Is Neon Tail the Next Jet Set Radio?
Grind through the streets of Bluepulse City to save it from disaster
Like many gamers, I have fond memories of the Sega Dreamcast. It’s easy to look back with rose-coloured glasses, but I remember that even during its heyday, the Dreamcast represented something different — almost rebellious. Perhaps this is because it was something of a showcase for the weirdest, most brilliantly outlandish games I’d ever seen assembled on a single console. Sega were in their prime from a game development standpoint; their numerous internal studios were a veritable who’s who of game design superstars. One of my favourites was Smilebit, the studio behind the legendary Jet Set Radio franchise.
Much has been written about Jet Set Radio and its Xbox sequel, Jet Set Radio Future. Although it’s true that in some respects, these games haven’t aged well (particularly the original), it’s also definitely true that both titles are still a ton of fun to play today. Not only are they enjoyable in terms of gameplay, but both games simply ooze style — this is one area where they really haven’t aged, thanks in large part to Hideki Naganuma’s brilliant soundtrack. Ever since Jet Set Radio Future, though, many fans have been wondering if we’d see the franchise continue. Honestly, the situation is a little grim, especially given that the Sega of old doesn’t really exist anymore — its Dreamcast-era studios simply don’t exist in the way they once did. Sega still helms numerous triple-A franchises, but much of its glorious late-’90s development talent has long since left the building, so to speak. There were some games that were, for lack of a better term, JSR-like: I’m thinking of Insomniac Games’ utterly brilliant Sunset Overdrive, primarily. It kind of satisfied the JSR itch in that it featured wonderfully-smooth skating-and-grinding mechanics in the context of an enormous, neon-soaked open world. Although its premise was fundamentally different than the JSR games, it was perhaps equally bizarre and lighthearted. The soundtrack wasn’t remotely as cool, but I guess you can’t win ’em all.
Enter Rocket Juice Games’ Neon Tail, a shiny new open world skater that is not only directly influenced by Jet Set Radio (according to the company’s enthusiastic founder, Feili Chen), but which seeks to expand the sub-genre by leaning more heavily into story-driven experiences like Life is Strange.
The game sees you take the reigns as a (so far) unnamed female protagonist who already feels as iconically zany and colourful as Jet Set Radio’s Beat or Gum. And while the game is still very early in development (it commenced production in 2016 and is being built by a team of only three developers, led by Chen), it shows a great deal of promise — not only because the team have managed to nail the visual style, but also because they’re clearly spending a great deal of time perfecting the core mechanics. Movement — the ability to seamlessly navigate Bluepulse City and leap from grind rail to grind rail — is absolutely key in a game like this.
The team at Taipei-based Rocket Juice Games is clearly approaching the game with a great deal of ambition. They plan to include a full story-based campaign, as well as side missions and free roaming activities.
If you’re interested in Neon Tail, you can play a very early demo, which can be downloaded from itch.io, Game Jolt, or Google Drive. The development team has also established a Patreon if you feel so inclined.