NYR: Jet Set Radio HD & Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram

Jet Set Radio

Before I move on to the meat of these reviews I want to share a little bit of dialogue that took place while browsing through a game store’s selection (I was looking for a component cable and just happened to be looking at the PC games).

‘If you really cared about me you’d buy me this game,’ I said, picking up a copy of Chivalry.

‘What? No. It’s totally breaking your New Year’s Resolution.’

‘No it wouldn’t; if you bought it for me it wouldn’t count.’

‘But it would be with your money.’

‘What if you got me this collector’s edition of The Binding of Isaac?’

‘That thing is so cute.’

‘So, how about it?’

‘What? No!’

‘Damn it, I am not pushing over a child and stealing its sled for you; ever.’

My attempts to find ways around my New Year’s Resolution – acquiring no new games until I have reduced my backlog of unfinished titles to under one hundred – have not been successful so far… so here are my reviews of Jet Set Radio HD and Virtual-On.

SEGA have made some odd choices over the years with what they have chosen to revisit from their back catalogue. For every Toejam & Earl, Sonic Adventure and Streets of Rage 2, they have released a Sonic Fighters, Virtua Fighter 2 (not a bad choice but with Virtua Fighter 5 available on the same service it is pointless) and, well, Sonic Adventure 2.

Regardless, in the former camp (with caveats) you can find Jet Set Radio HD and Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram. Given my penchant for Dreamcast games I would rate both of these as minor classics. Prior to re-release both have been given a good lick of paint.

This is especially true of Jet Set Radio which looks just like I misremember it. By which I mean that it looks like my rose-tinted view of the original. Virtual-On also benefits from a sped-up play and a tightening up of its visuals, both improvements that its simplistic polygons support in a way that, say, Fighting Vipers 2 doesn’t.

They basically look really good and as a result appear to have barely aged. They are evocative of SEGA’s golden age when the Dreamcast was generating a ton of top-notch first party content that was accessible, colourful and brimming with hope and enthusiasm.

Unfortunately although Jet Set Radio shines aesthetically it suffers from not being as refined in other areas, namely its controls and level design. It was sold as an extreme sports game in the vein of Tony Hawks but in retrospect it has more in common with a platformer that features janky input.

Some effort has been put toward tweaking how the game plays now that a second stick is available to rotate the camera. Some frustration is curtailed by this but it cannot help the fact that levels are prone to tight, claustrophobic corridors that cause the point of view to judder uncontrollably. Between these narrow vignettes and the game requiring pinpoint accuracy with its button presses there are moments where the game is plain awful to play.

JSR - Cube 03

This is a case of the game’s building blocks not being up to the task: some levels simply don’t flow well and some boss battles are downright awful. I was shocked when I reached the first Poison Jam fight. It requires you to chase three street thugs around a series of walkways and tag each thug with spray paint. These skaters navigate the level with super-human precision impossible for all but the most OCD to emulate. I resorted to waiting at checkpoints for them to show up, tagging them and then waiting for them to come back around again.

Virtual-On fares much better in the gameplay department as it was originally intended to be played with twin sticks and that is something that the 360 controller can accommodate, whereas the Dreamcast required some patience or an expensive peripheral import. The game’s robot arena combat is fast; almost impossibly fast. Each fight is a one-on-one battle with combat flitting between long range missile barrages and close range sword attacks. Each encounter plays differently as every opponent features a different load-out, pattern and weakness.

It’s a great arcade conversion and anyone who is a fan of the series is in for a treat. A problem lies with its arcade roots, however: entry level players are not going to derive much enjoyment out of the forty minutes it takes to beat the game. Learning higher-level play simply won’t appeal to all but the most dedicated and most of those are already playing online, ensuring newcomers dread player-versus-player combat. There is not much in-game support available beyond the How To Play screens and to really appreciate the deeper tactics you’ll need to check out Youtube videos (so long as SEGA doesn’t send cease and desist emails to get the ‘offending’ articles removed). No, many will play this title on easy and then discard it.

We should be okay as this isn't Shining Force

We should be okay as this isn’t Shining Force.

A better current generation alternative is Wartech: Senko no Ronde. A top-down mech battler from G.Rev, another Dreamcast Alumni, it offers a more substantial campaign and a deeper explanation of its intricacies. On top of that you can probably pick up Wartech, a disc title, for the same price as Virtual-On.

It is with a heavy heart that I put both titles down. They are almost perfect updates within the constraints of their original frameworks. There is still a lot to appreciate in them and the remakes are certainly superior to their first iterations. This is more than enough reason for the dedicated to revisit these now-flawed gems, but others may not find the same warmth in them.

I am glad that both exist and, apart from a new sequel, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. However I can’t, honestly, recommend them to anyone other than existing fans, so make of that what you will.

Next week: Greed Corp.

[This is part of a larger series of articles that see AJ slowly working through his backlog of abandoned games. Most of the series consists of  random rambling blubs but featuring some insights (this is most review-like article so far). Please check out a few more if you're new to the series.]