In August 2003 I spent a week house-sitting for my sister and took my brother's Dreamcast along for company. Then four years old, the Dreamcast was already considered a retro gaming relic - my brother bought his from a guy at uni who wanted to upgrade to a PS2. This was a common trend; My friend JAM (now responsible for all the technical underpinnings of this very site) was deep into a period of buying up 'vintage' Dreamcast gubbins on eBay, taking advantage of the low prices while everyone sold off their kit. I went round to his house to skim the cream from the top of his collection, and I came away with Jet Set Radio.
Jet Set Radio is a game in which groups of teenagers skate around Tokyo on motorised rollerblades and spray graffiti on things. It's best known for its new-at-the-time cel-shaded visual design, and can't-help-but-dance soundtrack composed mostly by Hideki Naganuma. It's less well known for its dynamic QTEs and and custom graffiti tool, although these are two features that have certainly stuck in our collective memories here at Midnight Resistance - a long time ago, on a podcast far, far away, our Sean Bell once remarked that Sega's online policies for the Dreamcast were better than anything we have today, since you could import any image into JSR's graffiti editor just by entering a URL. Think about that, next time you go to purchase a new avatar icon on Xbox Live.
But Jet Set Radio isn't just a game about rolling around and painting cocks on billboards. It's also a hypnotic portal into another world; a gaping neon void that drags you into an unfathomable dimension created in the dreams of mid-to-late-90's Shibuya teens. It changes you. By far my closest personal experience of Tetris Syndrome lies in the way that Jet Set Radio has permanently rewired my brain to read urban landscapes according their potential for sick grind loops. Every time I go to GDC I am forced to walk through Yerba Buena gardens, and its curving slopes and tangled railings make my legs feel slow and leaden.
It is also still a game about rolling around and painting cocks on billboards, however. 8/10.
Jet Set Radio is one of those quintessential Dreamcast titles that everyone loved and nobody bought. There's an HD remake out now for Xbox Live, PSN and PC, and it's definitely worth a fiver at least - a wonderful example of Sega's bright, cheerful, blue-skied game design DNA, developed at a time when games and consoles were taking their first experimental steps into rich 3D worlds and online connectivity (ie. THE DREAMCAST ERA). There are some little things that I don't enjoy (like the tedious 'chase and tag the rival gang' levels) but as overall game experiences go, there are still very few things like it - childish and fun, but also quite sumptuous.
I would also reccomend patting down eBay for its sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, which came out for the Xbox a few years later (along with many other Dreamcast franchises - I've always suspected Peter Moore was responsible for turning the Xbox into an unofficial 'Dreamcast 2') and runs more-or-less perfectly on the Xbox 360. JSRF addresses many of the issues I have with the original, develops the skating mechanics to include a bit of Tony Hawks style trick-scoring, and includes a really incredibly lovely stage design that links all the different levels together into an explorable city, but it also takes place in a darker world filled with much more aggressive character designs.
The subtle differences between Jet Set Radio and Jet Set Radio Future characterise the cultural and demographic shifts that took place within within the games industry at the end of the Willennium, away from the unashamed innocence of Sonic the Hedgehog and towards the cynical machismo of games like Halo and Grand Theft Auto III. Caught behind the times, the Dreamcast was crushed between the Xbox and the PS2, and publishers began to aggressively target older audiences who wanted something a bit more 'adult'.
That's the Dreamcast in a nutshell: Hardware that was years ahead of its time, pushing lots of exciting new game ideas, but failing to move with the market. I think today's videogame scene would be much more interesting if Nintendo weren't the only people making games that aren't embarassed by fun, but then I'm the kind of tedious dickhead who enjoys Suda 51 games - I'm sure there wouldn't be nearly so many people making games today without your figurehead Call of Dutys or Grand Theft Autos shifting all those millions of consoles. We shouldn't consider changes like these to be 'good' or 'bad', but as part of the endless, inevitable process of change.
We are all getting older. We are all sliding inexorably towards the grave.
[Midnight Resistance does not condone the real life act of vandalism in any form.]