Published on September 8th, 2023 | by Gareth Newnham
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk Review (PS5)
Summary: Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is the Jet Set Radio successor we have all been waiting far too long for.
It's the bomb
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk has big skates to fill. A spiritual successor to Jet Set Radio, one of the most beloved games of all time, with a devoted fan base that had been waiting so long for a sequel that they gave up waiting for SEGA to make one and instead made their own.
From the get-go, you can tell Bomb Rush Cyberfunk was a real labour of love for developers Team Reptile, as every cel-shaded pixel, rocket skate, and breakbeat screams JSR.
You play as Red, the AI inside a robotic head strapped to the body of a famous graffiti artist who has been decapitated by a crazed DJ with some really sharp records. After Red makes a deal to have his human head returned if the Bomb Rush gang can go ‘all city’ by taking over all five districts of New Amsterdam, he embarks on a citywide quest to tag every corner and grind every rail. But as he starts to bond with his crew and remember things from a life he never lived, Red starts to question his identity and what that even means at all.
Despite the surprisingly philosophical plot, Bomb Rush is, first and foremost, a rocket-powered extreme sports game, and the cyberpunk story beats about an AI’s existential crisis tend to fade quickly into the background when you’re trying to nail a perfect run during one of the game’s many high score chasing gang battles.
Unlike JSR, Red rides around on a skateboard instead of rollerblades ( but don’t worry, it’s not long before you can unlock a character with rocket skates and another on a BMX), but the basic feel and idea are still the same, with you using a simple combination of tricks, manuals, wall rides and grinds, to try and make as a big a combo as possible while tagging every billboard, bus, and bystander with an ever-expanding catalogue of graffiti for points and to improve your reputation.
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk’s presentation is absolutely sensational and looks just what you would expect a JSR sequel to look like. Lush cel-shaded visuals bring the colourful cast and futuristic cityscapes soaked in street art to life.
This is paired with an incredible soundtrack by Jet Set Radio composer Hideki Naganuma that presents a superb playlist of top-shelf electro-funk, breakbeats, techno, and hip-hop in your virtual pocket.
The character and gang designs are all pretty decent, although admittedly, they don’t quite have the same level of charm that Beat and the gang did in JSR; I did adore the Old Heads. A gang of old geezers in Addidas-style tracksuits, massive hats, and chunky gold belt buckles that adjudicate all gang disputes in the city.
BRC just needs some half-decent voice acting to help further bring its quirky cast to life, if only during the cut scenes. There’s plenty of well-written dialogue and a great plot, but the most anyone ever does is grunt while you’re left to read the subtitles. It’s not a deal breaker by any stretch, but I was hoping for some kind of Professor K-style monologues if nothing else.
Although Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is in many ways a throwback to JSR, it doesn’t mean that Team Reptile at least hasn’t attempted to innovate in some areas; the controls are tighter, the camera doesn’t throw a fit in tight areas, and there are some superb set pieces that feel like they take more queues from Mario than Sonics overlooked stablemate.
The one thing that kills the buzz of skating around New Amsterdam is the arrival of the cops. This is one area I wish Bomb Rush had decided to just leave well enough alone, as rather than the goofy game of cat and mouse JSR presented, you now have irritating turrets with pinpoint accuracy that fire chains at you, cops that knock you down, and the occasional sealed off boss battle. All of these things, however, can be bested by getting off your board ( a decent addition, btw) and then repeatedly hitting the kick button until they’re knocked out. On top of that, the combat has absolutely no sense of heft or connection. Like street skating in real life, the cops just get in the way of the fun.
But if you don’t let the cops get you down, Bomb Rush is a brilliant homage to Jet Set Radio, and in lieu of SEGa announcing a proper sequel ( that Team Reptile should be hired to make), BRC is by far the next best thing.
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is a loving homage to a short-lived series that deserved better than to be shuffled off to the Xbox and consigned to the annual of history. In short, BRC is the spiritual successor to Jet Set Radio, which fans have been patiently waiting far too long for.