Why Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is the new Jet Set Radio
Video game players and critics alike were given a welcome surprise on August 11th, 2021, when a game that looked strikingly similar to Sega’s long dormant Jet Set Radio series was announced under the title Bomb Rush Cyberfunk. Having struggled to succeed on Microsoft’s Xbox console with Jet Set Radio Future after Sega exited the hardware market, many fans hoped perhaps this new game was the long-awaited sequel to these cult classics. What they instead found was a spiritual successor made by a different studio begging the question: why is there a game that looks just like Jet Set, but isn’t a sequel? To answer that, it’s best to go through the history of the Jet Set series itself.
Jet Set Radio started its life on the Sega Dreamcast in June 2000 and was almost immediately itself beloved by both fans and critics alike. The game garnered various awards, with its sound and visual design taking accolades across the board. To say the game was well received would be an understatement. Unfortunately, Sega’s Dreamcast had to compete with the Nintendo Gamecube and Sony’s juggernaut the Playstation 2. Due to this competition, the game wasn’t exactly considered a commercial success. JSR received another chance in 2012 when a HD release was ported to modern consoles like the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. Fans of the Dreamcast release were thrilled to once again have access to the game, with visuals and music that had barely aged in the 12 years since its launch thanks to forward thinking design choices like cel-shading and Hideki Naganuma’s incredible soundtrack. This release wasn’t without its issues however, With things that may have been overlooked on JSR’s initial release became increasingly frustrating for modern players, such as missions having time limits and the inability to speed up grinding severely limiting the experience. Of course, it wasn’t like the team at Smilebit weren’t aware of these problems – after all, they had fixed them in Jet Set Radio Future. So why wasn’t Jet Set Radio Future made available anywhere while Jet Set Radio was?
The landscape of videogames was shaken again in November 2001 when the original Xbox was launched in North America. Unable to keep up with the increasing cost of console wars, Sega bowed out, deciding to focus on publishing games instead. In a rather odd move Sega decided to republish some Dreamcast titles as well as new games on the American Xbox rather than through another Japanese company like Sony. Starting with Panzer Dragoon Orta, Shenmue II and then finally, a long-anticipated sequel with Jet Set Radio Future. JSRF was a reimagining of the original game, taking the time to remove all the tedious things that bogged it down. Missions no longer had time limits unless it was required for story purposes. Grinding could now be sped up by changing to a different type of grind trick. Handplants allowed players to get massive air on half pipes and it was now possible to do a boost dash if players had at least ten spray cans. All these small changes helped elevate what was an already great game. Like its predecessor, Jet Set Radio Future scored many accolades from fans and critics alike. However, the newcomer Microsoft was considered an underdog, entering a race that had been run by Nintendo and Sony for many years at this point. Suffering a similar fate to the Dreamcast, the Xbox console was not thought of very highly by the video game market which was reflected in sales; a mere 24 million in comparison to their biggest competitor, Sony, which moved an incredible 158.7 million units. No matter how great a game is, sometimes commercial success is the only measure of success. Despite being one of the most requested back catalogue titles for years, JSRF was never given another chance, even when more powerful consoles like the Series X could smooth out the performance issues it suffered on 360. Failing to appear on digital marketplaces, it’s a rough proposition asking people to source a disc for it in 2023 when they’re going for as much as $150 AU on eBay currently. Ouch.
Besides a lack of both digital and physical availability, another roadblock in the way of a JSRF rerelease is down to the fact that the team that created the original Jet Set series are no longer working together. With over two decades passing since the release of JSRF, some moved onto other studios while others left the game industry altogether. Making matters worse, JSRF had fairly poor sales numbers, while Sega focused on IP that were much more commercially successful. In fact, no Sega title to ever hit the Xbox received a sequel from Sega; even Shemue III required crowdfunding and a new publisher.
Attempts to revive the Jet Set brand over the years were met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm by Sega, even when approached by external companies interested in development work. A proposed sequel for Nintendo, Jet Set Radio Wii, never even made it past the pitch stage. Sega has been happy to fuel rumours over the years however, going so far as to add Beat as a playable character in Super Monkey Ball, but their choices never eventuated into more Jet Set Radio. With the publisher not seeing commercial value and the original team split up, it makes sense that a sequel never eventuated. So, if a sequel and a remake are out of the question, why not a HD rerelease of Jet Set Radio Future? As it turns out, a mess of potential legal issues may be the culprit.
Something that many people remember fondly in the Jet Set series is the music. While the composer Hideki Naganuma wrote many iconic songs including bangers like ‘Funky Dealer’, ‘Like a Butterfly’, ‘Sweet Soul Brother’ and ‘Oldies But Happies’, there were also plenty of others mixed in. These songs were easy to listen to and had the right type of energy to make sure the theming was on point. Jet Set Radio Future included a range of licensed music including Cibo Matto’s ‘Birthday Cake’, Scapegoat Wax’s ‘Aisle 10’ and the Latch brothers ‘Count Latchula’, the latter of whom also remixed eight songs for the soundtrack. All in all, there were 12 licensed tracks and 22 originals by Naganuma. Unfortunately, there are also artists who are on the soundtrack that aren’t even credited since another artist had remixed their songs, so the credit went to the latter rather than the former. Several artists such as the rapper, Freestyle and j-rock band Guitar Vader were left uncredited on the official soundtracks as the songs were remixed by The Latch Brothers and Hideki Naganuma respectively. With the cost of having to relicense music, it makes sense that Sega want nothing to do with it. Back when the soundtrack was originally composed, digital downloads, streaming and HD rereleases weren’t a thing. Besides increasing licensing costs for music, the artists themselves may not own the licensing rights to their own work, which can trap these tracks in a knot of legal issues. Of course, it would be possible to release Jet Set Radio Future without the soundtrack, but obviously, Sega doesn’t believe that it’s worth the effort. In the end, with the publisher having given up on the series, there wasn’t much left for fans to do except commiserate about what could have been. That is, unless you are Team Reptile.
It’s rather obvious from Team Reptile’s Steam page that they had very much been inspired by the visual style of the Jet Set series. Frustrated by the lack of movement on Sega’s part, Team Reptile took matters into their own hands, producing the sequel they’d craved for years. When the trailer for Bomb Rush Cyberfunk dropped, the immediate reaction was people wondering if it was a new Jet Set with countless comparisons made between the earlier titles and this new homage. The characters and environments shown would make original JSR art director Ryuta Ueda proud, while the audio in the trailer was so reminiscent of Jet Set because Hideki Naganuma himself contributed to the OST. Naganuma has worked with Team Reptile before on their game Lethal League, contributing ‘Ain’t Nothing Like a Funky Beat’ to the soundtrack. With backing like this, it’s easy to see why fans of the Jet Set series are cautiously optimistic. But this doesn’t mean that Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is a complete copy/paste job of the games that have inspired it. Team Reptile have taken measures to make it their own. BRC takes place in Amsterdam rather than in Tokyo-to, which makes sense considering it’s Team Reptile’s hometown. Players will also be able to choose their form of transport with BMX bikes and skateboards being shown off alongside the inline skates everyone expects. There may be further surprises in the game, but these won’t be known until the game is released tomorrow on Steam and Nintendo Switch.
It’s always sad when something that brings people joy ends up getting retired for good. In the case of the Jet Set Radio series, Sega just didn’t believe it was profitable enough to bother bringing it back for a modern audience. Hopefully, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk does well enough both critically and commercially to prove that kind of thinking wrong.