It's been over two decades since the last Jet Set Radio game grinded its way into our lives, and Bomb Rush Cyberfunk might just be the unofficial sequel we've been waiting for.
You'd be forgiven for looking at Bomb Rush Cyberfunk's vibrant cel-shaded art style and thinking it was in fact Jet Set Radio, and the similarities don't end there – it plays, sounds and feels exactly how you'd expect JSR to in 2023 – and that's exactly what we wanted going in.
It's no secret that Team Reptile were heavily influenced by the classic graffiti sim, but Bomb Rush goes far beyond influence to the point it felt like we were playing a well-made JSR bootleg.
Which at first can be confusing, because as big fans of JSR we almost felt dirty for cheating on those games with an obvious imitation – but it's been over 20 years, and playing through a game that has taken so much care to capture what made JSR great turned our cautiousness into love.
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The same core gameplay loop and mechanics exist between both games. You recruit an eclectic group of graffiti artists (writers) and head to different districts of a dynamic metropolis to tag walls, challenge other crews, and take over their turf in a bid to become All City.
Bomb Rush takes steps to build on the formula, with BMX and skateboards usable alongside the traditional in-line skates. There's also a boost pack and more of a focus on Tony Hawk-style trick battles, which make use of the new dopamine-inducing multipliers from leaning around corners for a momentum boost – just some of the new tech that makes performing combos feel so fluid and tight.
Each form of transport also has the ability to reach unique parts of the world. For example, you may need to use in-line skates to shatter a glass floor, or a skateboard to raise a fire hydrant, which is a cool little detail that makes exploring, switching characters and changing your ride worthwhile.
Tagging graffiti has also been given an intuitive twist, where you push the stick in any available direction of your choice to spray different art you've collected. It works really well and feels like a good advancement of the systems used in JSR and JSRF.
The music was a major part of JSR, and Bomb Rush has tried to replicate that to the point where they recruited original composer Hideki Naganuma for a few tracks, which really encapsulate the nostalgic fever-dream that experiencing this game is.
There's no denying that riding around the colourful streets of New Amsterdam, comboing rail-grinds, wall-rides, manuals and pleasingly floaty air tricks, is a vibe.
Skating between the interconnected districts and figuring out the puzzle of how to reach a specific graffiti spot through scanning and navigating the architectural sandbox is a joy, with Bomb Rush essentially leaving you to your own devices as you drift into a trance-like state of exploration, with the dynamic soundtrack guiding you.
The game's lack of hand-holding may put off some players, but for us it provided some of the best moments in the game. Discovering secrets, finding costumes, songs, graffiti styles and playable characters who can join your crew was great.
Happening upon potential recruits you can enlist through various challenges really gave the city life, and while some can be easily missed, it's fun hunting them down and can give you something to do after the main story.
A lot of the map is also a callback to its inspiration, with levels outright lifted from JSR, like the bus terminal and skyscrapers towering in the night sky with golden statues looming overhead. It's like entering an alternate reality where this was made instead of JSR, blurring the line of homage, albeit one that brings comfort.
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Unfortunately, there are areas where the combo breaks and the game stumbles. The police system can be very irritating and frequent in the late-game, bosses can be finicky and the omission of a checklist for collectables makes it very difficult to know what you're missing.
The game is also lacking an iconic DJ Professor K-like narrator to help glue it all together.
Bomb Rush doesn't quite reach the heights of JSR when it comes to the characters, soundtrack and atmosphere (we've had years to fall in love with those after all), but it shows adoration for the source material and definitely surpasses it when it comes to movement and controls.
Despite its flaws, Bomb Rush does enough to introduce welcome mechanics and make itself feel like a natural progression for JSR.
Spiritual successor, clone, imitation, blatant copy – whatever label you attribute to it – there's no doubt this is the closest thing to a Jet Set Radio Future follow-up we'll probably ever get, and we enjoyed every minute and wished there was more when it ended.
Whether you're someone who enjoyed Jet Set Radio or you've read this entire review not knowing what it is, we wholeheartedly recommend trying Bomb Rush Cyberfunk to experience its unique presentation and quirky blend of warping genres.
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is a modernised love letter to Jet Set Radio that combines fun and stylistic gameplay, with a kaleidoscope of updated Dreamcast-era visuals and sound to create a sequel in everything but name. We may never see Sega release another Jet Set Radio again, but this is the next best thing and an exciting foundation for the future.
Platform reviewed on: PlayStation 5
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