Why did I play this?Why did I play this?

Posted on Aug 28th 2016 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under sega, dreamcast

In the late 1990s, a great push was made by a formerly beloved underdog of video game hardware manufacturing, after bad decisions across a variety of fronts lead to gaming's greatest collapse since the fabled crash of '83. The only player that lost significant ground was Sega, which had always managed to have a bright market in some part of the globe at different points of its history. The Master System's greatest success was in Europe, with the Brazilian market pulling off a surprise punch as well. The Genesis managed to expand the hold to North America, and really tapped into the consumer mainstream, but both consoles lagged behind in Sega's homeland of Japan. All that flipped with the Saturn, when Japan took the spotlight at the expense of everybody else. The Dreamcast was Sega's last gasp, and despite a critically short life, it managed to grab hold of a chunk of North America once again.

Part of the reason for this collapse was the marketing. Sega was poised to grab a chunk of mainstream gamers after pushing their sports games boldly on cable advertisements. This failure in marketing was that it didn't show the true breadth of titles available for the Dreamcast. The commercials showcased more TV friendly and higher quality renderings of Dreamcast game assets, but only really named individual game titles in their commercials. Gone were the sort of list commercials from the Genesis days that showcased both in-game footage, and the actual title of the game on top of it. A prime example of this advertising misstep was with the main character of Jet Grind Radio, Beat. He was spotted in multiple Dreamcast commercials, even getting a solo shot in one, but not once was the name of the game ever dropped. Everything was spliced on top of live footage, and Jet Grind Radio did not get its own commercial to show off anything beyond the style of one character's design in a most inauthentic way.

Jet Grind Radio was originally released as Jet Set Radio. The bright design, cel-shaded look, upbeat soundtrack, and turn-of-the-century style is what happens when a talented development team needs to reset itself after the soul crushing experience that was Panzer Dragoon Saga and Sega Saturn development in general. A lot of the team came from when Team Andromeda was combined with Team Ara to form Smilebit. Jet Set Radio was one of Smilebit's first games, and it was released worldwide in 2000 for the Dreamcast. The original Japanese release was a bit buggy, and in terms of content, lagged behind the international versions. The international release received two brand new levels, "Grind Square" and "Bantam Street," modeled after Times Square and Chicago, and the Japanese eventually got this version as De La Jet Set Radio. Sega had BlitWorks create an HD port of Jet Set Radio that was released on many modern systems, from PC to the Playstation Vita.

The gameplay for Jet Grind Radio was as unique then as it is now, with the focus on moving through the various levels to spray tags throughout them. A couple other game styles were introduced, such as a tag race where you must chase down rival gang members and tag them. Levels done for the story involved extra challenges, such as the police and eventually yakuza chasing you down. The soundtrack is one of the greatest ever created, mixing in the licensed music strategy of games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, while including its own compositions from Hideki Naganuma.

The biggest problem with the original release was the way the camera was controlled. The Dreamcast only has one analog stick, so the camera is best controlled with the left trigger, which locks the camera right behind the player. Modern versions that rely on two stick controls have this problem ironed out, with the second stick allowing for more smooth control of the camera, while retaining the lock feature, which can still be useful for sudden direction changes.

Jet Set Radio was a landmark moment in experimental design, and may show why Sega had the fall from grace they did. The game was well-received at release, but had lukewarm sales numbers, which likely weren't helped by reports of a buggy release in Japan. International gamers that paid attention to the global scale of news back then may have been turned off by that report, even though the version eventually released was fixed and had extra content. None of this affected the North American release, since it was the definitive one in terms of content.

The visual design stands out to this day, and served as one of the leaders of cel-shaded design that permeates the entire industry today. This may just be another example of how cutting edge the Dreamcast as a console was at release, and how the software could match the hardware. The only thing keeping the console back from being a truly modern system was just its lack of a second stick; Sega's arcade culture stuck their head in even though a twin stick controller was already out for Sony's Playstation.

This game is a must own for anybody with a Dreamcast collection, or that has any of the modern systems that can play it. The HD remake is frequently on sale during general Sega sales or during smaller nostalgia oriented sales, so picking up the already cheaper digital release for near a handful of pocket change is no problem. The physical version for Dreamcast is not much more expensive than the digital version thankfully. At regular price, the Steam release is a $8, and used Dreamcast copies are easy to grab between $10-15, so the choice is the reader's.

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I recently picked this up on Vita, I'll have to give it a go in the near future!
@Link41: The Vita version is a lot of fun, and the best part is that you can take it on the go!
Excellent choice! I highly recommend the sequel to anyone interested even remotely in JSR, as it is much more playable. Overall, it's a really unique experience, and a good showcase of the breadth of possible games we could have gotten with a successful Dreamcast.
Good write-up.  I have Jet Grind Radio, and enjoyed the initial experience with it, but haven't quite warmed up to it.  I might need to revisit it...

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