Friday, June 9, 2017

Jet Set Radio - 2/20 hours

Jet Set Radio was originally released in the year 2000. Having this much distance from its original historical context, I'm not entirely sure how I'm supposed to relate to it. The thing is, it's really, really "90s" and I'm not sure if it's meant to be an ironic 90s or if it's really an earnest 90s of the sort that I've long since forgotten.

What do I mean when I call this game "90s"? Part of it is a surface-level assessment - the colors, the fashion, the music, the in-line skates. Another part of it is baked into the very premise of the game - the protagonists are rebelling against an ill-defined authority with the power of graffiti and extreme sports. It's a science-fiction game that doesn't necessarily make any references to the real-world decade, but the whole of its presentation definitely roots it in a very specific time period.

It's interesting to compare it to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, because that game attempted to emulate the feel of the remembered 80s, and subsequently wound up being more 80s than the 80s ever were. Jet Set Radio doesn't really have that issue. Yes, it's goofy at times, but it's the goofiness of something old and slightly embarrassing. It doesn't seem to undermine itself to speak to a self-aware audience.

Actually, the more I think about it, the less likely it seems that it's meant to be appreciated ironically. I feel like if this game were made today, as a "tribute" to the 90s, it would be faster and bolder and much more EXTREME. As it is, you get points for doing tricks on your skates, but the tricks themselves are relatively simple. In the ironic version of the game, you'd probably start by doing a 1080 and then work your way up from there. Also, you'd probably save the game with dial-up internet or something.

As it is, I'd describe it as "peak 90s" - the people who made it probably intended for it to be over-the-top with relentless cool, but it was not a cool out of time. They probably had no idea how well it might age.

And I don't want to say it's aged poorly. It's more that I've aged poorly. I was 18 when this game came out, so I'm firmly in its original target audience, but I no longer understand why the kids barrelling through crowded streets on rollerblades and spray-painting graffiti over every available surface are the heroes. I love the style and the sound of this game more than I'm entirely prepared to admit, but I've now got 17 years worth of bitter lessons about the true nature of power and authority, and subsequently can't think of the game's central conflict as anything but hopelessly naive.

Overall, I'm enjoying the game, despite the fact that I think it could stand to be about 1000% more woke, although I have run into a problem that may slow me down significantly - playing it for too long begins to hurt my hands. Not a lot. I'm not in agony or anything, but I have experienced a few trigger cramps. I'm probably just out of practice on account of not playing a controller-based action game since January, although it's also possible that since it requires such precision maneuvering I've been pulling the triggers too hard as a kind of stress reaction. I'll see how I'm feeling in a couple of hours. Hopefully the problem will clear up on its own.

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