Monday, February 24, 2014

Top 50 Games - #11

11. Jet Set Radio
Developer: Smilebit
Publisher: Sega
Format: Dreamcast
Year: 2000

I downloaded the Xbox Live port of Jet Set Radio a few months ago and it’s still incredible.  Aside from its sequel, there’s still no game quite like it, and it’s still probably the coolest game ever.
   Released just as the extreme sports genre was being popularised by the Tony Hawk’s series, JSR is nominally a rollerblading game.  But just plain old rollerblading about would be boring, so you’re rollerblading about in a super-stylised future Tokyo.  But just plain old rollerblading about in a super-stylised future Tokyo would be boring, so you’re also showing off your mad graffiti skillz as you go.  But just showing off your mad graffiti skillz as you go would be boring, so the police, who apparently have little else to worry about, are after you in force.  Like, helicopters and tanks force.  So you do tricks, spray graffiti in set places, dodge the police/take them down with well-aimed blasts of aerosol paint, and basically show off slightly more than is humanly possible.
   The game was one of the first to deploy cel-shading, so it still looks fabulous today.  Sega went whole hog with the graffiti angle, employing various real-life artists I’m too uncool to have heard of and showing off the Dreamcast’s internet capabilities by allowing you to create and share your own tags.  (The Dreamcast was ridiculously ahead of the curve in certain ways, wasn’t it?)  The soundtrack was also a key feature.  In-house musical wizard/lunatic Hideki Naganuma was the head honcho, piling on his distinctive blend of dance, hip-hop and J-pop with all sorts of oddball samples.  (A clip from Tony Hancock’s famed short film The Radio Ham, f’instance.  This is a thing that happened.)  Anyway, the soundtrack varied from region to region.  So the US got some metal, because Americans are metalheads despite metal not fitting the game’s aesthetic at all.  (They also got some better-fitting tracks from the likes of Jurassic 5 and Mix Master Mike, which Europe also received, so hey.)  Most impressively, the music tracks in the main quest levels blend, mix and scratch into each other, as if done by a real proper DJ.
   Anyway, JSR is fabulous to look at and listen to, and almost as fabulous to play.  Rediscovering it on 360 highlighted some issues – the controls can be pernickety, later levels are far too long and some bits are irritatingly hard – but it’s still distinctive.  Still ridiculously cool.  Still incredible.
MAGIC MOMENT: Got to be that stunning soundtrack.

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