How often do you boot up a game and realize that what you're about to experience is revelatory only a few seconds or minutes in? The last time I knew immediately that I was about to be in-game heaven was in 2017 - it actually happened a few times: Breath of the Wild, Nier Automata, Gravity Rush 2. That tracks, because 2023 feels like the best year in games in the past six years, at least for me. And Bomb Rush Cyberfunk certainly fits the criteria: all it took was for me to hit "Start" to realize I was about to experience something special.
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk has a sense of confidence in its aesthetic that I rarely see in games. There's a truly singular vision here - one filled with futurism and graffiti, of grind rails and b-boys. The obvious, if not invited comparison would be made to Jet Set Radio - it even has the same naming convention and number of syllables. But BRC is most similar to Vividlope to me, in the way it revers the era of the Dreamcast and Y2K aesthetic. (Also, play Vividlope)
This is a bunch of words to explain that the game is gorgeous from head to toe. And I don't normally care about that sort of thing, but goddamn. What impresses me most is how the lack of detail and fidelity is a purposeful choice like anything else - the low-poly NPCs continue to drive that Dreamcast vibe. The characters, the graffiti, even the damn billboards you'll be wall-running off of...it's perfection.
And that doesn't even get us into the music. I knew it was going to be good, but the number of times I stank-faced whenever I entered a new area was off the charts. Klaus Veen and Naganuma make expected appearances, but I was also happy to hear 2 Mello, kidkanevil, and Reso get tapped for tracks as well. The standout song I had never heard before has been Condensed Milk by CYBERMILK, which plays in your hideout. It's a bop. And the best part is that you can grab the soundtrack right away if you get it off Steam. You simply love to see it.
The Sake of Play
The best way to summarize the way Bomb Rush Cyberfunk plays, particularly if you never played Jet Set Radio, is that it's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater but without bails that make you feel like shit.
The game ramps you up slowly. You start off learning how to boost, how to tag walls, and how to do tricks. Then you'll learn to lean on corners and wall ride to increase your score multiplier. After that, you add manuals to your repertoire, which let you extend your combo even if you're not on a rail or ramp.
Each piece of knowledge expands your understanding of the game, and after a few hours of fumbling you'll find yourself getting better and better. There are a couple of things you don't get taught - don't do a trick while leaning on a corner or your multiplier won't increase, for example - but by the time you start to get into this minutia, you'll have already mastered the handling of the skateboard, rollerblades, and bike at your disposal.
And it's here where Bomb Rush Cyberfunk absolutely sings to me. The game loop is pretty simple: head to a rival crew's borough, bomb spots with graffiti until they take notice, face off against them, then take over their turf. You could probably do that for each neighborhood in twenty minutes.
The reason I've spent 11 hours in BRC, with many more to come, is that it's so fun to move around in that you'll probably do a whole bunch of that in every new area. Once you've gotten the movement down, every new area becomes a playground for you to explore and max out your score. Sure, you could just beeline to tag spots, but that's no fun. Instead, you'll be zipping around on lines, boost tricking and dashing from one to the next, manualing to a new spot, and then doing it again to see how high you can pump your score. And you'll be doing it because it's just fun. Slowly improving your routes provides a dopamine rush akin to the Tetris Effect. And I mean that literally - I went out for a walk after a session and was still looking at spots I could grind in my own neighborhood. Not that I'm pulling out a skateboard any time soon, what with being near 30 and having everything in my body ache just from sleeping wrong.
But I digress. Moving around and doing stuff in Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is fun in and of itself in a way that a lot of games aren't. There's no scoreboard system that I've seen, but I've already enjoyed sharing my scores with friends and seeing how far we can go. It's just fun for the sake of it, a sandbox for you to pop off in.
That said, exploring a new area does have a benefit because turf battles require you to max out your score to beat the opposing team. So as you tag spots and familiarize yourself with a map, you're prepping yourself for the "boss battle" as it were. Simply put, this game is as immaculate in its design as it is in its aesthetic.
Not My Problem!
It's not all sick bombs and breakdancing with the homies though. Firstly, Bomb Rush's map is kinda trash. Some of that is on purpose - you can pick up a map in each zone to help you find all the spots you're trying to tag. But even then, the map doesn't mark the W.C.s you can use to switch outfits and take the heat from the cops off you. Nor does it give you much indication about what routes lead to what other zones, or have markers for the taxis you can use to fast travel either, until after you use them.
But uh, that's literally it. This is minuscule stuff - minor scuffs on your skateboard as you pop-shove it to the peak of All City.
On that note: the plot for Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is. Uh. There. It's serviceable, but that's about it. There are some interesting aspects that relate to the "Cyber" part of the title, but honestly, it's so hand-waved and unexplored that I couldn't get fully invested. There are some cool, flashy moments that I'll probably remember, but the rest will fade into the recesses of my mind, kinda like Red's own memory, haha.
That said, the story does include some extremely cool, Splatoon-esque platforming levels that I wish I could go back to and play again. I realized that for most of them, you could get from one end of the level to the other without breaking your combo, and I'd love to take a shot at that without having to restart the entire campaign.
That's Bomb Rush Cyberfunk. It's a game that's cool and knows it. It knows exactly what it wants to execute and does so with aplomb. It gave me what I needed: a worthy successor to Jet Set Radio. But it's also more than that - it expands on that series with some great quality-of-life features and movement options. It's undoubtedly one of the best games of the year. If you haven't yet, grab your skates and hit New Amsterdam ASAP. You're gonna have a blast.
Thanks for reading! Have you played Bomb Rush Cyberfunk yet? What do you think of it? Lemme know, here or on cohost!