Welcome to an unusually short GenreQuest this week, as I will only be covering two titles for once. I’ve gone into far more detail than usual, so we’ll probably resume are usually slap-dash attempts at covering more ground again next week. Tooooodles.
This game has a special place in my heart, a very nostalgic, special place in my heart. This was one of those games that was built up to an insane amount of hype during my childhood, but not because I owned it and enjoyed it. I owned it on a demo disc for my PlayStation One, meaning that I only ever got to play the first few minutes or the opening level or so before the demo was over, leaving the rest of the game to my childhood imagination. Of course, this meant that to me the game had to be the best game ever made, and that my life was worse off for not having the chance to play it…I am ashamed to say that this game has entirely disappointed me, even down to the child within.
Not that the game is actually all that bad, in fact it opens really strongly with some very well done animation that looks like it belongs on Saturday morning television (or at the very least, as something from a cereal advert). The story is about Dr.Knarf, a mad scientist who uses his scientific abilities (and Scottish accent) to create abominations to torment the local town. One day his pumpkin headed henchman discovers the baby Jersey Devil and takes him back to be experimented on, but the Devil destroys the lab and escapes, becoming the doctor’s arch-enemy in the process.
Fast forward… however many years it takes for a Devil to grow up, and the Devil has become the guardian of the town of Jersey, defeated the Doctor’s vegetable henchmen, scaring people to death, and ripping off Batman harder than the last character to rip off Batman did. The game starts on what we can assume is a normal night for Jersey Devil: The Doctor has captured some townspeople and you have to defeat his henchman and save them. Simple.
The controls are a bit of a mixed bag, the actual movement feel really smooth and responsive, fully realizing the capabilities of the analogue controller sticks. Even the jumping is above average I would say, it gives you enough air to make jumping the gaps easy, but not so much that you feel like you’re spending too much time in the jump and not enough on the ground. The game has three bugbears that ruin what would have otherwise been a completely enjoyable experience: the combat, the gliding, and the camera.
The combat consists of three attacks. You can jump on enemies’ heads Mario-style, something that is harder to aim in 3D but nonetheless works okay. Next up is the punch, which is the worst part of the combat, it has basically no range at all and only strikes directly in front of the character, making it useless for pretty much every situation. The last attack manages to claw back the quality somewhat but is too little to save the game overall; it is a spin that lashes out with wings and tail, which you do by jumping then attacking. If the spin attack had been made the default move, the combat would just feel better, but it feels like in an attempt to distance themselves from Crash Bandicoot, the devs made the decision to give you that weedy punch.
The gliding is another annoyance, in that unlike a normal glide ability it’s set to a different button than jumping. When you press triangle, the Devil pulls out his wings and glides gently towards the floor. The problem is that before you are able to control the glide’s direction, you get frozen in the air for a brief second. This can make judging the distances you can cover very difficult; I cannot count the number of times I have fallen down a bottomless pit thanks to that glide button. Fortunately, the game gives out extra lives like free candy, so dying isn’t really something you have to worry about too much here.
The final control issue is the camera, and boy is this one a biggie. The camera is controlled with L2 and R2, despite the second analogue stick being available and entirely unused, which makes the camera difficult to wrestle with at the best of times. This problem is only compounded, however, by the fact that the camera just wants to try its hardest to get stuck in strange places and hide enemies or damaging obstacles from your field of view. Most of the deaths that you’re likely to suffer in this game will be due to the camera making it difficult to see something flying directly at you. This becomes a big problem during boss fights and challenge sections, as you are really required to have the view of the whole room if you want to live.
Graphically the game works best during the opening cutscene, however, you don’t see the return of this animation at any point during the game, and the in-game graphics leave a lot to be desired. Half the time it’s difficult to even tell what the designers were going for with the characters, and everything looks very blocky and ugly, even for a PS1 game.
Fortunately, the sound effects shine brighter than the sun itself, at least in comparison to the visuals. The actual SFX used for jumps, attacks, etc., are amazingly crisp and clear and seem to owe a lot to classic Looney Tunes cartoons. Every moment of the game is filled with cartoony charms, and it’s not hard to imagine this game being based on an actual cartoon somewhere along the line (it’s not, I checked.)
The music is also really excellent, having been composed by the same man who created all of the music for actual Looney Tunes games. In fact, the music is what makes the game feel like it could have come from an actual show, it gives the game a feeling of higher quality and constant cartoon antics.
Overall: A game with pretty decent gameplay that has been ruined by certain design choices and bad control decisions. The music and sound effects have saved the experience from being entirely without merit. If you’re into cartoons or cartoon music/sound effects, then you should try this out for the learning value alone.
Jet Set Radio
Jet Set Radio is one of those games. You know what I mean. It’s the kind of game that is called a cult classic, and everyone talks about how great it is, but it’s rare that you’ll actually find someone who has played it. I’ve purposefully avoided playing this game purely as a form of silent protest against all the people who go on about it being such a ground-breaking masterpiece, however, I now find myself having to swallow my pride and play the damn thing. So, let’s see what all the fuss is about.
Well, now I don’t know what to say, I feel highly disappointed by this game and all of the hype that it got. The gameplay basically boils down to a time attack version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (with less depth) and Mark Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure (with less general grimness and less depth).
Okay, so the basic premise of the game is that you are a member of the GGs, a gang of roller-skating graffiti artists who battle other gangs and the police themselves for control over the graffiti driven underworld of Tokyo-to. To do this, you go to different areas of the city and graffiti over the top of other graffiti and avoid the police to prove that you can spray paint more than the other gangs.
There’s a lot of background information like the radio DJ who tells you all what’s going on in the world of Tokyo-to and the introduction of a crazy looking police chief who chases you down with a gun and tries to shoot you. Most of this background information can safely be ignored, however, as the main focus of the game is on chaining together spray painting and tricks on your roller-blades.
The controls to the game feel okay, moving forward on your rollerblades takes a few minutes to get used to, but it’s pretty simple to understand. The game actually captures the feeling of momentum you get on rollerblades, starting with the slow build-up of speed as you clumsily wheel your feet, then moving into the smooth movement of built-up momentum ending with the inevitable dead stop as you run out of momentum on a rail or hill. While this is a perfectly realistic interpretation of what using rollerblades feels like, it isn’t a very good set of controls for a video game, at least in my opinion it isn’t.
To graffiti things, you just tap L while you’re near them (I am using the steam version with an Xbox 360 controller) and you instantly spray an intricate design onto them as long as they are small enough. For medium or large sized graffiti, you tap L then follow the QTEs with the control stick until the full piece has been sprayed onto the surface. The reason that the smaller tags are instant is so that you can grind or trick your way past them and still tap L to include some super speed spray painting with your trick lines. The only other noteworthy control is the dash button, which gives you a burst of speed to get you up hills or give you momentum before a grind. The only issue is that the burst of speed can be a bit uncontrollable and might actually make you miss the grind you were aiming for.
While you’re running around the city spray painting things, you will come across the crazy police chief with a gun who you have to quickly escape from. Oddly, even though the rollerblades have pretty damn close to real life physics, the police chief does not and he can run just as fast as you can despite having a dash move. This usually means that you have to grind or trick your way away from the police chief so that he doesn’t catch you. It’s not really difficult to escape from the guy once he’s chasing you, but it’s still annoying to be on your last bit of health and then die as you shoot past a grind rail thanks to your dash ability.
The visuals look pretty good, at least on a texturing or rendering perspective. Obviously, the game is now quite old and even the updated version currently available has very blocky characters, but the use of cel-shading has made the game enjoyable to look at despite its shortcomings. Everything in the city has a very vibrant colour and reminds me of the art of Hiroyuki Imaishi, being constantly moving and energetic.
The music has always been a part of the game that people talk about; many people who’ve spoken to me about this game have brought up the awesome soundtrack. For once, I have no idea what people are talking about, at all. The music just sounds dull and repetitive to my ears, even though I have a fondness for electronic music usually. It’s the same feeling I had when faced with the soundtrack of The World Ends with You: I want to love it for its weirdness and uniqueness, but it just sounds like a huge mess of random noises.
Overall: A game that holds cult classic status probably due more to its uniqueness and the fact that it is one of the few actually playable games on the Dreamcast than for any particular quality reason. It’s worth playing if you’re into the idea of it, but I cannot see why anyone would call this a good 3D platformer.
If you still need a dose of retro goodness, check out this Retro Respawn on Wipeout
Or you can share your anger with this Hacked Off about character creation.