Archives for category: Dreamcast

Dancin' to tha Beat
I don’t remember the first time I saw Jet Set Radio, but I certainly remember my reaction: “Holy crap, that looks cool.”

It was probably a feature in the dearly-departed Dreamcast Magazine, some time after the game’s TGS ’99 reveal, and from the moment I saw it, I knew I had to play Jet Set Radio. From the incredible cel-shaded art-style that exuded that street-punk attitude that serves as its thematic foundation, to the central conceit of the game – namely, tagging graffiti to mark your gang’s territory – to the saturated colours of the Tokyo streets against that trademark Sega blue sky. Everything about this game arrested my attention. I couldn’t wait to play it.

And then, months later, thanks to a demo disc attached to the cover of the aforementioned publication, I got my chance. And I hated it. I couldn’t get my head around the controls for a start, which meant I had trouble getting around the environment, which meant I couldn’t escape the rampaging police, which meant I couldn’t find the time to paint. And on the off-chance that I actually managed to get to a tag site, I couldn’t seem to get to grips with the graffiti mechanics, either. But I had been so looking forward to the game that I decided I had to try it again. And again. And again and again. And all of a sudden, it just clicked. Everything came into sharp focus; I knew what the game expected of me, and I understood how to make it happen. Get some speed behind you, grind that rail, make that jump, ride that wall. The floor is lava.

Smilebit’s 2000 Dreamcast title has since become a cult classic, leading to Sega and BlitWorks releasing an excellent HD version on literally everything back in 2012. Jet Set Radio presents a colourful, stylised representation of Tokyo, including iconic areas like the Shibuya bus terminal, and stars a cast of punky inline skaters out to grab territory for their respective street gangs. How do you go about this? By tagging the crap out of everything you see, of course! You’ll mark your territory on buses, cop cars, advertising hoardings and storefronts as you claim turf from rival gangs the Love Shockers, Noise Tanks and Poison Jam. Naturally, the police, led by the hard-boiled Captain Onishima and backed by the shadowy Rokkaku Group, don’t take kindly to your urban artwork. These crazy keisatsu will do anything, including calling in helicopter gunships, to put an end to your adolescent fun.

Gum taggin'

Right from the off, Jet Set Radio demands that you get good. Just as the controls take a little time to puzzle out, so do the level layouts; very early on, you’ll learn to prioritise the larger, more time-consuming tags before the police escalate their presence, bringing in tear gas troopers, assassins armed with electric whips and black-suited knife-wielding goons, all of whom make it a very bad idea to stand still and tag. You’ll soon realise it’s best to leave the simple, one-hit tags ’til the very end of the level so that you can grind, trick and race past your aggressors, tagging as you go. This means that you’ll ideally spend the first minute or so just skating around, getting the lay of the land and collecting spray paint cans, before launching your carefully-planned graffiti assault on the streets of Tokyo-to.

Let’s look at the funk

The first thing you’ll notice – and indeed, the thing the game is probably still best known for – are those striking, pioneering cel-shaded graphics that make Jet Set Radio look like a Gainax anime come to life. We see the technique a fair bit these days, and 2002’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker arguably brought it to more mainstream attention, but back in 2000 it was absolutely state of the art; really, it had only been seen in the character models of Fear Effect, which came out only months before Jet Set Radio. Chief graphics designer Ryuta Ueda wanted to create a snapshot of what he saw as Tokyo’s youth culture at the time, something that reflected the eclectic, high-energy, vibrantly colourful scene he saw around him.

It’s not just about those beautiful, flat, shaded polygons though. The game is brought to life by all the little incidental details; the fact that Garam’s necklace looks like it just might be Sonic’s skull, Tab poking his tongue out at you every now and then for no good reason, DJ Professor K’s funky hair that pulses in time to the beat, and the fact that nobody ever stands still. Every character is in constant motion – even leaving your skater idle causes them to dance to their own rhythm, like a way cooler version of Spaced‘s Tires. Touches like this create a tangible, kinetic connection between gameplay and presentation, tying them together with the audio in such a way that every element comes together to create a solid, cohesive whole where every little touch just feels right.

These guys mean business

The visual presentation is beautifully mirrored by an eclectic, borderline-manic soundtrack from Hideki Naganuma that remains one of the best in gaming. Representing every facet of Ueda’s vision of late-nineties Tokyo street culture, Naganuma’s work takes in hip hop, funk and even acid jazz, interspersing it with odd looped samples (“Will you stop playing with that radio of yours? I’m trying to get to sleep!”). Meanwhile the varied licensed tracklist mixes in the kooky rock of Guitar Vader, the alternative hip hop of Jurassic 5, and even finds space for a track from fellow Sega veteran Richard Jacques (yes, the man behind the indisputably awesome Sonic R soundtrack contributed to Jet Set Radio).

Understand, understand

While Jet Set Radio didn’t exactly set sales alight, a sequel of sorts was released for the Xbox in 2002. Jet Set Radio Future, as the name suggests, transposed the GGs and their rivals to a near-future vision of Tokyo-to. Characters were redesigned, the plot was shuffled about a bit, and the colour palette was more muted, but the biggest differences were in how the game played. Conventional wisdom holds that you either like one game or the other, and you can’t possibly like both. While this isn’t really true at all, Jet Set Radio Future did do a fair bit to put off fans of the previous game.

Future exists almost as a reimagining of the concept, simplifying some things while expanding others. The most immediate changes are the removal of the time limit in each level and a ‘streamlining’ of the way you execute graffiti; whereas you’d copy analogue stick movements in Jet Set Radio, corresponding to broad strokes of paint, in Future you simply pull the trigger as you race past and it all just happens for you. I absolutely hated these changes at the time. Coming from a challenging game where it’s vital to set your priorities and then create the space needed to get things done in the allotted time, Future just felt like it lacked pace, challenge and focus.

The differences weren’t all for the bad, however, and the removal of these mechanics makes a lot of sense when you look at what Jet Set Radio Future is, rather than what it isn’t. The size, scale and complexity of the environments have been massively enlarged, with multiple large, vertical spaces leading to and from one another; a time limit would have been a real drag in levels this huge, and its absence lends Future a much more exploratory feel than the original. The level design is also pushed to its limits to accommodate this expanded sense of freedom: larger spaces mean far more routes over, under, through and around the game’s crazed urban landscapes. Where Jet Set Radio was a tight, focussed time-attack game as its heart, Future is more like a playground for you to jump, grind, trick and tag through.

Jet Set Radio may have been absent for over a decade now, but its influence can still occasionally be felt. Insomniac’s Ted Price has spoken about how the Sega classic informed Sunset Overdrive‘s traversal system, and that game also has a knack of making you feel like a sucker if you so much as deign to touch the ground. Meanwhile, the recent Splatoon will give gamers of a certain age serious JSR vibes, as, like Sunset Overdrive, the game’s visual presentation clearly owes a debt to Jet Set‘s colourful, anarchic sense of fun. How fitting that a project led by a new generation of talent at Nintendo’s famed EAD division should echo a game that looked to celebrate Tokyo’s youth culture in the final days of the 1990s.

And what of the team that brought JSR into the world? Well, sadly, we all know about Sega’s troubles since going third-party in the aftermath of the Dreamcast’s premature death, an upheaval that led to internal teams being reshuffled, reorganized and renamed, as well as something of a talent exodus. Both Ryuta Ueda and director Masayoshi Kikuchi went on to work on the Ryu Ga Gotoku series (where they even managed to include a short cameo for JSR bad guy Rokkaku Gouji, later joking that this meant the games existed in the same universe). Ueda has since left the company, along with Hideki Naganuma, who recently suggested that Sega has no interest in reviving the series.

Still, with new Sega Games CEO Haruki Satomi recently indicating that Sega want to win back their fanbase, perhaps we will see something done with all those classic IP that are just sitting in a vault somewhere in Tokyo, gathering dust. At the very least, perhaps we can hope for Sega to give us some more of the HD remasters they were offering just a few short years ago, and make Future available for a new audience. Perhaps things are looking up, after all.

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Sega fans have plenty to be salty about. These days, announcing yourself as a sega fanboy/girl will likely see people laugh into their sleeve rather than wind up for all out console warfare. Sega fandom seems to be based mostly on nostalgia at this point; the Tokyo-based company was a wildly creative force in their days as a platform holder, yet they’ve managed to squander a decades-deep stable of IP that would leave anyone in the industry envious.

It’s fair to say Sega have struggled a bit since going software-only. Spreading their titles out over a number of platforms in the immediate aftermath certainly didn’t help, fragmenting their fanbase in the process, and though they actually brought a lot to the table throughout the seventh generation, that was as much down to publishing quality content from other sources, like Platinum’s Mad World, Bayonetta and Vanquish. Despite pushing hard into the mobile space in recent years, they’ve still managed to put out quality software, though it’s often from their western studios like The Creative Assembly and Sports Interactive. What fans really want to see is more in-house developed content both announced and, perhaps more crucially, localised. Indeed, it’s been a tough ride for western fans of the company; though Sega have seen critical success with the likes of Valkyria Chronicles and Yakuza, both franchises have faced issues escaping their home territory (to say nothing of those still waiting for Phantasy Star Online II), and more often than not, when we do get a new title in a classically-Sega series, it’s dreck like Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric. Fans have simply lost patience with the company.

boom

All of which makes it kind of exciting to hear Sega Games CEO Haruki Satomi say that the company wants to do better, both at home and away. Apparently, they’ve been learning from the way Shin Megami Tensei developer Atlus works, having purchased them in 2013. Satomi told Famitsu (courtesy of Siliconera), “As far as the Western market goes, we learned a lot from Atlus. If we can make a title with proper quality, I believe there’s a good chance for it to do well even in the West for players that like to play Japanese games.”

This may seem something of a no-brainer – put out good games and people will buy them, right? – but I can see why it wouldn’t be quite as simple as that for a large company like Sega. Atlus puts out quality games, but they are fairly niche titles, and their presentation reflects that. Their games aren’t extravagant graphical powerhouses, but this also means they aren’t subject to massive, bloated AAA budgets – they know what kind of game they want to make, and crucially, the audience that will buy it, and budget and create the game accordingly. Sega as a whole are a far larger concern, and they would surely want their games to sell to a wider userbase. Learning from Atlus, and finding and defining their audience, is undoubtedly a good first step, however.

Moreover, Sega has a bit of a history, pre-third-party development, of making quality games, only to see them sit on shelves and fail to shift consoles. In such circumstances, it’s kind of easy to understand how they could have decided that was no longer a winning strategy, leading them to focus on other areas, perhaps pushing games out the door whether they’re ready or not. In his interview with Famitsu, Satomi specifically calls out a renewed focus on quality, rather than ship dates. “I’ve been talking to the employees about how we should start putting serious consideration into quality from this point on. Especially in North America and Europe, where it’s always been more of a focus on schedules, I believe that if we can’t maintain quality, it would be better to not release anything at all.”

The juiciest morsel from the interview, though? Answering a question about whether or not Sega have any high quality titles for release this year, Satomi offers the news that they may have something to show at this year’s Tokyo Game Show in September: “Since we’re seriously considering quality,” said Satomi, “I can’t make that promise for the time being, but I believe we will announce something for home console at Tokyo Game Show.”

Speculation over what this could be has been running rampant in the days since; just what could this TGS announcement be? Some fans have been going especially crazy with it, suggesting that Sega are months away from launching the Dreamcast II, and while I’m sure these people have their tongues lodged firmly in their cheeks, I have to admit that I am unreasonably excited by this interview. Maybe it’s an aftereffect of the knowledge that Shenmue III is actually, legitimately happening, but I’m genuinely enthusiastic about Sega for the first time in God knows how long. I have to wonder if that Kickstarter has had an impact at Sega, and given them the kick up the backside they needed to take a look at themselves and realise things could be much, much better; Shenmue has a damn good chance of finishing up as the most successful video game Kickstarter ever, and with that still fresh in people’s minds, TGS would be an excellent time for Sega to reintroduce themselves.

ryo

OK, the Dreamcast II is a pipe dream, so let’s talk about something marginally less impossible: what I’d like to see is a return to the glory days of Sega’s development teams. I want the AM departments to mean something to gamers again, I want to see labels like Overworks, Smilebit, and Team Andromeda come back. I want to see the triumphant return of classic IP like the fantastical Panzer Dragoon, the ridiculously cool Jet Set Radio, the funky oddities like Space Channel 5 or the beautiful one-offs like Skies of Arcadia – some of my favourite games of all time. Hell, at this point I’d be incredibly happy to get some more of the HD remakes the company were putting out just a few years ago, when rumours swirled that both Skies and Shenmue were on the to-do list. As a fan, I just want Sega to be relevant again, and I want a chance to play new games in those series that meant (and still mean) so much to me, or at least see a return of that rampant, crazed sense of creativity that led to so many new ideas back in the Dreamcast days – I never knew I wanted to skate with my gang through Shibuya tagging graffiti, be an unhinged cabby in San Francisco or a jetpack-toting future firefighter until Sega showed me that I did.

But that’s probably asking for way too much too soon, right? So maybe the best idea would be to first give us back some of those older games we’ve been missing for years. With Shenmue back in the headlines, the time is ripe – more so than it’s ever been – for HD remasters of the first two games to hit modern platforms and maybe create a whole new generation of fans before the crowdfunded new game hits. Then follow that up with HD remasters of Skies of Arcadia, Jet Set Radio Future, and maybe give us some more Saturn stuff like Panzer Zwei and the awesome Fighters Megamix. Sure, that’s playing to that sense of nostalgia that perhaps isn’t too healthy a focus for a company looking for a way forward, but maybe Sega need to remind us why they were so great before they ask us to trust in the future? Besides, we’re talking about a company with a wealth of quality content locked up in the vault that they’re absolutely crazy for not capitalising on sooner. They should be using that legacy as a foundation to build upon – remind us why you were great, then show us you still can be. And hey, maybe after that they can try and entice pioneers like Yu Suzuki, Yuji Naka, Tetsuya Mizuguchi and Yukio Futatsugi back into the fold, the visionary creators of some of the most timeless, inventive games in the history of the medium. And then, y’know, give them all their teams back with their proper names, wink wink, nudge nudge.

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Of course, I’m probably getting way, way ahead of myself here (that Shenmue III excitement-hangover is a long one); but if Sega have truly learned from Atlus, and really intends to identify its audience and then give them what they want (which shouldn’t be too difficult, considering many of us have been shouting at them about it for a fair while now), then hopefully the company can see success, and fans can rediscover why we used to love their games so much. If it takes a while, so be it; Satomi speaks of valuing quality over scheduling, so let’s see them stick to that.

But when it comes down to it, whatever we see unveiled at TGS, I just hope it’s good. I really want Sega’s output to excite me again, and Satomi seems to understand that, too: “Sega in the ‘90s was known for its ‘brand’, but after that, we’ve lost trust, and we were left with nothing but ‘reputation’. For this reason, we’d like to win back the customers’ trust, and become a ‘brand’, once again.”

I want that too. I want those blue skies black.

Today is the day that Vita owners finally get their hands on Sega’s HD remaster of much-loved skate-n’-tag-’em-up Jet Set Radio.

It was released two months ago onto PSN and XBL, with the Vita port at the time expected to follow in October, only for it to be delayed. It’s absolutely been worth the wait though; it looks spectacular – colours really pop on that five inch OLED screen (as you can see in the screenshot captured directly from my Vita, above) and the game looks beautifully clean and smooth. This may even be the best I’ve seen the game look, and it’s hard to discount the ability to play it wherever, whenever.

Jet Set Radio is on the PSN store now for the princely sum of £6.49, and perhaps owing to the difference in release dates between the Vita and PS3 versions, it is not available on Cross Buy. But it’s still worth every penny – in fact, I’ve now bought this game three times!

Also out today for the handheld is Digital Reality/Grasshopper Manufacture shooter Sine Mora. After originally going up for the rather expensive price of £11.99, it has now been corrected and stands at a much more palatable £7.99 price point. There are apparently significant differences between the handheld and PS3 versions, and as such this title is also not available on a buy-one, get-both deal.

This of course isn’t the only Vita action taking place this week, as PlayStation Plus launches for the handheld too, with games such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss and the excellent, excellent (did I mention it’s excellent?) Gravity Rush being added to the Instant Game Collection. Plus on Vita ties into its big brother, so you’re not expected to take on two subscriptions. I think the service is really going to represent fantastic value for those with both consoles in the coming months.

Vita sales are still pretty languid, but it’s great to see Sony supporting it with services like this. Of course, it may not bring in new buyers, but it’s great for existing owners to see the platform holder getting behind the handheld.

It’s a good time to be a Sega fan! This week sees the release of spruced-up graffiti game Jet Set Radio HD (out on XBL, PSN and Steam on Wednesday), and as if to celebrate, Sega has just announced release dates for the upcoming Sonic Adventure 2 and NiGHTS into dreams HD makeovers.

It’s worth pointing out that these dates may be US-only at this stage, as pricing information is given only in USD. Nevertheless, Sega says both games will release on PSN on Tuesday October 2nd for $9.99 a pop, and XBL will get the pair on Friday 5th October for 800MSP a piece.

Happily, NiGHTS comes complete with the extra levels from the Christmas NiGHTS expansion (I still have my disc from Sega Saturn Magazine!). On the other side of the coin, if you want the expanded battle modes that were in the GameCube version of Sonic Adventure 2, it’ll cost you an additional $3/240MSP.

Hopefully we’ll see these games in the UK on the same day, with reasonable pricing (JSR HD sets a good precedent), and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on them – especially NiGHTS, which still looks utterly gorgeous. It seems that Sega really is putting in the effort these games deserve and delivering good quality HD remasters to its fans.

EDIT – I have UK pricing, as well as a slight adjustment to the PSN date: The games will launch on PSN in the UK on the 3rd of October for £6.49, while the XBL date and price of 5th October and 800MSP stays the same.


Sega has renewed its trademark for Skies of Arcadia, their much-loved cult Dreamcast RPG. It is, along with the Shenmue games, among the Dreamcast titles most frequently requested to be made available on current download services, so this trademark renewal may herald an incoming HD update reveal.

Sega has previously signalled its intention to beef up its digital strategy, and so far we’ve seen a number of Dreamcast titles re-appear in HD on XBL, PSN and Steam, and we know of at least two more in the pipeline (Sonic Adventure 2 and Jet Set Radio, which is just two weeks away), so it’s certainly within the realms of possibility. Moreover, speaking to GameReactor.eu at GDC in March, Ben Harborne, Associate Brand Manager at Sega, confirmed that Skies of Arcadia is always being asked for, and seemed to hint that an HD port could be a possibility (skip to 7:08).

Now, I adored both my Dreamcast and Skies of Arcadia, and I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up at it if it arrived on XBL, but I’d personally prefer to play it on Vita now. And considering that the Jet Set Radio update is making its way to Sony’s handheld, chances are good that any potential Skies re-release will as well. Let’s just hope that if it appears, it will have the same care and attention lavished upon it that Jet Set Radio HD seems to have had.

SOURCE: VG247
http://www.vg247.com/2012/09/04/skies-of-arcadia-sega-renews-tradmark-could-mean-anything/


An eagle-eyed Neogaf user has outed an Xbox release of Dreamcast sequel Sonic Adventure 2, posting (now-removed) images from the product page on XBox.com. The above image refers to the game as an HD remaster, suggesting Sega will take more care with it than they did with the original Sonic Adventure, which was nothing more than an upscaled 4:3 port. The screenshots posted by GAF user Kokonoe seems to bear this out (as well as seeming to confirm a nice, 16:9 fullscreen presentation), and you can see an image of the City Escape level below.

This is good news for me, as I never finished Sonic Adventure 2 (I got so annoyed by one of Knuckles’ digging levels that I abandoned the game, but City Escape was great fun, as was its rendition in Sonic Generations), and having it conveniently stored on my hard-drive, ready to go whenever I feel like it, will be great.

It also seems that Sega is really upping its game with respect to their HD releases of much-loved Dreamcast titles. After a handful of lazy, upscaled ports (often missing vital elements, such as Crazy Taxi‘s licensed soundtrack), it looks like we’re getting a truly remastered 16:9 Sonic Adventure 2. Coupled with the massive amount of care and attention the company seems to be paying to the much-anticipated, forthcoming Jet Set Radio re-release, it seems that Sega has finally realised that they need to care about their IP as much as their fans do.

This also bodes well for possible releases of the more oft-requested Dreamcast titles, such as Shenmue I and II, and Skies of Arcadia. Personally, I’d love to see Grandia II get a re-release, though as it’s a Game Arts/Ubisoft title, it may not be within Sega’s scope for these re-releases. One thing’s for sure though, I’m very excited to see what comes next!