Sadly, the Jet Set Radio series fades further into obscurity with each passing year. The original Dreamcast release came out way back in 1999, and while a PC port of the original silently slipped onto Steam 10 years ago, the sequel, Jet Set Radio: Future, has yet to see the light of day on modern platforms.
But even if you don’t have fond memories of rocking out to that pumping soundtrack as you blaze past armies of marching cops, you’ve definitely seen and heard the original game’s influence.
You’ll recognize its cel-shaded graphical style in countless classics like Okami, No More Heroes, and Katamari Damacy, and even in blockbusters like Tears of the Kingdom; composer Hideki Naganuma’s efforts are considered to have had a huge influence on the intermixed modern EDM music genres we listen to today.
Most notably, the series is emblematic of the creative spark SEGA was known for during the era that marked their Swan song console—a fleeting moment in time that, I’d argue, we haven’t seen replicated since.
Those who would contend there’s been a resurgence, though, would undoubtedly look to the indie scene, and it is indeed in this area of the industry that we have finally seen Jet Set Radio revitalized in the form of Bomb Rush Cyberfunk.
Obvious in its attempts to become the beloved series’ spiritual successor—and even bringing Naganuma himself on board for the music—Team Reptile hopes to deliver a heavy dose of sweet nostalgia. But what does a modern Jet Set Radio title look like? And is this sort of revival truly what fans are looking for? Here’s the PC review.
Tagging and ZigZagging like It’s 1999
Upon seeing footage of this game, any SEGA fan is sure to be pleasantly transported back to 1999—and in a more obtuse way than other remakes accomplish.
This is, through and through, a like-for-like rendering of each element that formed the fabric of Jet Set Radio, and as our culture embraces minimalism today, it’s fun to once again bask in exaggerated styling and forthright manifestations of the term “cool”—in the same way that there’s a certain je ne sais quoi in Limp Bizkit’s latest album or in the strange bliss found in listening to the melancholy dissonance of Vapour Wave music.
Rather than Tokyo-To, this time we’re skating around New Amsterdam, which is a carbon copy in the best way. The five sprawling districts have been lovingly sculpted as an urban sprawl ripe for tagging and grinding in; afoot the sun-soaked, cel-shaded metropolis that begged to be explored, as the delectably smooth lo-fi minor chords rang in my ears, I could only commend Team Reptile for recapturing an aesthetic so fondly remembered.
That feeling comes once you’re let loose on the streets, though, and you’re not thrown in from the get-go.
Jet Set Radio set the scene stylishly and succinctly with narrations from a madcap DJ called Professor K, but there’s no such introduction here. Dialogue is delivered via grunts and textboxes, and we’re quickly introduced to the main controls which are followed by an awkward fight scene.
I’d not normally mention the tutorial segment of a game, but it’s relevant here in that it sadly showcases inclusions I’m certain I didn’t want in a Jet Set Radio successor. The combat is a floaty mess, and it feels like a classic example of tacking on a new mechanic to a gameplay style built for something else.
You can now swiftly hop off your skates to fight on foot, but it just feels totally redundant. It’s akin to those awkward minigames in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater that force you to do something other than skate, and here too, it’s a classic example of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Ironically, the game aligns itself with that idiom in virtually all other aspects, both to its success and detriment.
Tried & True
The objective is the same as it always has been: skate about the city spraying graffiti over the walls to claim the territory as your own, all while avoiding the ever-increasing efforts of the police to thwart your efforts.
As well as the classic option of jet-powered in-line skates, you’ll also get access to a skateboard or a bike, all three of which work pretty much the same.
The inclusion is nonetheless appreciated, and there have been a few other notable small changes to the way things work: you can no longer run out of spray cans; you’ve now got an interactive map (something that wasn’t a thing back in the original game’s heyday); and gone are the quite awkward analog stick acrobatics used to spray your art in favor of a more modernized, streamlined version. You can even do a ground slide now.
These are all good changes, the sorts you’d expect from an official sequel, and naturally, I had a lot of fun playing what is essentially just more Jet Set Radio. The city of New Amsterdam proved just as fun to grind about in as Tokyo-To was back in the day, and the game retains the addictive essence that made the flow-state of the original so appealing.
It’s clear that the developers have gone to great lengths to study the source material; they’ve truly taken the very best aspects of the levels in both Jet Set Radio and Jet Set Radio: Future to deliver a skater’s heaven. I imagine that it’s hard enough to build a functional and visually appealing game world as it is, let alone to create something arguably superior to its inspiration and with the degree of intractability that’s on offer here.
They may have stuck solidly to the blue print with the game world, but this is still a very visually and functionally impressive environment.
It was also still as fun as ever outrunning the cops, and for the most part, I found I could just ignore the more sluggish combat segments in favor of dexterous evasion. To this end, the controls themselves also feel much improved, as when replaying the Steam version of Jet Set Radio, this was the only aspect I felt had aged poorly.
A mid-air boost has also been added to your arsenal, which goes a surprisingly long way in satisfyingly connecting your acrobatics, and I appreciated how the devs have tucked away plenty of side activities to practice your skills and to push you to explore. The world certainly feels more lived in than the backdrop of the original, too: rather than stand mostly motionless as you laughably juxtapose their rigid frames, NPCs hang about the city on their phones, drinking coffee, or chatting.
Of course, a huge selling point of this game—as was the case with the original—is the music, and more so than in anything other than rhythm games, this is a major selling point. Hideki Naganuma’s style has managed to stay relevant for his entire career, mainly because it can’t be boxed neatly into any genre and so never becomes dated.
His music, along with a huge array of other talented artist’s tracks, forms one of the best video game soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time, and with its energetic mix of hip-hop, dubstep, lo-fi jazz, Vapour Ware, Break Beat, and everything in between, I found myself getting lost in what was a glorious assault on the senses. Those colors and that music is as potent a mixture as ever.
The Imitation Game
As I briefly alluded to earlier, Jet Set Radio was decidedly light in the story department. The narrative essentially boiled down to Gangs vs. Cops in a bid to control the streets, and where each character was brilliantly designed from an artistic sense, they were as hollow as they came. The series was very much “style over substance,” but in a good way—a simple premise emboldened by a never-before-seen creative flair.
I’ve already glossed over Bomb Rush Cyberfunk’s combat as a lackluster inclusion best ignored, and unfortunately, its story doesn’t impress either. Our protagonist, Red, is billed as some sort of legend on the streets, and while his path to discovering his past is at first moderately intriguing, his arc peters out to a flat disappointment.
It feels like it could’ve been an interesting identity story, but it just never reaches beyond a basic exploration. Any mysteries that are set up are anti-climactic; character motivations feel half-baked; the villains are unimpactful and at odds with the world they’re written to be a part of.
At the end of the day, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is everything we had in the first two games, with a few new controls and an attempt at a proper story, and if the latter doesn’t deliver, it’s difficult to meaningfully distinguish it from its predecessors. I enjoyed darting about the game’s levels, but I found myself asking an inevitable question: “Is this what I’d want from a true Jet Set Radio sequel?”. The answer I came to was that if SEGA had made this, I’d be disappointed.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and while I mostly can’t fault Team Reptile’s efforts to make a love letter refresh of SEGA’s seminal title, it just doesn’t do enough to woo the player beyond being more of the same. The music is excellent, and the levels are very well designed, but I found it difficult to get excited about once I got through the first couple of hours.
Then again, I’m viewing this as a fan of the original series. With the urban style of the late 90s and early 2000s being one of the most popular themes in all areas of artistic expression in 2023, I have no doubt that the game would feel heaps fresher for modern audiences.
The Verdict: 7/10
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is a difficult game to place. While in many ways it’s surely more difficult to develop a wholly new idea, to double down on an old one might be even harder. I imagine Team Reptile’s idea started as an earnest spark to deliver the third game for a franchise fans never got from the original developers, yet to replicate the pure lightning that was that game, at that time, and on that system, is a borderline impossible task.
I’m reminded of when Yu Suzuki stepped on stage to announce the return of Shenmue — easily one of my favorite series of all time. Once I’d gotten over the pure rapture of such a thing happening, doubt set in. “How would Shenmue, a game that practically birthed the open-world genre, compete with open-world games today?”, I thought.
While I was optimistic pre-launch and content as I played it, I realized that what kept me happy was the drug of nostalgia; on reflection, all the parts were there, but something was missing.
Bomb Rush isn’t quite the same, but its rickety boards lay on the same foundations. I had fun jet-skating around New Amsterdam, no doubt, but looking back to the stunning innovations of the game that inspired it, an imitation as such just doesn’t excite me.
- Superb Cel-shaded visuals with a stunning sun-set color pallet
- Greatly improved movement compared to the games that inspired it
- Impressively creative environments
- An incredible soundtrack
- A weak story with poor character arcs
- Floaty and tedious combat
- Doesn’t present anything notably fresh to an old formula
Closest Alternatives to Bomb Rush and Cyberfunk
Other than Jet Set Radio and Jet Set Radio: Future, here are some other similar games you might want to check out if you’re interested in this one.
- Sunset Overdrive
- Mirrors Edge and Mirrors Edge: Catalyst
- Olli Olli World
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2
- Sludge Life
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Should I play either of the Jet Set Radio games before I play Bomb Rush Cyberfunk?
Answer: Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is only influenced by Jet Set Radio; it’s not in any way affiliated. As such, Jet Set Radio is not at all a prerequisite.
Question: Has SEGA said anything about an official Jet Set Radio sequel?
Answer: Surprisingly, there was some evidence in April that SEGA was indeed rebooting the Jet Set Radio series. A reel was leaked showing footage of several SEGA titles that were purportedly in development; a quick flash of a redesigned version of one of the protagonists was shown, but we haven’t heard anything since. Nevertheless, it’s the closest we seem to have come in years to the possibility, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
Question: I don’t have a particularly up-to-date PC, but my system meets the requirements. Is it likely I’ll experience any issues?
Answer: So long as you meet the requirements, you should be fine. The game reportedly runs very well on the Nintendo Switch, which is significantly dated hardware at this point. It’s a great-looking game, but it’s not particularly power-hungry.
Linden blazed through the streets of New Amsterdam for twelve hours—enough to get through the main story and play a good selection of side activities.
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