Back to the Future.
Sega and Smilebit hit the streets once again in the follow-up to the excellent Dreamcast title, Jet Grind Radio. This Xbox installment, called Jet Set Radio Future, returns to the streets of Tokyo where the population is being oppressed by a mega-corporation known as the Rokkaku Group. Skater gangs known as "Rudies" have taken to the streets and are covering the streets in graffiti in order to oppose the strict laws set down by the corporate thugs.
Those of you who played Jet Grind might be interested to know that Jet Set Radio Future really isn't a sequel. The story is basically the same as the original, with the skater gang known as the GG's taking center stage against the forces of the evil corporation. This time around, though, a fellow named 'Corn' leads the group and few of the original gang members have undergone name changes.
This doesn't mean that Future is a straight port. The city you'll skate through is different and far larger than the original with plenty of hidden areas to discover. Also, the focus of the game has shifted from an intense battle to tag an area before time runs out to a more laid back challenge to locate all the tagging points.
At first, this setup is a little disappointing. Enemies only pop up in certain spots and are extremely easy to handle. The cool tagging system of Jet Grind has been dumbed down to a simple pull of the trigger. Though it doesn't quite match the original, after playing for a while longer, you'll see that Future can hold its own.
Your main goal is to locate and tag specific spots scattered around the city. From the tallest skyscraper to the lowest depths of the sewers, you'll need to figure out exactly how to get to some very hard to reach places. You'll also need to find the secret cassette tape that opens up that area's Street Challenge. Think of these challenges like the goals in Tony Hawk. You'll need to do things like get a certain number of points, perform a specific trick, or be able to perform a set number of combos.
Future adds a new 'boost' dash to the control. For the mere price of ten paint cans, you'll be able to temporarily activate the jets on your character's skates and haul serious tail. It might seem extraneous, but it's actually essential to reaching some of the tougher tag spots.
Like Jet Grind Radio, Future shows off some of the very best in video game toon textures. There's even some nice heat distortion effects thrown in for good measure. Characters are smooth and the motions are convincing. A good looking game on the Xbox? You don't say.
Backing up the visuals is an extensive jukebox of funky tunes. Covering a wide variety of genres from electronica to underground, Future provides some excellent noise for your earhole. It isn't often that you'll find a video game soundtrack that you'll actually want to listen to.
Another highlight of Future is the cool level design. You'll run through crowded city streets, bustling entertainment districts, and even a rollercoaster park on your quest to leave your colorful mark on the world. Even after completing the game, there's a good chance that you've missed some stuff.
Future also features a Versus mode where you and up to three friends can engage in some multiplayer madness. Five different games make up the Versus mode including Ball Hog, a rollerball-like game where you try to complete laps without losing the ball to your opponents, and Tagger's Tag, where you've actually got to knock out your opponents by spray painting their backs. The games make a nice addition and add some life to the series.
And speaking of life, there's plenty to do after the single player game is done. If you are able to reach all of the tags spots, complete all challenges, and collect all of the 'Graffiti Souls' for an area, then you'll unlock Test Run. Complete the Test Run and you'll unlock another character to use. It doesn't sound like much on paper (or the Internet, for that matter), but 20+ characters to choose from makes for an even better multiplayer experience.
Jet Set Radio Future has a lot of good going for it, but it also has its fair share of problems. The floaty jump that took some of the excitement out of Jet Grind is still here along with the occasional killer camera angle. Also, the game tends to get repetitive when trying to get to some of the harder to reach places. Imagine skating up ten stories, jumping from a pipeline and grinding a long thin telephone wire, only to slip at the last second and plunge all the way back down. I hate it when that happens.
Still, Jet Set Radio Future will provide you with plenty of cel-shaded thrills. It's not as groundbreaking as the original, but it's just about as fun.