is the simplification of the graffiti tagging. In the first game, players had to enter a series of complex motions on the analog joystick in order to mark their territory. Now, gamers need only pull on the R button to tag portions of graffiti. The other problem represents another change from the first game to this one. Jet Grind Radio was largely dependent upon a clock, and each part of the game was divided into a number of stages selectable from the GG's garage. In JSRF, however, the player may skate to any point of Smilebit's Tokyo at any time - the game is not really divided up into individual stages, nor is there any clock to battle against. Finally, some people may be disappointed to find that plot-wise, this game has little to do with Jet Grind Radio. Characters that were once friends no longer know each other, others have been renamed, and the overall gang hierarchy is not the same as it used to be.

In truth, I found the change in tagging to be different, but not bad. This game has a greater sense of speed than its predecessor, which turns out to be an adequate substitute for the simplified tagging scheme.

As far as JSRF's new open-ended nature goes, I did miss the different challenges for each zone in the first game...at first. The sheer immensity of each zone was impressive, and I did feel as I was interacting with a living, breathing world, but sometimes it was simply too unfocused. It is possible to wander around the game world for hours before finding something to do, until you get your bearings and figure out how to accomplish your next goal. Eventually, it is possible to get the hang of what you are doing and gameplay progress much more smoothly. Also, after "beating" the game, I happily discovered a new option in the GG's garage: "test run." After finding all the Graffiti Souls (shining icons that add a new tag to your inventory) in each area of the game, the player can select new challenges that are exactly like the original game (including tagging, a speed trial, and some new modes, as well). If it weren't for this additional mode, JSRF would not have received the high score I gave it. This feature adds on many more hours of gameplay (depending on your skill) and is a great way to get more value out of an already fulfilling game.

I had the very little trouble adjusting to the plot changes in this game from its predecessor. What one has to realize is this is not so much a sequel to the original game as it is a reimagining of Smilebit's original vision. While JSRF's plot is charming, it's not the reason I enjoyed playing it so much, and it plays a minor role in the grand scheme of things. Thus, these changes do little to interfere with the overall experience.

There's also an entertaining multiplayer mode to mess around with when your friends get tired of watching you play this game by yourself. It's not the deepest multiplayer game around, but it's certainly nothing to complain about. It tends to work better with people who are familiar with the game's controls; otherwise novices might walk away a bit miffed at their more practiced buddies.

Jet Set Radio Future is a great game that I wholeheartedly recommend to every Xbox owner. There's more to this title than meets the eye, and it offers an enjoyable romp, even for those who are not going to take the 30 to 50 hours it may require to finish the game. It drips with originality and offers plenty for your eyes, ears, and fingers to feast upon. Pick this game up as soon as you get the chance, and while you're at it, grab Jet Grind Radio, too. You won't be disappointed.

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