It is impossible to talk about Bomb Rush Cyberfunk without comparing it to the legendary Jet Set Radio, so let’s just get it out of the way right now. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk looks incredibly similar to Jet Set Radio thanks to its ‘90s fashion sense, cel-shaded aesthetic, and picture of free-spirited rebellion. But it is not Jet Set 2, and with two decades of advancements in technology between them, it’s sure to bring a lot more than rose-tinted memories to the table. Everything about Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is exactly the sort of thing we need much more of in gaming right now – that’s why we need to stop pigeonholing it in Jet Set’s shadow.
Games are startlingly unambitious these days. We heap endless praise on them for painstakingly crafting horse testicles that shrink in the cold or t-shirts that lift over characters’ heads just like what mine does in real life, but are they really getting any more creative? Narratively, they explore more moral grey areas and try to construct moving stories beyond killamajig simulators, but even that is getting stale with Sony’s blockbuster farm falling back on an increasingly predictable formula.
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk does not suffer from this lack of ambition. By design, it looks dated. It embraces a ‘90s aesthetic in a way triple-A games would be terrified of doing – everything at the top end of the industry needs to be photorealistic. It needs to be just like a movie, because there is no greater compliment you can pay the auteurs of the industry than to compare their game to a film. Visually, it’s impressive. Creatively? It borders on cowardice. Some games are better suited to photorealism, of course, but making people crunch for a month so that your video game rope is the ropiest rope that ever did rope is pretty ropey behaviour.
Cyberfunk is a throwback to when games were fun. Games, first and foremost, are toys. I love that they strive to tell deeper, more meaningful stories as serious pieces of art these days, but games that embrace being a toy, that make you wish your PS5 came in frosted purple plastic, will always have a special place in my heart. Cyberfunk has breakneck movement, an explosion of colours, energetic grinding, and from the short gameplay trailer we’ve seen, it seeks to integrate actual gameplay into how it tells its story, rather than the typical gameplay-cutscene-gameplay rhythm games often fall victim to.
The game also seeks to let you interact with the world in the best possible way. It’s definitely impressive that when you kill a deer in Red Dead Redemption 2, its carcass remains in the world, slowly rotting, until either you deal with it or another event interferes with it – this is also the case with the object physics and ability to interact with the smallest of details in many other triple-A games produced today. On the contrary, Halo Infinite recently went viral for its poor fruit physics because players have become so used to having every single item in the world perfectly tailored to the endless possibilities of how they play. That’s not what Cyberfunk is about.
Instead, you can grind, climb, jump, and wall-run anywhere you want to go. It looks to be channeling the speed and freedom of Sunset Overdrive – this is what I want from a game that lets you do anything. I don’t care about whether I can pick up this tin of soup and open it – I care if I can run up to the top of that there roof. Letting us interact with the major elements of the world in ways that up the pacing and fit in seamlessly with the gameplay is far more interesting than horse balls and rock sliding physics.
Finally, there’s Bomb Rush Cyberfunk’s most important feature – its attitude. With just a trailer to go on, it’s hard to parse exactly what the game thinks of the world, but if it lives up to appearances, this is exactly the type of game we need today. Bomb Rush Cyberfunk is anti-authoritatian, youthful, and a rebel with a cause. Most games let you be cops – if not literally, then metaphorically. I’m right and you’re wrong because I’m stronger. Cyberfunk does not appear to be going in this direction, instead embracing the spirit of the outcast and exemplifying an eagerness to uplift the downtrodden. We need a game like this in the world, one that understands exactly what it is and what it’s trying to say.
Bomb Rush Cyberfunk will, inevitably, launch into a slew of Jet Set Radio comparisons, either being praised for living up to Jet Set or criticised for falling short of it. But this is not Jet Set. It looks like a horse and walks like a horse, but it’s a zebra. I can't wait to ride it in 2022.