In the shadow of Sega’s ambivalence towards all of their old franchises, Team Reptile (creators of Lethal League) have taken it upon themselves to pull the early 2000s skater/ b-boy vibe out from that shadow and actually give Jet Set Radio fans something to do.
Ever since the official move-style trailer back in 2022, I have been eagerly anticipating this release. Of course I was excited because the game looked and sounded great, but the main hook for me was a line Team Reptile used at the end of their description: “As always, no weak shit”. From that point on, I was all in, and, as high as my expectations were, and with as many problems as I still have with the game, I’d say they basically nailed it.
What You’re Doing and Why
In Bomb Rush, you play as Faux, a famed graffiti artist and rebel who is being jailed for one of his many stylish, anti-establishment crimes. He is soon rescued from his cell by another outlaw named Tryce. After having freed Faux, he then recruits him into his gang and they both make their daring escape.
Unfortunately, during the escape, DJ Cyber (one of the gang leaders of this world) throws a razor sharp vinyl and decapitates Faux. Faux is soon revived, given a robotic head, and now he must find a way to retrieve his old head, as well as beat every other gang at doing sick-tricks and thumbing their collective nose at the police. If that description seems in any way off-putting or ‘stupid’, then just bail right now.
Convoluted, nonsense story aside, what’s the gameplay like?
You can, at any time, control any member of the Bomb Rush Crew (Tryce, Faux, or Bel) and use either skates, a bike, or a skateboard to style your way around the various districts of the city. And, should you ever become bored of those three, there are another 17 or so unlockable characters that you get throughout the story and post game.
The game is not so much open world as it is a collection of several large, themed or stylistically distinct areas. But enough about the nuts and bolts, how about the combos?
Number Go Up
In the original Jet Set Radio and Jet Set Radio Future, combos and score was pretty de-emphasized. Instead, the games were focused on efficiency and finding clear lines that could quickly get you from place to place. Bomb Rush has re-emphasized combos by giving you a manual and a boost meter.
There are four face buttons, meaning there are only 3 unique tricks and your jump; however, each of these tricks can be augmented into a ‘special’ by holding the left trigger (which is otherwise tied to your boost). These specials are also different depending on whether or not you are grinding, on a ramp, or in a manual.
Alternatively, you can just hold the left trigger and boost across the map if you need to get going in a hurry. You are almost never short of boost either as your boost is filled by doing tricks, tricks which can then be augmented by the boost, which in turn gets you even more boost. Every gameplay system plays into one another perfectly, and it’s so easy to learn that you’ll likely be pulling off 2 million point combos before you’ve left the second area.
Also, the way in which you build combos is tied to the level design. In Tony Hawk, your combo score is affected by your multiplier, which is an indication of how many tricks you’ve done thus far, but in Bomb Rush, your multiplier is only ever affected by the number of different ‘spots’ you’ve interacted with. If you wall run on a billboard, that’s x1; then, if you lean into a corner on a grind rail, that’s x2. This perfectly plays off of the Jet Set concept of finding clean and efficient lines because your combo can’t simply be boosted by finding a single infinite route or by wedging yourself in a half-pipe. It now encourages experimentation and exploration.
If my descriptions have not been sufficient in explaining just how rad this is, then check this out.
Hideki Naganuma (and others)
The music in Bomb Rush Cyberfunk may be the single best soundtrack I’ve heard in a game since… well, Jet Set Radio. Some of this is due to the fact that THE man, Hideki Naganuma, is back.
Hideki Naganuma composed most of the tracks on the Jet Set soundtracks and, with the absolute cavalcade of bangers he has submitted here, he has obviously lost none of his potency.
I’m not adept at musical theory, nor could I really say much more in terms of analysis, but just listen to this. If that doesn’t make you want to rip down a hill on a skateboard, then I don’t know what else to say.
Painting the Town Whatever Colour I Want
The graffiti system in Bomb Rush is one of those revelations that makes you slap your forehead and go “how the hell didn’t anyone think of this earlier?”
Graffiti is drawn by connecting the various points on a spot in any which way you like (assuming you’ve found the corresponding spray). This allows you to not only cover any given area in whatever designs you feel best represent the crew, but also gives you a degree of input and control that Jet Set never could.
Tagging spots gives you REP, which is necessary for progression, but it also gives you points. This means that tagging spots can be implemented into combos. Theoretically, you could tag and entire level in a single combo. Rad as that sounds, tags are not without cost, as they also call in the police.
Every time you tag a spot, or injure an officer/ disable a police vehicle, your wanted level goes up by one star. Every new star means a new enemy unit. First there are the foot-soldiers, then the handcuff turrets, then the shield carriers, then the helicopters, then the snipers, until finally, something else comes to hunt you down.
The Few but Impactful Problems
This game has masterfully trimmed all of the fat from its predecessors, but it’s also inexplicably added some of its own.
The combat in this game is fairly bog standard, essentially you just trick into somebody and then spray them. This is perfectly serviceable, but the game insists on having boss fights which are all either too easy to bother mentioning or they are that special, ‘why on earth would they include this’, sort of irritating.
The map in this game is legitimately awful. Every graffiti spot is marked as yellow, yet the entire map is also yellow, and there are no indications of where any collectibles are or where you’re supposed to go during missions. This isn’t a huge problem early on because you’re often stumbling into everything as it’s all new, but the moment that new game sheen rubs off, you will likely (as I did) run online to find the last few of however many collectibles there happen to be in any given level.
Songs are also unlocked through finding them in the world. I have no idea who approved this. This is again fine until you find yourself scouring the Earth looking for those two songs you’ve never heard. There is also no way to create any sort of playlist. Thankfully, I loved every song, but if there’s one or two tracks that you just can’t stand, then you’re going to have to open the list of songs and skip them EVERY time they come on.
Also, there are 20 characters in this game, yet all of them can either use skates, a bike, or a skateboard, and they all do the same tricks at the same speeds, and with the same animations. I know that this was likely done so that you can play as whoever you want as opposed to being forced to play the character which is the best for any given scenario, but this is a double-edged sword as it can make the whole cast feel very homogenous. There are also some odd omissions when it comes to unlockable characters: one of the unlockable characters has no voice lines, and another can only use the bike. Whether this was an oversight, a bug, or an actually intended feature is unknown, but weird none the less.
Much of this may seem nitpicky, and most of it is, but these are just the small quality of life things which tend to compound and make the game less enjoyable in the long run. Also, while most have been patched, I did experience a number of bugs in my initial playthrough, one of which made some tagging spots impossible to get and broke a level’s REP counter.
Yet, in spite of ALL of that, this is still a wonderful game, and definitely worth a shot if you are looking for a modern day Dreamcast experience, for better and for worse.
- Perfect gameplay loop
- Astounding soundtrack and style
- Perfect Dreamcast vibes
- Astoundingly superfluous bosses
- Asinine collectible tracking
- Uncanny Dreamcast frustration