I've been playing some of my old games recently, handling scratched and aging discs with great care. What I've found is that, for me at least, the best games to revisit years after they first came out tend to be those with the unique art style known as cel-shading. This look is sometimes referred to as toon-shading because of the flat, high-contrast colours which are employed along with black outlines around characters and objects, giving everything the appearance of a cartoon. As I remember it, cel-shaded games burst into the public consciousness with Jet Set Radio all the way back in 2000. At the time it was so jolting, so attention-grabbing, it felt like it might be a gimmick - but it doesn't feel like that anymore. In fact, cel-shading now seems to have a rather timeless quality to it.
I might never have got into the stranger's taxi if it weren't for video games. It was September and, earlier that evening, I'd met a journalist friend who lives in Japan for a catch-up drink. He took me to a themed Irish pub just off Shibuya crossing, the sort of establishment you'd never darken in Spain, but which, when transported to Tokyo, is transformed from blight to curio. The place didn't disappoint. Everything was slightly off: We drank pints of Guinness, each one laced with a shot of red wine. American sports blared on the overhead TVs. Most implausibly of all, one tidy queue trailed up to the bar: Dublin through a glass darkly. We caught up. Finally, we said goodnight. It was still early, the Autumn air muggy and electric. I muffled my ears with headphones and began to walk around Shibuya. And then I met Brad.
Given Sunset Overdrive's obvious debt to Jet Set Radio and its role as a key Xbox One exclusive, where better to go for this weekend's archive piece? This retrospective was originally published in September 2012.
Smilebit Publisher Sega Jet Set Radioooo! Over a year ago now, at the height of the Dreamcast scene, Smilebit and Sega released a little-known anime-esque skating game using a new graphical technique called 'cel-shading'. With a heavy emphasis on funk, tricks and graffiti, Jet Set Radio (or Jet Grind Radio as it was known in the States) achieved a cult following and, amongst other things, inspired a hundred-million different takes on cel-shading, some of which have been more disappointing than others. Next Generation Cels Whether we hold cel-shading against the little blighter or not, it can't be denied that Smilebit is one of the few companies doing interesting things with the technique. One look at Jet Set Radio Future tells you that. Apart from cleaning and sharpening the whole game up for the Xbox, Smilebit have added some clever visual trickery including motion blur, which comes into play when you dart off in any direction at high speed. As you move faster and faster, a small trace sidles along an inch behind you. It's one of the neatest effects this writer has ever seen and makes JSRF even more anime-esque in its presentation. Thanks to the Xbox's sterling hardware setup, JSRF croons along without so much as a jolt. Unlike the Dreamcast, the Xbox can give us a fully cel-shaded JSR with motion blur and not a whiff of slowdown. Although the demo version we witnessed on the recent Microsoft Xperience tour was a little worse for wear, we were encouraged to learn that this was somewhat anomalous, with many other Xperience-goers in other parts of the country commenting on the sheer smoothness of the game. As the name suggests, Jet Set Radio Future is set after the original game in 2024. The setting is still Tokyoto - the demo version of the game featured an enhanced version of the original Tokyoto station level - and the various characters have all been given a futuristic tweak. Beat looks like something out of the Jetsons, and we can't wait to see what Smilebit have in store for the other crews. Obviously animation has been improved, and coupled with the new visual tweaks we were utterly floored by some of the JSRF footage we saw recently. This is going to be a very pretty game. Old Dog, New Tricks Far from a one-trick pony, Smilebit has plenty of ideas up its sleeve, but it's playing its cards close to its chest. We know for instance that the game will feature a much larger and more varied selection of levels, but we have no idea of their whereabouts or the game's eventual storyline. We can only guess it will be along the same lines, and of course we can't wait to hear it all from the smooth-talking DJ Professor K, Tokyoto's number one buccaneer. Something even we noticed with our battered terminal at Xperience was the speed increase. Beat and his chums move around the city at a rate of knots that makes JSR look positively pedestrian. As you can see from the screenshots, Smilebit has made the small addition of a speed bar in the bottom right. We're not sure of their reasoning, but presumably reaching your maximum speed has some bearing on the rest of the game. In terms of the control system, we've always been sceptical of the worth of Microsoft's fat-ass controller, and with JSRF tight control is crucial, so we'll be watching out for that especially. The Dreamcast controller was poorly suited to JSR at times, and the Microsoft beast has quite a lot in common with it, but infuriatingly we'll have to wait and see. The demo didn't even include spray elements, so it was difficult to establish how well the final result will control. It's... Tricky? One thing the demo did convey was the increase in grinding. Now, there was a hell of a lot of grinding to be done in Jet Set Radio. Future, for its part, seems keen on having you slide every which-way the whole city over. The new station level allowed us to grind on everything from parked vehicles to what looked like electricity wires. Crazy. Another addition is the much-vaunted multiplayer functionality. Smilebit have yet to confirm exactly how this will work, but it won't be as blasé as the Dreamcast's 'online options', which amounted to zero gameplay and a few stats. Smilebit has plans for a multiplayer mode that will utilize the Xbox's full range of features, and I for one expect to be Jet Setting myself across the face of some hapless e-sproglet every night of the week for months after the game's release. Assuming the end result merits all this hyperbole… At the moment, we don't know much about the soundtrack, but broadly speaking we can expect more of the same with a few of the more exciting tracks brought forward from the original. 90% of Jet Set Radio's impact was the kicking soundtrack, and we fully expect the sequel to blow us away when it arrives with the Xbox on March 14th. In the meantime, I think I might just pop across the hall and see if the Dreamcast is, er, alright. Scram! - Jet Set Radio Future screenshots Xperience Ménage à Troi