There are so many things to love about Sega's classic Jet Set Radio. Back when the game debuted on the Dreamcast in 2000, it set the gold standard for visuals, music (courtesy of Hideki Naganuma) and pure style, creating a game that simply hadn't been seen before. The iOS port of Jet Set Radio [$2.99], in some ways, takes that original experience and makes it even better with high-def visuals and a much faster framerate. Unfortunately, like a lot of ports before it, Jet Set Radio's virtual controls leave a lot to be desired, especially when you take into consideration the natural difficulty curve of the game.

If you're one of the few that have never played (or heard) of Jet Set Radio, this is a game about turf wars within the city of Tokyo-to. You take control of a skater gang known as The GGs as they battle rival gangs to take control of the town. Battles take place via missions that span three different parts of the city, with the goal of most missions being to spay the graffiti of your gang over any rival gang marks. While that sounds simple enough, tags can and will be found in areas requiring precise platform skills. In addition, rival gangs, as well as the Tokyo-to police force will always be gunning for you. Finally, a perpetual timer exists in most missions, keeping you on task. Jet Set Radio is a perfect example of a game with a great balance between platforming, action, and exploration.

For veterans of the game, the iOS port doesn't offer much in terms of additional gameplay features, with online leaderboards and Game Center achievements being the most significant of extras. Otherwise, you can expect the same missions and Professor K-narrated story as the original. However, that's not to say that everything is exactly the same, as this iOS port has a few tricks up its sleeve in regards to the visuals.

When Jet Set Radio originally hit the scene, one of the areas that garnered acclaim was its use of cel-shaded graphics. On iOS, those graphics have been upgraded to HD-quality visuals that look absolutely amazing. Sure, you're still going to notice that the game is obviously dated, but fans of the game will easily see that this is the nicest looking version of Jet Set Radio around (especially on current iOS hardware).

Another nice surprise is the accompanying boost in framerate. In fact, it's pretty amazing just how smooth Jet Set Radio runs. It gives the whole experience a more fast-paced arcade-like feel, which makes the game simply feel better. The included soundtrack also sounds crystal-clear and adds to the impression that this port offers a higher-quality experience than the original. This feeling runs through the entirety of the game, until you get to the controls.

Like many console ports before it, Jet Set Radio employs a virtual controls scheme that consists of a virtual circle-pad for movement, and four buttons for the various actions that can be performed in the game. Some areas, such as menu selection and the graffiti editor, use strange control schemes that are unintuitive and feel off. However, in-game the controls are responsive and handle about as well as as a virtual controller scheme can handle. Unfortunately, for a game like Jet Set Radio, that's not good enough.

Being a fast-paced arcade platformer, Jet Set Radio tasks you with having to perform some pretty complicated moves. While such skills can be occasionally bypassed in some missions, others, such as the recruitment levels, make it mandatory. These situations are where the controls falter, turning the game into an exceedingly frustrating experience. In this regard, the souped-up framerate also works against the game, as it requires a level of precision that the controls simply can't deliver. While experienced veterans could probably adapt to the virtual controls enough to "get by" it's hard for me to imagine any newcomers with enough patience to succeed.

In the end, despite the nice improvements to the visuals, Jet Set Radio seems relegated to that pile of console ports that lose something due to the controls. True, the game is undoubtedly playable, but no where near as playable as it would be with an actual controller. Still, as with other ports there's a lot of merit to checking out Jet Set Radio, especially since the non-controls parts of the game are vastly improved. There's also the fact that you can now play Jet Set Radio on your freakin' phone.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Gamer_Kev

    I was tempted to grab this when I came out, but then I remembered how difficult it was to control this game with a controller, I changed my mind. There are a number of external controller options for ios, it's a shame that Sega doesn't support any of them in any of their games. Just think how fun games like Sonic CD would be on the iCade.

  • http://twitter.com/HeadcaseGames Headcase Games

    3.5 stars seems like a pretty high rating considering how badly the controls are said to be. Who cares how it looks and sounds - if the game simply isn't fun to play on the platform, shouldn't it be scored significantly lower? I'm a JSR lover, but I don't want to play it where it doesn't belong "just because I can" and I don't think the community should support more ports that follow such a philosophy.

    • Joshua Bristol

      Wow."Where it doesn't belong" is rather extreme, don't you think? Sure the game wasn't made originally with touch based devices in mind, but instead of just condemning the game as not belonging on these devices, you should look at the control shortcomings as issues to be overcome.

      I say let the devs build it and the users will decide whether or not a game "belongs." Devs should be encouraged to port their games over, and if one control scheme doesn't work, then maybe another will. But there's nothing intrinsic to a game that means it will work on one system only imo.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.guest.790 Jason Guest

    I have to disagree...this game is really fun on ipad and the controls are tight. The prob aint the game. Its touch screen controls in general. I found controlling it to be not challenging in the least. Go buy the game now!

  • http://twitter.com/BulkSlash BulkSlash

    I think the trouble with the controls of iOS JSR is they're sometimes too sensitive when you want to make a very fine jump and not sensitive enough when you want to really kick off a wall in another direction.

    It's mostly fine for just playing the game normally, but if you're trying to collect all the Graffiti Souls some of the jumps required result in grinding teeth rather than grinding skates.

    I do find the gestures for spray painting a bit hit and miss too. I've found flattening my finger so I use the whole of the finger pad rather than the tip to trace a "thicker" line helps, but sometimes the game decides I've missed a gesture where as far as I'm concerned I traced it perfectly. Again, not a huge problem if you're just playing the game normally, but if you're after a Jet rating on every stage, a missed graffiti gesture is pretty much a guarantee of a Nitro rating on the later stages.

    I think perhaps the developers should have tweaked the time limits up a bit and reduced the rating thresholds down and it would have compensated for the control problems.

  • http://twitter.com/Midgetcorrupter Rick Payne

    As a massive JSR fan (Bought the Dreamcast version, Future the day it came out, the 2 soundtrack cds imported from Japan, xbla version too) I'd say this review is fair and accurate. I really wanted to play this on my iPhone 5. It really does look amazing and feel fresh visually. But the controls make it so frustrating I can't do it. I will have a go on the iPad. But if you have never played this gem I would recommend getting it on PSN or XBLA (Maybe Vita) to truly experience a bit of gaming history.

  • http://twitter.com/Inaba_kun Inaba-kun

    I'm a big fan of JSR, having bought and finished the Japanese original upon it's initial release. The sequel I was less fussed on, as it seemed so dumbed down.

    On XBLA JSR remains a great game, even if it's controls are a little clunky by modern standards. On iOS, those clunky controls are really pretty tough on a touch screen. Changing the sensitivity in the options screen helps a little, but I kind of think Jet Set Future might have been a better fit for the platform. JSR is a really difficult game, even with sticks and buttons (and not just because of the clunky controls), but Jet Set Future is a walk in the park by comparison.

    Still I hope this does well and we see more Sega conversions. I'd love to see Skies of Arcadia and Panzer Dragon Saga.

  • http://twitter.com/Inaba_kun Inaba-kun

    There is one error in the review though - "Another nice surprise is the accompanying boost in frame rate".

    On an iPhone 5 this runs at 30fps, which is the same frame rate as the XBLA port, and the DC original. Jet Set Future ran at 60fps though.

  • arn

    Test

  • SuperMario7

    I'm glad I avoided this, and I really hate to say that. I'm a huge fan of Jet Set Radio but I really could not see an iPhone version working mainly due to control issues, I get why it might be slightly better on an iPad, pretty much anything is far easier to play on an iPad due to the bigger screen but it's just not the type of game that would work on a touchscreen

    I got the Steam version of Jet Set Radio when it came out a couple months ago, and it's a fine game, I'll probably stick with that and maybe get the iOS version when it goes on sale

  • nightc1

    Controls to me haven't been as much of an issue except in the half-pipe / drainage ditch areas. I think the main issue is the camera doesn't do as good a job of keeping up. Completing graffiti seems simple. The trick is don't lift your finger off the screen when you are supposed to do two back to back motions. Example a clock-wise circle to a counter clock-wise half circle... complete the motions back to back without lifting your finger off. That's the way the original game was as well. A few folks on the forums have already finished the game. Just keep in mind for a lot of people on the Dreamcast this was considered a pretty hard game. I plowed through it back in my DC days riding on a deep love for skateboarding games and stuff... but this isn't a simple game for most people. This version is great. I'm enjoying it and am happy to spend $5.

  • goofrider

    Being a huge fan of the original (possibly my favorite game for all time),

  • goofrider

    Being a huge fan of the original (possibly my favorite game of all time), I had to pick this up. Overall the control is as bad as the review says, it does take some getting used to and it's pretty frustrating if you're going for jet-ranking. But other than that, once you got used to it and can live with a missed dash or jump or graffiti gesture now and again, it still quite playable. Having finished the original before myself probably helps a lot, and I never found the original all that hard to begin with. The original was challenging yes, but not impossibly difficult.

    The most frustrating part with this version was the Beat/Combo race challenge. It requires a great deal of precision all though the half-pipe, a very precisely timed and placed jump from the half-pipe to the gated staircase, running down the street without running into any cars while outpacing Beat, and still have to pick up paint cans and make sure you don't make the wrong turn. It was already a really tough race in the original, it becomes impossibly difficult and downright infuriating with the virtual controls. I played at least 2-3 hrs (maybe roughly 50 times) just to get through the challenge. And the challenge came way early in the game (after 3 normal levels) and you cannot decline the challenge and continue with the story like the others. Unlike a regular stage, it's not rewarding at all to retry it over and over again because there's no exploration element to the challenge and there's only one way to play it. Most would probably give up playing at this point. I literally wanted to throw my iPad out the window at times. It was THAT frustrating.

    Grind Square was disproportionally difficult in the original DC version, and it's definitely even more challenging with the subpar virtual control on iOS.

    Bear in mind that controls on the original wasn't exactly easy either, especially with jumping and landing. While Part of the original control is clearly intentional to simulate skating momentum and penalize stop-and-go, but with the subpar virtual control, you really need to stop a lot more in order to execute certain precise moves. It's the subpar virtual control and the stop-and-go penalty built-in to the game design together that makes this port at times so frustrating.

    Also, the virtual control really feels like an after-thought. E.g. You use the shoulder trigger for dashing on the original, so dash-jump is pretty easy. With the virtual control, dash and jump are just on-screen buttons next to each other, positioned in a way that can't be pushed at the same time yet too close together so you can very easily hit the wrong button in the heat of the moment. While you can touch the screen and pan the camera, it's impossible to use it when you need it most — when you're moving. The control setup might be fine for stop-and-explore type 3D games, but for fast-paced action like this fame it's really not well suited. The virtual joystick's travel distance needs to be 2-3x wider as well, it would really help with landing with better precisions.

    That said, many games have some disproportionally difficult, repetitive parts (e.g some bosses in super Mario, etc), and the whole game overall was as good as I remembered. I guess the most rewarding part is that once you finished the game you can take your time and play any level and grind around town like nobody's business.

Jet Set Radio Reviewed by Eric Ford on . Rating: 3.5