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.]



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13 responses to “NYR: Jet Set Radio HD & Virtual-On: Oratorio Tangram”

  1. guillaumeodinduval Avatar

    I remember being soooo hyped for Virtual On:Oratorio Tangram's XBLA release and you being soooo ''meeehhh'' about it (and by that, I just mean ''not hyped'')… that I jumped on my Dreamcast copy and played it for about a week or two straight. Problem with that is I completely ''missed/discarded/forgot about'' the XBLA version.

    Since I would really like people to hold onto Virtual On LONG ENOUGH to remotely enjoy it,
    I'll post a quick guide for new players





    * people without ADD or ADHD


    WELCOME to this stupidly rushed guide! I'll cut the intro here because WE DON'T HAVE TIME FOR SUCH NON-SENSE, THIS HAS TO BE A SERIOUSLY (somewhat) QUICK GUIDE TO GO THROUGH.


    OK. I suggest training on NORMAL (or 4 of 8 on the difficulty slider), and NOT choose mechs (or troopers, WHATEVER) which mostly only excel in melee or appear frail. That means no Apharmd B, Cypher – even though it IS cool to manage to turn into a plane – and Mr. Deat-err Specineff and Angelica. The only exception to this rule is Sailor Moo-err Fei-yen. She LOOKS like a pinky-frail-lil-girl… but has decent armor and is the fastest fast-shooting annoyance you'll EVER encounter on the battlefield. Temjin makes up for it by having decent firepower, range and accuracy with his MAIN weapon and ok armor. He also has one hell of a lethal melee, if you can pull it off without missing pathetically. Longest range in the game for a melee strike has advantages… but the MAJOR disadvantage is that the opponent WILL have a greater window of opportunity to dodge it.

    Anyway, MOVING ON with what you SHOULD look for: hard hitting long/medium range harassers. OR, try the big slow and powerful ones. Like RAIDEN. He was my first pick back in the Saturn days, mostly because his MAIN weapon is a freakin' full-auto BAZOOKA and he has beams of holy mind-melting laser rays of DOOM as his SPECIAL, I then discarded long range fighting altogether and jumped to ''grenading/knife-fighting'' with Apharmd B near the end due to lack of challenge and – paradoxically – because I was tired of getting owned for being too slow as Raiden and stuck with that guy ever since and onto VO:OT (read: I didn't take the time to be patient with Raiden, and just switched and forced myself onto a HARD FRAME to master out of sheer, uh, desire to kick ass in CQC instead of LASER range. Really, that's pretty much only why).


    Remember, ALWAYS MOVE. Dash. Anywhere (except backward), JUST DOWIT. At first, just keep dashing, minimize jumping (and if you do, don't double jump, dash somewhere instead!) and, BY ALL MEANS, do NOT try to always face your target while standing in place. It will take forever and be harder to hit anything than just DASH SHOOT, the game will do the aiming for you while dashing so make the most of this ''feature''. Trust me, it's not a ''win button'' feature; it's a ''not using it will get you do DIE fast, using it will keep you alive for 30 more seconds'' feature.


    When you think you are awesome, TRY finishing the game on Easiest. I know you'll say ''HA! they drop so easy, they just STAND there!''… but somewhere along the way, like, by the mid-game boss or final boss, you'll go train in difficulty 8 for a year.

    Then try to beat the game on easy/normal again. Then go back to training on the hardest difficulty or against AWESOME people forever.


    I gotta admit the boss battles are RIDICULOUSLY hard, to the point where I gave up with story mode altogether and played against people or training at hardest difficulty, much more fun. No story, no arcade bosses, virtually no loading, just duels, infinite duels, instant action, always all the time, always all the time, always all the tiiiime. What more can you want, really?


    ** people without ADD or ADHD. Yeah, see this is just in case you DID have ADD or ADHD and forgot I mentioned it at the beginning of the guide.

    Now what's nice about this guide is that, when you put your browser in full screen (assuming you have 1280×1024 resolution, for all others, forget it), you can print-screen that thing and make a wallpaper. It fits PERFECTLY!.

    I'll admit I JUST noticed it AFTER the guide was made so, I guess that's less awesome. Still pretty awesome, I find, albeit a little UTTERLY USELESS.


    [IN 3]



    I raged quit when I ended being brutally ravaged by a freaking Apache Combat helicopter. Over and over and over again. Yup, that was that.

    I really liked the levels in the U.S. though. At the time, I think it was mostly for the music. And maybe the ''culture shock'' of not being in Japan in JSR. CRAZY, RIGHT?

    1. badgercommander Avatar

      hahahahah, well I actually beat the game on Easy and got pretty far on Normal difficulty (I can't remember whether I beat the final boss or not). I am a half decent Virtual-On player but I got ruined when I went online so never again.

      As for Jet Set Radio, too bad man but I understand why you stopped playing. And the music? I own albums by Cold, Rob Zombie, Guitar Vader, Jurassic 5 and the original music for JSR as a result of playing Jet Set Radio so much.

      1. ShaunCG Avatar

        Cold had songs in JSR? Geez, there's a band I've not thought about in a good few years.

        1. badgercommander Avatar

          Yup, 'Just got Wicked' is the track I think. I still really like their track 'Goodbye Cruel World'.

      2. guillaumeodinduval Avatar

        Speaking of music: I can't help but find it hilarious that VO:OT's selection is either corky as f**** or epic as hell.

        1. badgercommander Avatar

          I don't even remember what the music was like at all. Will go listen to some of it tonight. Bought the Virtual-On premium theme last night for X360… I am not sure why.

  2. BeamSplashX Avatar

    VO:OT is great, but it doesn't teach you how to play. Realizing that single shots while walking were more powerful than the burst of side-dashing shots was something of a revelation. Unfortunately, I didn't learn until Virtual-On MARZ that the forward-dashing shot was even more powerful, so I rarely beat Tangram. Except with Apharmd B, who can melee the core before it opens (at least, in the Dreamcast version).

    And really, as painful as MARZ is, it makes you a much better player. Something about fighting two bosses at once by yourself will do that.

    1. guillaumeodinduval Avatar

      And I haven't even gotten to try MARZ yet. I thought that stuff stayed in Japan? Goes to show how absorbed I was playing VO:OT. Now I want to play MARZ.


      1. BeamSplashX Avatar

        Get some foodstuffs for those loadtimes. And make sure there aren't any power outages, say, when you're in the middle of saving your game after an asininely difficult mission.

        Hope you like Temjin variations!

        1. guillaumeodinduval Avatar

          Surely I'm thinking of another Virtual-On with a billion variations of every troopers ever which also had an arcade in Japan that used saved gamer cards similar to Initial D… Or was that MARZ?

          Virtual-On + loading times… sounds like nonsense to me! It's almost as if it was developed on an inferior console. Was it released on, what, PS1? Or is there a LOT of unskippable cut-scenes with voice acting and CG and… gods know what else to make VO long to load.

          1. BeamSplashX Avatar

            MARZ is roughly based on Virtual-On Force, which is the arcade game you described. Except that MARZ has a story mode that routinely puts you up against unfair odds with a only stockable healing item to help.

            It's on PS2, and the loading is due to SHODDY PROGRAMMING I'm guessing. Another funny thing to note is that the game offers a simplified control scheme to address people's woes with the standard one, but it doesn't offer the flexibility you need to dodge all the hits you'll inevitably take.

          2. badgercommander Avatar

            Leave it to the resident mech expert to know all about Virtual-On games.