• Review: Jet Set Radio

    Back in the late 90s when SEGA actually made hardware, there was a game released in the early 2000s for the Dreamcast called Jet Set Radio. It was originally released during a time when Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was only just becoming a big deal, and since that time it's been released on almost every major gaming platform since, thanks, no doubt, to Sega's new insistence on becoming a major games publisher instead of the hardware company they once were. Fast forward more than a decade later, and now, Jet Set Radio has arrived on iOS.

    There's not much story to Jet Set Radio. From what I gather it's something about rival gangs taking over each other's territory in some kind of Tokyo-esque location. Only instead of giving you the freedom to do whatever you want, Grand Theft Auto-style, Jet Set Radio chooses a less violent, more creative path: graffiti. The levels are designed around for you to freely roam around in, collecting spray cans which allow you to tag certain walls, hoods of cards, sides of trucks, buses, and so on. Along the way, you'll perform tricks on your pimped-out inline skates, some of which enable you to access more areas to tag with colourful graffiti but watch out for the police, who seem to show up at the most opportune times and try their hardest to take you down (sometimes by hanging onto you as you skate along, if you let them get close enough). And if all that wasn't enough, you'll do all this skating, tagging, and evading in a race against the clock.

    A major part of Jet Set Radio's appeal is the bright, colourful graphics set to a really out-there soundtrack. It's the kind of music you would hear if you crossed trip-hop with some funky electronica, and it makes for enjoyable listening when you're free roaming and tagging walls. The visuals are also great: there's plenty of environment variety to be had, and more than enough space for you to race against time and evade the police, all the while managing to graffiti on walls and perform tricks here and there.

    But whilst the core gameplay, bright graphics, and funky backing music accurately reflect the original game, this isn't the Jet Set Radio you know and love for one reason: the controls. If you've played a few games on iOS, you've likely run into this issue before games that require any kind of on-screen analog stick or set of buttons just don't work as well as games that don't. It's awkward at the best of times and blocks a good portion of the screen all of the time; even though the game is optimised for the iPhone 5, all that width doesn't make up for the fact your two thumbs will constantly be in the way. And when your game has to have a button dedicated to making the camera face whatever direction the player is facing, you know you're going to have a bad time. There's just no other way of putting it: Jet Set Radio for iOS is a worse game because of the control scheme, which is every bit as bad as you think it might be, and perhaps even worse.

    In all honesty, I tried to like the iOS port of a classic free-roaming game, and I did like some aspects of the game. The graphics and sound are something to be enjoyed, and at the heart of it, Jet Set Radio is every bit the classic console game you played in your youth. But at the same time, it's a game that is let down a lot because of the awkward on-screen control scheme which can severely limit your enjoyment of this game. Make no mistake: there are other games that suffer from the same on-screen control scheme issues (which is perhaps a discussion for another time), Jet Set Radio is just a title that seems to be hit particularly hard by them. The controls feel imprecise and lack the responsiveness you need in a game like this, and because of that, the whole game doesn't play well as a result.

    Unless you're truly a hardcore Jet Set Radio fan and/or own Jet Set Radio paraphernalia, I'd look elsewhere for your free-roaming, trick-skating, graffiti-spraying fix.

    Jet Set Radio is $5.49 in the App Store.
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