TGS 2001 Fall: Jet Set Radio Future Hands-on

We take a look at the first-ever playable version of Jet Grind's sequel.

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Both Sega and Microsoft proudly showcased Jet Set Radio Future in each of their respective booths. The game--a sequel to one of last year's most exciting releases--seems to be coming along quite well and is already marvelously playable. The game's formula has seen a number of changes, several of which drastically affect the sort of experience you'll have with the game. To put it simply, Jet Set Radio Future focuses much more on constant, dizzying motion than its predecessor; the images you'll commit to concrete via aerosol are applied as you skate, and the mechanics formerly used for doing so have been stripped from the game. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The TGS demo began with a short tutorial on the basics: jumping, grinding, spraying, can racking, and dashing. All of this takes place in an ultramodern version of the original game's starting bus depot. After proving your worth, you're let loose on a city environment that's very reminiscent, in terms of aesthetics, of the original game's first district: sloping streets complete with grindable partitions, handrails, sidewalks, and the like. Long, narrow, concave stretches of smooth concrete are scattered throughout, sometimes dropping into heavily populated shopping plazas packed with destructible shelves and panicked shoppers. There are also tons of spots for you to hit, and the fact that you can spray any target while moving has apparently liberated the developer in this respect.

You'll likely find the game's altered mechanics somewhat liberating--provided you weren't too attached to the intricacies of laying down a piece of graffiti artwork, of course. In any event, remember the joystick inputs required, in the first game, to paint each of a whole piece's component parts? This time around, all you have to do is hit the R trigger when you're near a hit site--then you'll lay down the paint. Do it as many times as a given piece would warrant, and you're done. This leads to whole lot of wasted paint much of the time, as it's pretty easy to get trigger-happy with the aerosol. Anyway, you'll do most of your writing while on the move due to this change in pacing; there's little point to sitting still while doing it, though you'll likely have to make multiple passes on certain denser spots.

The game's dash mechanic has also been changed. Unlike the graffiti mechanics, however, the dash has been elaborated on, as opposed to simplified. Basically, you'll be rewarded with the ability to dash simply by collecting ten cans. Once thus blessed, a small icon will appear onscreen, and it will remain visible until your dash-capabilities expire. Our experience is that you can execute a few smaller dashes or one large one, depending on your needs. Once you let one loose, though, you'll likely find it hard to release the button--the effects accompanying the dashes are among the most maddening things ever displayed on a telescreen. Picture a global blur effect with a sort of mosaic-style cut-up, combined with a light, trail-enhancing saturation of the overall moving image, and you're part of the way there. The effect looks rough and dirty, to be sure, but not in an unpolished way. When coupled with the blazing trails of fire emitted by your character's feet, it's pretty clear that Smilebit's art direction is calling the shots as far as game art is concerned.

The last major tweak comes to the game's trick system--if you want to call it that. Basically, hitting the Y button on the Xbox controller will cause you to skate backward. It's easy to flip between backward- and forward skating, especially when you're grinding, making it a good way to mix up the process of such sequences without having to perform full-on jumps. So far, the effect is purely aesthetic--flipping between the two will not speed you up nor slow you down any significant degree. Hopefully, Smilebit will work some depth into this mechanic.

Saying that Jet Set Radio Future's overall look is inspired would be redundant--enough praise was ladled on last year's game, and this one is nothing but an extrapolation on it. The characters and settings were aged, as it were, which means that the game will take place in a pseudo-Tokyo that's slightly more futuristic than last year's. Similarly, the character's getups will be altered a bit, though whether the characters themselves look a bit more mature is debatable. Four characters were playable in the TGS demo: Beat and Gum from the original game, and two new characters, whose names were not available at press time. One of them was shown in the E3 movie, though--the one with the tall blue hat, who may or may not be an older version of Tab. The other was a younger kid dressed in a blue sweater with a sculptured collar.

We also sampled one of the game's multiplayer modes--this one a competitive deal via split-screen. It essentially played out like a kart racer of sorts--we and our opponent were placed on a linear track, on which we had to place first after a set number of laps. The track was replete with grindable surfaces, as well as physical hazards--spikes, dead ends, and the like. Kart-racer-style weapons were also thrown into the mix: deep sea mine-looking bombs (forward deployed), fire trails, and boosts were scattered around the track, encouraging just that type of contact. The game played supersmooth during these proceedings (60fps without a hitch), though, admittedly, the environments were pretty sparse, and both parties were seldom on one another's screens. Up to four players will ultimately be able to play these games, and, if the videos streaming were any indication, they'll move just as smooth.

JSRF is looking very tight indeed. Aside from an occasional bit of slowdown, everything ran gorgeously. We did catch a bit of the same camera nonsense from last year, which we're a bit uneasy about. But not seriously so--even if it's as mad as the original Jet Set's, what we saw today makes us feel that it would be easily worth it. Sadly, we weren't able to hear any music--it was not implemented, or else fully licensed, we can presume.

We'll have more for you soon.

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