All the style in the world doesn’t help Bomb Rush Cyberfunk live up to its inspiration.
Image: Team Reptile
Red, the protagonist of the vibrantly colored skating game Bomb Rush Cyberfunk, literally loses his head in the tutorial. After his decapitation by flying record, Red gets a shiny new robot head, along with the burning question of who exactly he was before becoming part machine.
As he discovers more about who he used to be, Red tries to forge his own identity and break free from the tethers of his complicated legacy. If only Bomb Rush Cyberfunk could do the same.
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is an homage/spiritual sequel to cult classic Jet Set Radio and its sequel, Jet Set Radio Future. Set in the funky futuristic city of Tokyo-to, Jet Set Radio starred a memorable cast of skaters, graffiti artists, and DJs all battling for tagging dominance and evading the extremely trigger-happy police along the way.
Replace “Tokyo-to” with “New Amsterdam,” and that describes Bomb Rush Cyberfunk as well.
The trouble is, Jet Set Radio was all about its one-of-a-kind style, and Bomb Rush Cyberfunk doesn’t do much to stand out on its own.
If you’ve played its predecessor, you know how to play Bomb Rush Cyberfunk already. The game is broken up into multiple neighborhoods, each run by its own resident gang. Your job is to skate or bike your way through, pulling off impossible stunt combos and covering the streets with graffiti until you gain enough of a reputation to claim it as your own turf.
Each stage plays out in a predictable format. Your first order of business is to find where each neighborhood’s gang has already tagged and cover their art with your own. This earns you Rep, which you need a growing amount of to challenge the gang to a turf war. Finding enough spots to paint means exploring every corner of the neighborhood — and exposes some of Bomb Rush Cyberfunk’s biggest flaws.
Image: Team Reptile
While you can pick up maps that display each zone’s graffiti spots, they’re often well hidden, meaning you’ll spend a lot of time searching for places to tag on your own. That’s not such a big deal early on, but as later levels become sprawling labyrinths, I spent a frustrating amount of time retracing my steps to find the last piece of graffiti I needed to hit a stage’s Rep threshold.
To make things worse, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk levels can feel a little indistinct. After the first two stages, their identities are more clearly defined. But, within each level, there’s not much to hold onto.
Even in more interesting stages, like a giant shopping mall and an offshore oil rig, few individual details stick out. That makes New Amsterdam feel a bit lifeless, and more consequentially, it makes it difficult to remember paths through the level as you explore.
Once you’ve got a neighborhood gang’s attention, you can prove yourself by fulfilling challenges for individual members. That might mean doing a certain number of tricks in one combo or pulling off a specific sequence of grinds and other tricks. These mini-challenges are a clever way of reinforcing techniques you already know and making sure you’re ready for the turf war.
Finally, you can challenge the resident gang for their turf, in a showdown officiated by a group of elders known as the Oldheads. I got a good laugh out of seeing these elder statesmen appear, but aside from them, Bomb Rush Cyberfunk lacks any particularly memorable characters.
Some of their designs look great, but the characters themselves don’t have much personality of their own — a major shame given how much characters like DJ Professor K and Captain Onimusha defined Jet Set Radio.
Image: Team Reptile
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk’s trick system is built for style, speed, and nothing else. You perform tricks simply by pressing one of the face buttons, and timing doesn’t affect your score.
You’ll automatically grind on any available surface, and you can perform a manual to nearly infinitely extend combos on the ground with minimal effort. It does look fairly impressive and pulling off a massive combo across an entire level is a lot of fun, but in the end, you can essentially button-mash your way through the entire game.
Things feel even worse in combat, a perplexing addition that’s way too prominent in Bomb Rush Cyberfunk. As you tag a neighborhood, you’ll quickly gain Heat, meaning more and stronger cops will show up to stop you. They’re not much of a threat, but they can interrupt your flow and even use chains to slow you to a crawl, making them an extremely tiring nuisance.
In the course of a level, cops can pretty much be ignored, but far too often you’ll be forced into a fight. These boss battles may pit you against flying enemies or just a horde of foot soldiers. But, either way, they’re an absolute drag.
In combat, your only options are to boost toward an enemy or flail wildly on the face buttons to attack. Your moves feel completely weightless, with no sense of weight when you land an attack.
Image: Team Reptile
Much of what doesn’t work about Bomb Rush Cyberfunk feels like an attempt to simply recreate Jet Set Radio. What makes that so frustrating is that it shines most when it steps out of its inspiration’s shadow.
As Red gets closer to figuring out his past, he enters stages inside his own mind. Each of these psychedelic levels features twisting landscapes and surreal imagery that are the most interesting visuals in the game.
Rather than straightforward arenas for tricks, these levels essentially turn Bomb Rush Cyberfunk into a platformer on wheels, with dramatic camera shifts from over-the-shoulder to side-scroller perspective and inventive puzzles built from dream-like geometry. Unfortunately, these levels are extremely short, and only a few pop up throughout your adventure.
There’s no doubt that some Jet Set Radio fans hungry for more will enjoy Bomb Rush Cyberfunk. I’ve been waiting for this series’ return in spirit along with the rest of them, but in the end, it did little more than inspire nostalgia for the original, gorgeous though it may be.
Vibrant art color recaptures the feel of Jet Set Radio
Fantastic soundtrack full of catchy hip-hop tracks
Each level has some fun challenges throughout
Some inventive level design in isolated sections
Shallow combo system
Repetitive gameplay loop
Frequent, unsatisfying combat
Cast of forgettable characters
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is available on Nintendo Switch and PC. This review is based on the PC version. A key was not provided for the review.
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