Many fans have been waiting for it for over 20 years: a sequel to Jet Set Radio (Future). Sega hasn’t done anything with the franchise apart from releasing a port on Steam as part of the Dreamcast ports bundle, which the company from Shinagawa released. Thankfully, the Dutch two-dev outfit Team Reptile picked up the skates and went on to create Bomb Rush CyberFunk, an undeniable love letter to the game that screams 2001.
After all this time the street culture both Jet Set Radio and Bomb Rush CyberFunk transcend never really died down. Yes, there where many subcultures then, and many others have emerged since, but anyone living in an urban area can attest to the fact that skating, graffiti, and the whole b-boy lifestyle are still alive and well.
A Cyberpunk Tale
The game takes place in New Amsterdam, which is a clever nod to both the birthplace of many the cultural references in this game, New York, as well as Amsterdam. With a bit of fantasy, the birth ground of Dion Koster, the creative director of the game.
The game kicks off with us taking on the role of Faux, one of the revered ‘Big 3’ in the scene. Engaged in a one-on-one confrontation with the police, while attempting to make a daring escape from a detention cell in the police station, Faux meets a shocking fate—decapitated by a 12-inch record in a gruesomely brutal manner. However, in line with the game’s cyberpunk influences, a member of the Bomb Rush Crew successfully flees with your body, arranging for Faux to receive a new cybernetic head.
Equipped with your new cybernetic head, you assume the identity of Red. Embarking on your existential quest, you’re driven to locate your original head and delve into the history of the former possessor of your body, Faux. This search takes you through the 5 boroughs of New Amsterdam. In order to get the information you need, you have to challenge and defeat the borough ruling crews. As a side effect your crew take their turf along the way. The Bomb Rush Crew is committed to aiding you, recognizing that by utilizing the body of one of New Amsterdam’s legends, they can reach to the status of ‘All City’ and assert dominion over the entire metropolis.
Tagging was the case that they gave me
It becomes evident quite swiftly that the New Amsterdam Police are controlling the city with a heavy-handed police state approach, marked by an unhealthy dose of violence. In order to get rid of these police state enforcing coppers, you can beat them up, but this inevitably will scale up their numbers and force they apply. You can use public toilets, just like garages in GTA, to change clothes, which will immediately get them of your back. The fighting, compared to the skating, is remarkably dull. It is repetitious, a bit clunky and just not that rewarding.
Your journey for your head takes you to New Amsterdam’s city center and its five adjacent boroughs. In order to get to the right people to extract information, you need to build your reputation (simply called REP) in each of these parts of town. You do this by tagging over the borough ruling crews’ pieces. These are spread through out the area and you need to apply your skills to reach these pieces and ‘write’ over them. The streets and buildings are filled with railings, fences, and billboards you can grind on and help you get to those hard to reach places. You can collect a wide range of tags to decorate the neighborhood. Each can be applied by executing a specific motion combo with the left thumb stick.
Once you have enough REP you can challenge competing crew members to one-on-one duels to copy a specific combo route through the stage, score a specific amount of point within a set time or copy one specific combo. When you beat the crew, you will be confronted with the police that has been despatched to the ruckus. You will have to deal with them too, to unlock the next borough.
If you have played Jet Set Radio (Future), this gameplay loop must sound like music to your ears, as this is almost a carbon copy. The interactions with the crews, police, and your own crew’s hideout, all have to a bigger or lesser extent its origins in Jet Set Radio.
While the way the game actually plays looks like a carbon copy of JSR, there are intricate differences that mix up the gameplay quite a lot. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk traded the wall ride mechanic of JSR with the slide and manual of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series. This allows you to continue your combos and transfer over flat ground to another railing or billboard. Combine this with the boost pack and the ability to ride poles vertically, and you have unlimited amount of scoring possibilities.
To the 5 Boroughs
The boroughs in Bomb Rush CyberFunk are fairly large with a lot of nooks and crannies. Each has multiple levels you can access. Some can be reached fairly simple (using the escalator, for instance), but for some levels you need to really explore and find your way up. All the boroughs have a distinct visual appearance with different color palettes and unique landmark buildings, which you sometimes can ‘ride’ up to.
As noted before, Team Reptile didn’t do much to hide its ambition to recreate Jet Set Radio. The visual style resides somewhere between the original Dreamcast version of Jet Set Radio and Jet Set Radio Future, the revamped version for Xbox. It looks just as colorful and cell shaded as those games, down to the low-res texture details on faces and clothes you might recognize from the original Dreamcast classic.
Although it definitely nailed the look, it does lack some atmosphere to a certain degree. The squares and streets are so wide and spread out, the game didn’t manage to fill them up with enough people and props to make it feel alive and kicking. The design choice to spread the areas out in order to create bigger combo trails backfires a bit here.
However, the primary criticism lies in the game’s inability to effectively convey the story through its cutscenes. The cutscenes, devoid of voice-overs, often come across as static and tend to drag on for an extended period. This issue becomes particularly obvious during the initial stages of the game. Here, it’s hard to get engaged due to a combination of necessary but arduous introductions and tutorial-style sequences that drags for quite a while.
Rock Steady Crew
Once you get rolling in the free-roaming city, your crew-buddies inform you of gameplay features and mechanics by means of your handy flip phone. At that point the pacing takes a leap in the right direction. From the moment I got let loose, it felt like there is so much to explore. I got extremely distracted trying to uncover every piece of street, side walk and alley of this city. I was totally locked in the idea of trying to reach seemingly out of reach billboards and tag spots. It took me hours to get enough REP to enable me to challenge the crews. Not because I had a hard time to reach the threshold, but because I constantly derailed myself with silly self-assigned side quests. A real testament to how fun moving around the city really is.
And if that isn’t enough, you can also search for a dance mat somewhere in the streets which allows you to switch between the characters. Trying to find out the nuances and differences between the characters and possible gear changes gives you yet another layer of discovery. Although the impact shouldn’t be overstated because I quickly found out that there isn’t much of a difference between using a skateboard, blades or a bike. The tricks look different but are executed in the same manner.
Lord of the boards
Initially, learning to move around New Amsterdam happens with ups and downs. Hopping from one railing to another isn’t that challenging. Trying to incorporate billboards and rails high above the ground will come with some trial and error, though. It took me a couple of hours to get a grip on the controls. But soon after I started landing satisfying combos, one after the other. Which character ou choose or mode of transportation doesn’t really matter. Everything plays rougly the same. Once you fully master the controls and the combo system, though, I did get the feeling that it was scraping the bottom of the “combo and trick mechanics” barrel quite quickly. Still, it will do, but if there ever to be a BRC2, this is where opportunities lay for improvement.
Block rockin’ beats
Inevitably, games of this kind rely heavily on their soundtrack, and BRC has not only met but exceeded these expectations. The game boasts an extensive selection of Hip-Hop, Two-step, Drum & Bass, alternative, club, and other sub-genre indie tracks that complement the game perfectly. Without fail, these tracks capture the atmosphere and scene exceptionally well. The standout songs are true earworms, earning their place on my Spotify favorites list. Tracks such as “Spectre” by Reso and “Watchyaback!” by wev make it impossible to sit still while playing, your head will be wobbling along with the beat, I’ll promise you. I’ve included the Spotify playlist, created by Team Reptile themselves, below for subscribers to the service.
Aside from its somewhat lacking veneer in production and fairly empty open world. However, the core gameplay loop still stands very strong. Better than it’s inspiration, even. It builds upon JSR’s gameplay mechanics with manuals and slides, along with the verticality the levels provide. It significantly expands on the already strong fundamentals JRS established. Once locked into the gameplay loop, it’s hard to put down the controller. The music further enhances this experience.
Adding a bit more depth to the combo system and tricks could propel Bomb Rush CyberFunk beyond its inspiration. In its current form, however, a crew battle between the two would be a close call. But ultimately, JSR infused slightly more flavor into its pops and locks and claims ultimate bragging rights. But just by a slight margin. On its own Bomb Rush CyberFunk is an head bobbing and fun experience, even without any knowledge of JSR’s existence or affection for street culture it represents.
+ Addictive gameplay loop
+ Huge open levels with lots of verticality
+ The levels have a lot to discover
+ Killer soundtrack
- Story and cutscenes are bit clunky and slow paced
- Combos and combat system has its limits
- The city feels a bit empty