Saturday, May 9, 2015

Sega Saturday: A Cult Tribute for Jet Set Radio

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Full disclosure; I'm a huge Sega fan. Hell, I'm a fan of all things video games (I own as many consoles as I possibly can), but my sympathies in recent years has lied with the boys in blue. The Sega Genesis to this day remains one of the best consoles ever. My favorite handheld system wasn't the Game Boy, but the Sega Game Gear growing up. And my favorite console of all time; the Sega Dreamcast, a system with a cool design, a spectacular name (seriously, how great is Dreamcast? It's the Blade Runner of console names) and some revolutionary features for its time. I love Sega, and it pains me to know end that the company has somewhat been forgotten since Sonic ran off a cliff and they stopped making consoles. Come on guys, can you not make another console? The world needs the Dreamcast 2! THE WORLD NEEDS THE DREAMCAST 2!!!

Even Martin Luther King wants the Dreamcast back!
But enough about my hopes and dreams, you're wondering what my point is. Starting on this Saturday, I'm going to start writing columns about my love for Sega, in a series I'd like to call Sega Saturday. Great name right? And for my first Sega related column, I want to do a Cult Tribute on one of my favorite Sega games. This is considered by many these days to be one of the best, most influential games of the last fifteen years, and I tend to agree. So let's not waste time. Put down your Playstation controller, turn off the X-Box One so no one is watching and get that bottle of Pepsi; this is a Cult Tribute to the legendary game, Jet Set Radio. No wait, that's not a good enough intro. Let's try JET SET RADIOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! Much better.

What You Already Know

Jet Set Radio is a Sega Dreamcast game released in 2000. Set in futuristic Tokyo (the best Tokyo in my opinion) where expression is, if not illegal, frowned upon, the story follows an inline skating/graffiti gang called the GG's as they spray paint the city, run from the cops and battle with other gangs. All the while, an American DJ (Professor K) narrates over the airwaves and plays cool music. Basically, it's The Warriors on roller skates. And hey, why not; The Warriors formula is a good one to follow. Plus, imagine Ajax on roller skates. It's a fun image I don't want to let go of.

What You Don't Know

These days in video games, it's not uncommon to see a ton of games using cel-shaded graphics. It's a good idea; cel-shade gives a game a very distinct look, making the graphics look like they're straight out of a comic book. Jet Set Radio is the game that pioneered that look in gaming. While cel-shading had been used as early as 1994 (the long forgotten 3D0 game Doctor Hauzer appears to be the first to use the graphic design), no one had attempted to build a whole world with the look until Jet Set and the Playstation game Fear Effect were released in 2000. Thus, you could say that Jet Set pioneered the cel-shade look and influenced modern day games like Borderlands, Sunset Overdrive and Nintendo's upcoming game Splatoon. Not a bad legacy to have.

Besides that, there's only three other notable facts that aren't known. One, Jet Set Radio actually had a semi-known name involved with the voice work. Actor Billy Brown, who has appeared in such shows like Dexter, Hostages, Sons of Anarchy and How to Get Away With Murder (where he is currently one of the leads) is Professor K. Yes, the guy Viola Davis sleeps with on ABC's new big show is the same guy who screamed "JET SET RADIOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" right before every mission. Let that sink in for a second. Secondly, Jet Set Radio isn't what the game was called here in the United States. Rather, if you buy it, you'll find the game is called Jet Grind Radio, because...I'm still not sure why. Apparently there was some sort of trademark issue, which is only less infuriating than every time Paulie Shore is allowed to do something. Finally, despite Jet Set's critical acclaim and its reputation for creating one of the coolest worlds in video game history, the game didn't sell well upon being released. It's not too surprising given the Dreamcast's struggles overall, but come, seriously? People didn't want this game, but were okay playing The Bouncer? THE BOUNCER?! I'm still not sure what that game was about. Thank goodness that a re-evaluation of the Dreamcast and the strong performance of Jet Set Radio Future (Jet Set's X-Box released sequel) have helped improve the original's reputation over the years. You can legit classify Jet Set as a cult game these days.

Surprise dance party

Best Character

This is a little tougher than usual, seeing as most of the main characters from the GG's and the villainous rival gangs don't have a whole lot of personality. Even still, this ends up being a tie. Obviously, DJ Professor K deserves some mention for being one of the most energetic video game characters I've ever seen. It's as if he drank every bottle of Mountain Dew in the world and then listened to the Conan score until he was the most hyped man to ever live. And yet, right there with him is the games main villain, Captain Onishima. The leader of the local police force, Onishima is the perfect over the top parody of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry. He takes his job way, WAY too seriously, he looks like a cross between Dirty Harry and an Ed, Edd and Eddie character, and the joy of watching him fail to catch you simply never gets old. There's a reason he was one of IGN's 100 best video game villains ever. Thus, I'll allow him and Professor K to share the title here. Unlike the NBA, there can be co-MVP's here.


Jet Set Radio was, and is, revolutionary. I'm talking about on a level of the first Donkey Kong Country, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy's VII and X, Shadows of Colossus and Mario 64. The world Sega and Smilebit (now called Sega Sports R&D) is something that had never been seen before; back in 2000, I imagine those who played Jet Set watched their jaws drop right through the floor like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. It's one of the best worlds ever created, and on top of that features some fun game play and one of the best video game soundtracks. Rock, rap, electronica and pop enthusiasts will be overjoyed playing this game. Is it the best game ever made? No; the character's aren't particularly deep and some of the camera work could've been better. And honestly, it might not be the best game of its series, as Jet Set Radio Future is considered to be a masterpiece in its own right. But even if it's not, Jet Set Radio remains one of my favorite games I've ever played, and certainly has to be a top fifteen game ever and a top three Dreamcast game, along with Sonic Adventure and SHENMUE (which is so good, it must always be capitalized). Play it, play it now!

That's it guys, hope you enjoyed it. I'll be back...soon, perhaps tonight, perhaps tomorrow. You just never know. Till then, have a happy Sega Saturday, have a happy Goku day, check out all the other things written RIGHT HERE, ON PLEASE CHANGE DISKS TO CONTINUE (cheap plug), always make sure you don't go too far with a Digimon marathon, and don't believe Conan O'Brien when he says DUCHOVNY is the Russian word for syphilis. 

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