Jet Set Radio unfortunately seems to be dead and buried, but Dutch Team Reptile has now taken matters into their own hands and given us a sort of spiritual sequel...
I have many fond memories of Sega's wonderful Dreamcast. In fact, I played it at Petter Hegevall's house for the first time, long before Gamereactor existed. Back then it was mainly Sonic Adventure and Power Stone that were played, but when I look back on the console today, it's actually a title that was considered a commercial flop at the time that is my strongest memory - Jet Set Radio from Japan's Smilebit (probably followed by Soul Calibur and Shenmue). Jet Set Radio was an absolutely brilliant game with a unique visual style, a bombastic soundtrack (I still have several songs in my playlist) and a concept that mixed graffiti painting, gang fights, police chases with awesome moves on inline skates. Sure, it had its problems, but they were far overshadowed by the style and attitude that made it half impossible not to love this unique adventure.
Two years later, Jet Set Radio Future came to Xbox, which was actually even better, but since then we've heard nothing more from this unique game series that - apart from guest appearances in titles like Sega Superstars Tennis - can now be considered both retired and dead. But now some relief has finally been released from Dutch Team Reptile. I'm talking about a veritable love letter to the Smilebit classic that could easily be mistaken for Jet Set Radio 3, namely Bomb Rush Cyberfunk.
The first thing you'll notice is the visual style, which is deceptively similar to the Jet Set Radio titles. Team Reptile nailed everything from the colour palette to the dance animations and the crazy Japanese feel. I would go so far as to call this a spiritual sequel, although Bomb Rush Cyberfunk stands on its own. In addition to the inspiration from Sega's classics, we also find some elements of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and several new features, giving it its own identity.
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The story is, as expected, very over the top and, as it should be, not very self-important, as this is entirely based on gameplay and attitude. You take on the role of the legendary graffiti artist Faux, who during an escape from the police loses his head and has it replaced by an AI robot head. His new robot head is red, so he is now known as Red. But... of course, he wants his own head back and teams up with the graffiti group Bomb Rush Crew. Together they take over the city of New Amsterdam and try to find Faux's missing skull.
One of the key elements of Jet Set Radio was painting graffiti and in particular painting over the tags of rival gangs. This is also represented here and most of the adventure is spent riding skateboards, BMX and of course inlines while I try to build a reputation and attract attention from the city's various graffiti gangs by painting around New Amsterdam. When the other gangs get tired of your shenanigans, you end up in a "Crew Battle", which is a kind of boss fight (unfortunately of mixed quality) where you and your crew have to score more points than your opponent by doing advanced combos that constantly increase your multiplier. Sega's predecessors were fairly challenging titles and this is no exception, so you'll have to try many times before you succeed. Once you do, however, you can take over the area and move on to the next one.
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The environments are well-designed and look like something straight out of Jet Set Radio. There are lots of shortcuts, hidden goodies, places to paint your graffiti and plenty of handrails to slide on. You continuously unlock new graffiti and new outfits, and you can switch between the three members of the Bomb Rush Crew for a more varied gameplay experience. However, sometimes it's the cops rather than other gangs that are your biggest problem, which is the game's weakest link. The combat system as you go up against the long arm of the law is paper thin and occasionally frustrating. Fortunately, it's often possible to just stay out of the way, and the police don't seem to prioritise graffiti as a crime, coming only sporadically.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, Jet Set Radio also had its problems, the biggest of which was a very difficult control scheme (a result of the Dreamcast only having an analogue stick, which made camera handling difficult). It was at times downright provocatively tricky to make even simple jumps and made the game unnecessarily frustrating, which probably helped to hold it back. Thankfully, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is significantly better in this area. It's much easier to control your character and easier to make cool moves, so in short, this offers better gameplay than the original.
I mentioned earlier the graphics, which are almost identical in design to Jet Set Radio right down to the slightly square characters, which is part of the style but also proof that the original is 23 years old. The animations are also excellent and the visual design and attitude here is something I really love. If you were a fan of Jet Set Radio, you will definitely like the Bomb Rush Cyberfunk look.
Now for one of the best details. The soundtrack is created by Hideki Naganuma, none other than the man behind the Jet Set Radio music. Again, there's hip-hop, breakbeat, techno, electro-funk, pop and tracks that blend several of these styles. They all have that distinctive and slightly insistent Jet Set Radio sound, and it's one of the best soundtracks in a long time and is a big part of the game - just as it was in Jet Set Radio. Think about how long it's been since you stood still in a game on every other track just to hear the music. That's how it is here.
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk was created by people who obviously have the same love for Smitebit's quirky classics as I do. It's a huge homage to Jet Set Radio and Jet Set Radio Future, and if you liked those two games, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is a must-have. And if you liked the Jet Set Radio concept but couldn't quite stand its gameplay - then I still think this is for you. Even if you haven't had the chance to try the original, you should immediately check this out for an indirect and entertaining history lesson on one of the weirdest and funniest games from Japan I've ever played.
8 / 10
Great soundtrack, gorgeous design, intuitive game controls, gameplay variety, fun graffiti layout, nice Jet Set Radio homage.
Police fights are often poor, mixed quality of boss fights