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Back in 2000, Jet Set Radio was nothing short of groundbreaking, with slick cel-shaded graphics, a fantastic soundtrack, and a skate-punk aesthetic that seemed daring in the pre-Grand Theft Auto III era. Twelve years after its release on Sega’s Dreamcast console, it’s been popping up again on nearly every available gaming device — including, most recently, the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
The iOS Jet Set Radio is an impressive piece of work. Revolving around a gang of rollerblading graffiti artists out to free a near-future Tokyo (or "Tokyo-to") from rival gangs and oppressive corporate overlords, it faithfully reproduces every aspect of the original, from its fluid cartoon visuals and diverse cast of heroes to its open, multi-tiered urban stages and memorable tunage.
The object, as before, is to complete each level by spray-painting tags and murals over every indicated patch of scenery (some of which are incredibly hard to reach), all while dodging hordes of cops who exist only to jog around comically in search of vandals. At your disposal are an assortment of high-flying, rail-grinding skate tricks and the ability to get around much faster than your pursuers.
It’s fun until the game demands precision, at which point it becomes clear the touchscreen controls simply aren’t up to the task. Trying to nail pinpoint jumps, navigate narrow catwalks, and get around hard-to-see pitfalls with the onscreen virtual thumbstick can be aggravatingly tough. On the iPad, the problem’s more pronounced, although using a suction-cup add-on like the Fling or Logitech’s Joystick for iPad helps considerably — but even then, the game’s slow-to adjust camera and your skater’s tendency to continue rolling forward mean a lot of botched landings, frustrating falls, and near misses when trying to grind on rails. But at least the graffiti-painting sequences, now controlled by swiping the touchscreen, are easier than ever.
The bottom line. There’s a lot of fun, imaginative content in Jet Set Radio, but imprecise controls and a finicky camera make it infuriatingly difficult to get to.
Jet Set Radio 1.0
iPhone, iPad or iPad Touch running iOS 4.3 or later (optimized for iPhone 5)
Brilliant-looking port of a classic game that faithfully replicates the original with no obvious sacrifices. Music and cel-shaded visuals hold up beautifully.
Controls don’t offer the level of precision the game demands. Occasional visual glitches.