Jet Set Radio is one of the most widely beloved Dreamcast games of all time. Dig up an online list of someone's favourite Dreamcast titles, and chances are it'll be in the top three. It felt like a real breath of fresh air when it launched back in 2000, and it was one of the first big-budget console games to embrace a cel-shaded visual style. Even today the original game looks like nothing else, but was it a mistake for Sega to add high definition visuals for this re-release, and leave the gameplay completely alone?
It's gibberish. Like almost all relics from the late 1990s and early 2000s, one of the main characters is a street-wise disc jockey. His name's Professor K, and he wants you to skate around the fictional city of Tokyo-to, spray-painting almost everything in sight and avoiding the authorities at the same time. If you don't do this, a rival gang faction will rise to prominence off the back of the graffiti tags that you didn't paint over. Daft doesn't quite cover it.
If there's one major problem with Jet Set Radio in 2012, it's that the gameplay has not aged well. The main structure of each level is all good - you have to paint a few select targets within a relatively loose time frame - but the controls are stiff and inaccurate. By only the second level, you're asked to make a couple of ludicrous precision jumps, but control is so rigid that trying to do anything precisely is a trial-and-error chore. The game still plays like a dream when you're skating freely around the streets of Shibuya-cho, but as soon as you have to start manouevering around rooftops, things turn a bit sour. Making the odd jump between buildings isn't a problem, but as Jet Set Radio progresses, you're forced to bounce between roofs and structures like a mentalist, and one accidental tap of a thumbstick will send you plummeting back to earth.
Long-term fans are going to absolutely love this aspect of it, because visual polish aside, it demonstrates that Sega haven't tinkered with anything. They've treated it like a museum piece, not to be touched. If you're too young to remember the original, you may be surprised by how long it takes you to get to grips with those finicky controls. And if you persevere you willget to grips with them eventually. It just won't happen straight away.
Presentation is solid across the board and the game looks better than ever, despite a few boxy textures here and there. Everything is still as it was; the strange loading screen still features that whirling yellow aerial, the garish colours are still eye-popping, and the soundtrack is still absolutely barmy. Incidentally the soundtrack is pure Marmite, a hectic mix of J-pop and electronica that some people are going to find headache-inducing. But the music is part of the package and - as it did back in the day - it gives the game a really inviting, punkish personality.
There are no major technical issues, although if you peruse your friends list during play, you'll probably notice (as I did) that the audio starts to skip out.
Instead of messing with the fundamentals of it, Sega have merely given Jet Set Radio a breezy new lick of paint, and for the fans who've been clamouring for this re-release for years, that's all that was needed. It's still a good game, and charming as hell, but it's hard not to wish that Sega had given the control mechanics a bit of a makeover too. You'll enjoy it if you're prepared to put the hours in, but this is one for the fans. And if you are a fan, add a couple of points to this review score. At least.