For years, we’ve been anticipating a classic console resurgence on iOS, led by that old standard-bearer, Sega. Even though you can’t buy a Dreamcast outside of Ebay or Amazon, our hope is that Dreamcast games like Jet Set Radio can find new life on Apple’s devices. However, this graffiti-spraying extreme sports game is out of control in more ways than one.
First of all, there’s nearly nothing wrong at all with Jet Set Radio’s graphics, concept, or style. The game shines on a Retina-powered device, with cel-shaded hipsters who inhabit a cartoon version of Tokyo. Occasionally a piece of scenery will pop into existence a few feet from your face, but overall, these 12-year old graphics look remarkable.
Your goal in Jet Set Radio is to tag spots in the city with your gang’s logo while avoiding the cops, who respond with absurd overreaction to your vandalism, using tear gas and attack helicopters. The more spots you tag, the more difficult it becomes to skate around freely. On top of this, the entire game bursts with cool music, logos, and menus.
Ideal skating terrain.
But when you strap on your skates, the game falls apart. The controls consist of a giant analog stick on the left side of the screen, which you can’t reposition or render invisible, and four giant buttons on the right that also get in the way. While skating in a straight line might have once been effortless using a Dreamcast controller, these grafted-on controls are wobbly and unpredictable, causing your skater to constantly miss easy jumps or face-plant right into traffic.
Getting around town with sketchy controls is no fun at all. It’s bad enough when you have to skate in a straight line and maybe hit a grind or two, but later levels separate each section with balancing beams and narrow rails. In each level, you’re given a generous time limit and a large number of required spray-painting spots, so you’ll have to learn each level inside and out. With these awful controls, that’s a frustrating proposition.
Share the road.
Crazy Taxi, Sega’s last Dreamcast-to-iOS port, didn’t suffer from this problem. That game offered tilt controls, and was a bit more forgiving in terms of precision, but Jet Set Radio desperately needs to be optimized for the touchscreen. Your characters often won’t skate straight, their turns are wide and loopy, they can’t stop on a dime, and they won’t catch rails like you’d expect. It ruins the entire experience.
Somewhere under this slapped-together control scheme, we’re certain, is a classic console game just waiting to get out. We enjoyed the custom graffiti option, which lets you create your own in-game tags, and characters like the competing gangs, over-the-top pirate radio DJ, and crazed anti-graffiti police chief are hilarious and entertaining. But if you’re not watching a cutscene or navigating a menu, you’re usually fighting with the game’s terrible controls. Even the main menu confusingly switches between taps and swipes for navigation.
Take that, public transportation!
Jet Set Radio still has potential to be an iOS classic the way it was on Dreamcast, but not without a major overhaul. We’d recommend the developers create alternate control schemes that simplify the movement controls, drop them off-screen, and make the characters interact better with their environment. It’s impossible to look stylish when you keep tripping over your own skates.