There’s no denying it: Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is the “unofficially-official” Jet Set Radio (a.k.a. Jet Grind Radio, JSR) sequel that fans of Sega’s inexplicably long-abandoned inline-skating action franchise have been waiting literally decades for. These are facts, whether indie developer Team Reptile’s Game Director Dion Koster wants to accept them or not. The JSR fandom has already claimed it, and it takes only seconds of watching and listening to Bomb Rush Cyberfunk in motion to understand why. The story can get rather dark and is kind of bonkers, though.
The plot centres on Red (formerly known as “Faux”), an extraordinarily talented and renowned graffiti artist who is decapitated during an escape attempt from a local prison, but not before he saves the life of fellow writer (artist), Tryce. With Faux’s head gone missing in the commotion that immediately follows his murder, Tryce and his crew member Bel manage to get Faux’s body to a fixer, who replaces his head with a cyberhead. This technically saves Faux by keeping his body alive, albeit with much of his memory no longer intact.
Taking on the nickname that Tryce and Bel bestow upon him, Red agrees to join their BRC Crew (Bomb Rush Crew) to help them go “All City” in exchange for their assistance help in getting his head back from whoever has it and, hopefully, his memories along with them.
Going All City (i.e. dominating the entire city with one’s graffiti art) won’t be easy, though, as the game’s fictional setting of New Amsterdam is a metropolis made up of five large boroughs, each ruled by a rival crew. Players will have to invade each borough one by one, tagging and spraying overtop of the local crew’s art until they catch said rival’s attention and build up enough reputation (“REP”) to prove themselves worthy of a formal audience. It is there that the BRC can challenge the local faction to a Crew Battle, where the crew that can rack up the highest collective combo trick score within a given time will win the contested area and get one step closer to the All City mantle.
“There are also a host of gameplay and quality of life improvements over that of JSR and JSRF that make Bomb Rush Cyberfunk much more inviting to both fans and newcomers.”
In a similar fashion to Jet Set Radio, all the crews in Bomb Rush Cyberfunk get around by grinding on rails and performing tricks, but while the characters in JSR games primarily used inline skates, Team Reptile’s game takes the concept to the next level, adding in skateboards, BMX bikes, and even on-foot tricks into the mix. There are also a host of gameplay and quality-of-life improvements over that of JSR and JSRF that make Bomb Rush Cyberfunk much more inviting to both fans and newcomers.
For instance, sliding, a mechanic similar to the Manual in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games, can be engaged by holding down Right Trigger (RT), allowing players to continuously skid along the ground on their chosen character’s board, skates or bike for a limited time in order to extend their trick combo without penalty. This enables players to traverse areas where grindable structures are sparse, bounce back from otherwise disastrous combo slip-ups (like failing to properly catch the start of a rail), or potentially keep their combos going indefinitely. Just remember: the floor is lava. Players can also lean into corners on a grind to build speed and activate combo multipliers.
But there’s more. Red and his colleagues are equipped with spray-can-fueled Boost Packs, which while similar to the rocket skates used by JSRF’s protagonists, they are more versatile. As one might expect, the Boost Pack is used to blast the player forward like a rocket across the ground, along a rail, or even while airborne to cross large gaps, but it can also be used to double-jump by briefly propelling them forward in mid-air. Players can therefore accelerate, correct their jumps and/or change their trajectory more easily than they ever could in the JSR games, giving them a greater sense of control in putting together combos or surmounting seemingly unreachable areas.
Boost can also be used offensively to bowl over riot cops or as a defensive means of fending off certain attacks, such as chain turrets which attempt to slow down and entangle the player until the cops arrive to beat them into submission. Just like in JSRF however, Boost consumes spray cans, however, so players must always be on the hunt to collect more to ensure they’ll have enough boost to perform the aforementioned abilities on command. Thankfully, spray cans are plentiful in Bomb Rush Cyberfunk, usually found floating around numerous spots in New Amsterdam, and large caches of them can also be discovered by kicking over public-use objects like vending machines.
Those who have never tried JSR or JSRF will no doubt take the following for granted, but Bomb Rush Cyberfunk gives players more agency over their tricks, assigning different, contextual sets of moves to the X, Y and B buttons, rather than having the player character automatically bust out arbitrary moves JSR-style. This difference is key, as building combo scores with a continuous variety of moves in REP challenges and Crew Battles is essential for progressing through the story.
Players can further add variety to their tricks by pressing LB to switch to up their “Ride Movestyle,” which basically translates to an “on-foot mode” that slows the character down to a sprint speed that is easier to control in precarious situations and grants access to a second set of contextual trick moves. Also, the X, Y and B buttons serve as situational melee attacks when used in tussles with the cops, and players with quick reflexes can even add insult to injury by spraying graffiti combo artwork on a defeated officer that they’ve just kicked away (just like bombing a rival crew’s piece) by pressing the RB button to spray and then following the input commands. It adds a touch of personality to the game’s otherwise simple combat.
There are many elements like the above that I could go on about for many more paragraphs, but the main gist is that Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is a game that feels just like Jet Set Radio and its sequel, but without all the friction. Rail hops, wall grinds and jumps are still tricky, but they’re reliable enough in Cyberfunk to be challenging without being super-frustrating. There’s no fall damage unless you fall out of a zone completely and have to respawn, but health regenerates to full after a short while. There’s no bailing when a trick fails, so players won’t lose any time in setting up their next trick and can look cool doing just about anything.
Most notably, apart from Bomb Rush Cyberfunk’s Crew Battles, there is no timer enforced upon players. Without an equivalent to JSR’s merciless doomsday clock looming overhead like a dark cloud, players can explore each borough of New Amsterdam at their own pace and gradually familiarize themselves with all of their interconnecting hidden paths, rails and shortcuts. More importantly, they can tag and re-tag the area with different graffiti, find hidden collectibles and practice traversing the difficult rail lines in those areas as much as they like. This in turn will adequately prepare them for the timed Crew Battles where they can ill afford to make a mistake.
“Speaking of difficulty, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk’s is a comfortable medium overall and never presents a challenge that can’t be overcome with practice.”
Of course, there are gameplay and presentation aspects that are unique to Bomb Rush Cyberfunk that I absolutely adore. I love that the characters all have flip phones and that when you access your phone’s messages, camera, GPS map and whatnot via the in-game UI, the character you’re controlling is holding the phone in their hand and distractedly using it, even if they are grinding or performing tricks (plus you can use the map in real-time). I also especially love how switching characters first involves starting a “cypher” by finding a public dance mat and dancing until your crew shows up (reminiscent of JSR’s opening character select screen).
I’ve never been a big fan of graffiti art, but I’m impressed by just how much usable artwork is in Bomb Rush Cyberfunk (approximately 72 tags and pieces) and that just about every tag and piece has its own analog stick input command, complete with tutorials on how to spray them stored in one’s cellphone. Players can memorize their favourite artworks, so they can throw them up quickly when spraying opportunities arise, but it isn’t really necessary as time always slows down enough for players to input them at a leisurely pace. Speaking of difficulty, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk’s is a comfortable medium overall and never presents a challenge that can’t be overcome with practice.
Finally, it should surprise no one that’s read this far that Bomb Rush Cyberfunk’s visuals absolutely pop on Series X in 4K60 and that its soundtrack totally SLAPS. The game embraces the cel-shaded graphics techniques that were first popularized in videogames by JSR and JSRF but brings them forward into a crisp, modern day presentation. It also leans even harder into the graffiti, hip-hop and dance cultures that inspired the original games (Koster himself is a former B-Boy and performed mo-cap for the game), and it recreates the eclectic musical stylings that made the JSR games so unique, even going as far as to bring in their OG composer, Hideki Naganuma as a contributor.
To conclude, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is re-captured lighting in a bottle; a rare example where a spiritual successor nails the essence of its inspiration so accurately that it could easily be the next instalment in the series. If anyone at SEGA is drafting up a new Jet Set Radio game, they had best use this one as their blueprint, or better yet, drive a truck of money right up to Team Reptile’s front door and get them directly involved.