The PFG Throwback: Jet Set Radio Future

Classic Material.

Back in the days when Livejournal was the blogging software of choice [the horror….] I abandoned my navel gazery and pining for unnamed girls to attempt in essence what I’m now doing here: less ‘what I did this weekend’ stuff that nobody cared about in favor of musings on music and culture that nobody cared about. It lasted about a month.

But one of the things I did do, and enjoyed, was something called ‘Retroactive Reviews,’ where I’d dust off an old CD I’d bought on the strength of a single and see if it held up.

I did it all of one time. For ‘Labcabincalifornia’ by Tha Pharcyde. Yes, it holds up. You can’t have that much early J.Dilla on one album and not have it be awesome.

I always liked the idea though, and wanted to bring it back, I just needed the right inspiration. Last weekend I found it, so we start the PFG Throwback, which is way more elegant a title than ‘Retroactive Reviews’. Really, what was I thinking with that?


In recent years, it seems as though platform loyalty among console gamers has dropped considerably. Chalk it up to an overall lack of exclusive ‘system sellers’, I suppose, at least from where I sit. I hate first person shooters, so Halo was never going to sell me an Xbox, and I never really got the hype for God of War, so that wasn’t going to keep me loyal to Sony. All the games I love now are multiplatform, there really isn’t anything I’m dying to play these days that I can’t.

This was not always the case. In the 90s and early 00s, market dominance really depended on one thing: how are the games, man?! Mine was [and still is] a single console household, so you better be sure when you make that decision. Ten, twelve years ago buying a PS2 was a no-brainer, there was zero risk there, but there were still some things to be missed out on making that call. As a deep down Sega fanboy [Genesis til I die, son! Til I DIE!] I watched the Dreamcast come and go with a certain level of longing. There are lots of games I wish I could get my hands on now from the Dreamcast era, but it’s not like it kept me up at night.

What’s been interesting lately as Sega went to a software-only developer, is their attempt to go the Nintendo route and put out these games that dig through the vaults of their characters for sports games or most recently, Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing, a Mario Kart ripoff for people who can’t play Mario Kart because they refuse to buy a Wii. Playing the demo of that game, I was reminded of so many old Sega properties I used to enjoy or was enamored with including one I had forgotten about completely: Jet Set Radio.

Jet Set Radio was one of the passed over classics of the Dreamcast and its remake/sequel Jet Set Radio Future was similarly, tragically ignored title for the original Xbox. Seeing that kid with the headphones [who I now is named Beat] show up in the racing game, and realizing that I now own a 360 with backwards compatibility, I became preoccupied with the game in that way I get preoccupied with things sometimes. Figured I’d track it down at one of the local game shops here in Toronto and see if it was worth the fuss.

One catch: JSRF is a notoriously hard game to track down. Well, it is but it isn’t. Backwards compatibility on the 360 is a tricky thing as it is, you can never take for granted that the game you bought is going to work. In the case of JSRF, the original version of the game worked fine, but a re-release combo disc of the game bundled with another racing game did not. So of course the combo pack was all I could ever find. I put myself on the waiting list at local gaming gods A&C Games and waited. They never called. Which only made me want it more, because every collector knows the hunt is what gives it the meaning.

Killing time before seeing a play last weekend I stopped in to A&C and checked the stacks like I usually do, expecting little. But it was there. Still I hemmed and hawed, but ultimately bought it. And while it took me a couple of days to warm to it, it was totally worth it.

At its core, JSRF is really just The Warriors on wheels. Rival inline skating gangs called rudies battle through the streets of millennial Tokyo for supremacy, spraying graffiti in their wake everywhere they go and battling police while a DJ at a pirate radio station narrates and reports the goings on. What isn’t awesome about that?

The most fascinating aspect of the game for me is what a perfect cultural artifact it is of a very distinct moment in time. I feel like, while the 80s and [to a lesser extent] 90s have sort of crystallized in the collective consciousness, the turn of the century is still sort of defining itself, for me anyway. But the aesthetic of JSRF, everything about it, totally puts me in mind of 2000, 2001, from the J-hop music, to the lamely endearing damn the man rhetoric of pirate DJ Professor K, to the fact that everyone in the damn game dresses like an extra from the movie Hackers. I swear Matthew Lillard is a hidden character. It’s a millennial view of the future that looks as quaint as housekeeping robots and flying cars did.

This would all be cute but irrelevant if the game didn’t play like a dream, which it does. It’s a skating game, deep down, but with simplified physics compared to the classic Tony Hawk model. There’s no balancing, jump on a rail or pipe and you grind, sometimes straight up a vertical telephone pole. The only complaint is the camera isn’t as responsive as I might like. In an age where pretty much every game has a camera controlled by the right analog stick, to play an older game that doesn’t will have you missing it quick. Also, there can be some frustrating moments of slowdown during fast moving moments, and the controller powers down wheneve I take damage, but those are the sort of glitches to be expected when playing an older game on a current gen system. Minor gripes in what is an otherwise happy gaming experience.

There’s just something about the quirky purity, the innocence, the toothless edge to the game that makes it so endearing. The way the members of your ever-growing gang spend their time dancing at the local hideout, the joy of grinding across roller coaster tracks as you play ‘Tagger’s Tag’ against opposing groups of rudies. The fact that you can edit and design your own graffiti for use in the game [you know that PFG tag will be forthcoming], all these contribute to one of the more unique, and unabashedly FUN gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

Rumours circulate monthly that JSRF will be getting the rerelease treatment on Xbox Live. Don’t hesitate to pick it up if it does.

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2 comments

  1. Hackers!!!! Ah just another reminder of how cool I am and how much my early musical musings and interests have found some much needed appreciation… or not…

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