Forum > Blogs > Greatest Video Games of All-Time (IMO) - #08
Greatest Video Games of All-Time (IMO) - #08
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Sun, 29 Jan 2017 22:37:47
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08| Jet Set Radio

Released: October 30th, 2000

Definitive Version: PC; Also on: Xbox 360, PS3, PSVita, DC

If there was a single game I'd show someone to summarize Sega during their twilight days of a powerhouse, it would be Jet Set Radio. I would feel wrong to begin detailing the game before I started to explain Sega at the time first. As virtually every gamer knows, during the 1980s Nintendo was the undisputed king of the console market. The NES had a virtual monopoly in North America. Then comes along Sega, a company mostly known for its cutting edge and fun arcade games. Sega released a series of consoles worldwide and none of them gained too much traction until their 16-bit Mega Drive, which was moderately successful in Japan and Europe, but wildly successful in North America. The system garnered a huge following due to it's more "adult" and "big kid" centric marketing and library filled with pro-athletes, ninjas, and  'tude characters. Shockingly, Sega's follow up system was a dud in everywhere in the world but Japan where it saw some success. Despite having THE flagship 3D game series with Virtua Fighter, the company wasn't really sure just how to approach 3D gaming. And with their follow-up system, the Sega Saturn, bombing almost everywhere and the arcades declining as a business the company was in a sink or swim situation. As a result, it threw out a lot of Hail Mary's in order to save the company. Most of these faciliated in their next, and unfortunately last, gaming console, the Sega Dreamcast. Featuring funky controls, memory cards with a screen and minigames on them, and online gameplay it truly was a system way ahead of its time. But what most people remember about the Dreamcast was it's unique titles.

Sega went out with a bang by creating games that nobody else really ventured in before. Shenmue is an obvious example as Sega combined free roaming map gameplay with a cinematic story, deep combat system, and pretty much something from every genre one can think of. Skies of Arcade was the first JRPG to really go all out in 3D as the maps were fully 3D models with no pre-rendered backgrounds in sight. Rez was a unique looking and playing arcade shooter similar to Panzer Dragoon. Phantasy Star Online brought MMOs to the console space. Sometimes they'd just throw shit at the wall, like they did with Typing of the Dead, which is a House of the Dead game...but where you type to kill the zombies with a keyboard.

Out of all the games though, perhaps the most beloved and well known one is Jet Set Radio. This hyper stylistic game focuses on players traversing the streets of Tokyo with inline skates as they have a mission in tagging everything and at times everyone with graffiti before the time runs out. It's a very arcadey and Sega-like approach to the then popular skateboarding genre. It was both cool, daring, addicting, and most of all fun. It encompassed everything Sega was at the time.

Now one could think that the game is essentially a Tony Hawk clone, but only with a inline skates and the ability to use graffiti. This is a bit wrong. For starters, Jet Set Radio's challenge doesn't come from doing tricks in the manner of how many buttons one can press before they hit the ground, but more so how the characters play with the environment. To rack up the score it's best for one to do a wall jump, then land on the rail, land on a car, do another wall jump, and land. As opposite to Tony Hawk which one just has to find a ramp and just constantly spam the two trick buttons. Jet Set Radio also requires a lot of skill to play. Grinding in the game is pretty difficult as one has to get the right angle and speed to do so. Setting up the tricks and just as, if not more difficult than doing the tricks themselves. The game is made to want you to go through the streets very fast and elegantly in order to tag your markers as quick as possible. In fact, it is a bit dishonest to call the game an "extreme sports" title. It's more akin to a platformer. The goal is to reach areas by hopping around and playing with the environment before the timer runs out. The title is arguable more similar to Super Mario 64 than it is to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. And like Super Mario 64, one can play the game for quite some time just moving around through the area and playing with the environment. The game feels so good to just play.

Despite the title's top notch gameplay, what most people remember the game for is how stylish it is. The game was one of the first, if not the first, to use cel-shaded graphics. This graphical style isn't too uncommon today, as almost anything that's supposed to emulate traditional cartoon uses this style. But back at the turn of the millennium, this style was never seen before. Playing the game was like being inside a living breathing cartoon world. And the atmosphere and setting of the game complemented that perfectly. The entire game is like a very upbeat comic book. Sort of like a "cool kids " version of Scott Pilgrim. The setting of the game is about various "gangs", more misfits than anything, having beef due to one thing or another. These differences are often resolved by graffiting their turf or something similar. So if you are expecting something more dark and, let's face it, realistic like Grand Theft Auto, you're playing the wrong type of game.

The title also has an incredible soundtrack. Using some of the "hippest" and "funkiest" music at the time, Jet Set Radio likely has the best use of licensed music in gaming to this day. It truly brings the world to life and makes you feel like you are a teenager again, but this time you are part of the "cool clique". The atmosphere the music creates when combined with the rest of the game is most similar to The World Ends With You. It just nails the feeling of being a cool rebellious teenager.

Unfortunately this game never really got it's due. It was initially released on the ill fated Dreamcast. It then received a pseudo-sequel called Jet Set Radio Future for the Xbox. The problem was, like most Sega titles on the system, is that it didn't really gel well with the userbase that was focused on the dark, gritty, and realistic type of games. There was third title that was pitched for the Wii, but it never came to fruition. The original title did get a Steam re-release which sold very well...but apparently Sega still isn't interested in making another title or even porting over the second game.

Today with gaming being so stale, it seems that late era Sega is needed more than ever. True, Nintendo is filling that gap to a degree, but they mostly take the weirdness too far at times. Usually relying on strange, or even appalling, control schemes as a way to keep a series fresh. Sega managed to create fresh games that used entirely new concepts consistently, all while having the titles focused on the devoted gamer. Unfortunately this arguable led to the companies downfall. The Dreamcast's biggest problem was that outside few titles like Resident Evil: Code Veronica and Sonic, it didn't really have any games that really appealed to the mainstream gamer. Even when Sega went third party, they still had this issue as nearly every game they released that wasn't a Sonic title underperformed. So one can look at Jet Set Radio as a title that represents a period. A period of gaming where developers were much more willing to take risks, experiment, and just create fun games.

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Tue, 31 Jan 2017 10:03:30
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Good write up.

I agree with pretty much everything. It really is a game you can look at and say "This was what made SEGA a special company". They had a great ability to take thing's that most developers would maybe not try, or if they did it would be missing something to make it kick...and SEGA would make the concept shine with a certain flair that you could only say feels like a SEGA game.

You're right too, though, that SEGA maybe relied too much on bizarre concepts. Especially on the Saturn and Dreamcast...they lost the ability to appeal to the typical gamer. While Nintendo and Sony were getting huge, exclusive titles like Goldeneye or Final Fantasy or Zelda or Metal Gear, SEGA was focused on just making stuff that the average person would look at and say "what the fuck?" Ouside of Sonic and their sports line, anyway.

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Tue, 31 Jan 2017 10:14:59
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I own this game on Steam.  One day, I might even get around to playing it.

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Tue, 31 Jan 2017 15:04:19
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I loved this game, but strangely didn't buy the sequel.

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Tue, 31 Jan 2017 15:36:41
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edgecrusher said:

Good write up.

I agree with pretty much everything. It really is a game you can look at and say "This was what made SEGA a special company". They had a great ability to take thing's that most developers would maybe not try, or if they did it would be missing something to make it kick...and SEGA would make the concept shine with a certain flair that you could only say feels like a SEGA game.

You're right too, though, that SEGA maybe relied too much on bizarre concepts. Especially on the Saturn and Dreamcast...they lost the ability to appeal to the typical gamer. While Nintendo and Sony were getting huge, exclusive titles like Goldeneye or Final Fantasy or Zelda or Metal Gear, SEGA was focused on just making stuff that the average person would look at and say "what the fuck?" Ouside of Sonic and their sports line, anyway.

Pretty much. The Saturn didn't launch with Sonic and had a very weak sports lineup. Sega corrected that with the Dreamcast with Sonic at launch and purchasing Visual Concepts for the 2K series. Unfortunately, that's all they did. I feel that Nintendo is very similar in some regard as they just focus on making "out there" games. The difference is that unlike Sega who used new IPs for these concepts, Nintendo relies overwhelmingly on established IPs. However, this might be changing with games like Splatoon and Arms, which by the way feel very "Dreamcasty".

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Fri, 03 Feb 2017 16:16:19
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Nintendo could go full experimental like Sega did with dreamcast. But with new things there is a risk of failure. They need balance. Codename Steam tanked for instance.

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Sat, 04 Feb 2017 05:49:00
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Codename Steam tanked because the art style and atmosphere was horrible. The actual gameplay of Codename Steam was actually the least risky thing Nintendo did.

Make 3D version of their highly successful tactical strategy games.

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