The original Jet Set Radio, released in 1999 in the US for the Dreamcast under the name Jet Grind Radio, was a rare combination of technical achievement and innovative gameplay. Its unique cel-shaded graphics and excellent soundtrack, coupled with its original play mechanics, combined for a truly distinctive game filled with both style and substance. While the game didn't go on to become a massive commercial hit, critical acclaim and a devoted fan base have led developer Smilebit to create a follow-up, Jet Set Radio Future. The new game is like a reimagining of the Dreamcast's Jet Grind Radio and features a mix of old and new faces and locations. Like its predecessor, Jet Set Radio Future is a visually stunning game that can be a lot of fun. It also plays differently enough from the previous game to satisfy both old and new players. Jet Set Radio Future does have a few problems, some of which carry over from the original, but it still offers a great gaming experience that every Xbox owner should check out.
Jet Set Radio Future takes place under circumstances similar to those of Jet Grind Radio. The game follows the same basic premise: Tokyo is being overrun by a malevolent corporation run by a nattily dressed businessman who's taken control of the police force. The mighty DJ Professor K is on hand once again to put out the call to rebel against the establishment via his underground radio show, Jet Set Radio. You assume the role of one of the "rudies," a band of Tokyo youths who have grouped into street gangs to take on "the man." To keep Tokyo free from oppression, you'll have to tag and skate your way through a variety of locales throughout the city and take on Gouji's police forces, other rival gangs, and eventually Gouji himself. While the story is similar to Jet Grind's, you'll find enough plot twists to keep things fresh and engaging.
The gameplay in Jet Set Radio Future, much like the story, mixes old and new elements. While the game's core gameplay is unchanged--you'll still get around the streets with magnetically charged skates and collect spray paint cans that you'll use to spray graffiti on your surroundings--some of the mechanics and control have been tweaked. You'll find the same basic control layout as in Jet Grind Radio, but with a few more control options. The left analog stick gives you analog control over your skater's speed. Pressing down on the stick also lets you perform a controlled grind that is useful when tagging. The right analog stick triggers a first-person look mode when you're stationary, and this becomes essential in getting your bearings. The X button lets you perform tricks while skating, while the Y button is also used for tricking but can be used to change your skater's stance and let you skate backward as well. The L trigger is used to recenter the camera behind you and also lets you "lock on" to enemies during battles. The R trigger lets you spray graffiti when you're near tag icons and interact with characters when you see a word balloon appear above their heads. You can also jump and use a speed boost, as well as call up a map of your surroundings.
If you've played Jet Grind Radio, you'll notice several changes to the way the new game handles. Tagging has been simplified to a single press of the R trigger when you're near tagging icons. Holding down the trigger will automatically tag the larger pieces of graffiti made up of multiple icons. The mechanics for dashing have also changed--the basic dash used in Jet Grind Radio has been replaced by the much more potent "boost dash." Essentially a turbo boost that uses up 10 cans of paint, boost dashing can be useful in many situations. Aside from the obvious increase in speed, the boost dash will also serve as an offensive attack that's vital to dealing with Rokkaku forces later in the game.
Jet Set Radio Future also includes a complete trick system that is actually integral to gameplay. Performing tricks will increase your speed when grinding, which is essential for making some of the seemingly impossible jumps you'll have to make. Trick combos are also vital to your success in other ways, as they will often let you reach new areas. For example, going from a handplant to an air trick in a half pipe will let you jump much higher than you normally would, which is the only way you'll ever advance through the sewers. Finally, grinding has become both easier to control and also more over-the-top; you'll be able to grind straight up certain poles and structures in the game. You'll be able to manually adjust your grind speed by pulling back on the analog stick to slow down or by performing tricks to speed up.
There's a lot to learn about how to play Jet Set Radio Future, and you'll gradually become acquainted with the finer points of the game's controls as you progress. You'll learn new moves when you encounter characters, who will challenge you to pull them off. A character is always available to teach you about the various gameplay elements. The game's difficulty and learning curve ramps up gradually at first, though later parts of the game can be very challenging.
The tweaks to the controls in Jet Set Radio Future make it play quite differently from its predecessor. This time around, the emphasis is on fast tagging, speedy skating, and performing impressive tricks. To accommodate that, you're no longer constrained by time in any of the levels, which lets you go through and explore them at your leisure rather than trying to beat the clock. In terms of the game's actual structure, Jet Set Radio Future is less linear than the previous game is overall, but it unfolds in a slightly more conventional fashion, like a platformer. The single-player game is broken up into eight chapters that offer a few variations to the gameplay. In addition to tagging, you'll be exploring levels to acquire "graffiti souls," golden tapes, and new playable characters. You'll also engage in boss battles against other characters, which range from traditional tagging fights to minigame competitions. You'll also be on the prowl for entrances to new levels in the game.