Review: Jet Grind Radio – Dreamcast
Jet Grind Radio (known as Jet Set Radio outside of North America) is one of my favorite games of all time, but as I realized my Dreamcast has been getting neglected as of late, I thought I would pull out this unique title and give it another whirl. Since I haven’t played the game in probably over a year now, I was curious if I would find it as amazing as I did before. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with it all over again.
Jet Grind Radio offers an experience so unique, you’ll realize that you’ve never before played a game like it. The game does not really fit into one traditional genre as it features elements from action/adventure and extreme sports games with a few additional twists. It also has a style that is all its own resulting in an engaging atmosphere.
Jet Grind Radio was one of the pioneers of cell-shading. It takes normal 3D models and puts an additional graphical layer on top to make it look like anime or a cartoon. While some current games may use cell-shading as more of a gimmick, JGR’s use of the technique really makes a huge difference in creating the most appropriate atmosphere.
The graphics system is, for the most part, polished, however there are times when the camera needs an adjustment. If you are skating around in tight corners, you can easily get messed up with the camera not adjusting itself. In most cases, tapping the left trigger will fix this.
In some of the later levels, I noticed some slowdown in the frame rate in certain parts. Of course, this only occurs on occasion where there are a lot of enemies on you and there is a great deal of action. I noticed many of these flaws are mainly in the extra levels that were added for the American version. They probably didn’t spend as much time getting rid of these bugs. While these flaws can get annoying at times on those levels, it does not negate the rest of the impressive aspects.
Jet Grind Radio has some of THE BEST music ever to grace a video game. It includes an up-beat and unique soundtrack of eclectic songs that seemingly combines the musical genres of J-Pop, Trip-Hop, and Electronica. The American version added a bit of Rock and Hip-Hop songs to the soundtrack for its extra levels. This is one game that make me glad I have a nice set of speakers.
Even the loading screen music is a joy to listen to. Everything audible in the game just brings the gaming experience to a whole new level. The only other game that I thing equals it in terms of music is Katamari Damacy.
The sound effects are fun and the voice acting that is included is very good for a Japanese game. Good production values all-around.
I won’t go into the story too much (you can read about it at Wikipedia), but I will say that it’s nothing deep, but just enough to make it interesting. The slick intros/cut-scenes are very stylish and actually give me a chill when I watch them.
As I mentioned before, Jet Grind Radio offers a unique gameplay environment, and because of this, it does take a little while to get used to. The only downfall of its gameplay is that it isn’t really a game that a newbie can just pick up an play. Many gamers may put this game in their Dreamcast, start out and get frustrated at the start.
At the beginning of the game you need to get a couple members to join you group. In order to do so, you need to follow some (for experienced JGR players) relatively simple actions/stunts. As a gamer that is starting out in the game, this may be a little intimidating. Because of this, I’m sure that many people gave up on this game very quickly. I admit, the first time I played it, I almost put it down. But I assure you, if you just become acquainted with the system, you will be very glad you did.
One thing that the creators of JGR want to make abundantly clear is that this is an action game. It is not an extreme sports game or a Tony Hawk clone (although I’m under the impression THUG2 goes some cues from JGR). The basic premise is simple. You skate around the city, avoiding the cops, while trying to cover any rival gangs’ graffiti with your own.
The first element of the gameplay is the skating and grinding. Like in Tony Hawk, almost any surface can be either grinded or ridden upon. However, the action of doing trick and such isn’t as complicated and once you get familiar with the game, it will become natural. I played this game a second time after not playing it in over a year and I can still grind and glide across them map and pull off breath-taking jumps and landings. The game engine has a great balance of being easy to learn, but difficult to master. My main complaint in my limited experience with the sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, is that it made grinding and tricks even easier — to the point where you hardly had to do anything. The original JGR had it right, IMO.
Once you get skating around, you’ll quickly encounter the “tagging” gameplay element. One each stage, you have a number of places you need to tag by spraying your graffiti on it. Graffiti comes in three different sizes: small, medium, and large. A simple tap of the left trigger sprays small tags. Medium and large tags require you to perform controller moves with the analog stick, which are displayed onscreen. This is similar to a simplified rhythm game.
After you tag a few spots, you will also notice that you will have to start running from some enemies — either the cops or (in later levels) some mafia-type characters. Tagging can be difficult to do because often the police are right on your tail and basically want to kill you. Cops will come at you in different ways throughout the game. While there are the normal deputies and guard dogs which try to hunt you down, the game has a sense of humor. You see, police choppers will fire heat-seeking missiles at you. Groups of cops with flame-throwers will attack you. And later, when the evil corporation sends its goons your way, they send out thugs with bombs strapped to their chests and grenades in their hands — All in the name of stopping graffiti artists. They must not have any larger issues to deal with.
My only recommendation on how to improve the gameplay is to include a multiplayer mode. This feature was later included in the sequel, Jet Set Radio Future (Xbox), but that’s a different game.
Jet Grind Radio is actually pretty common, so you should have no problem finding for under $10. It is one of the handful of cheap games that are must-haves for Dreamcast owners.
As I mentioned before, Jet Grind Radio is one of my favorite games of all time. Unfortunately it did not get the recognition it deserved. This was probably due to the fact that both the name, packaging, and style of gameplay was initially confusing to gamers. For this reason, I listed it on my “Top 20 Games That Nobody Played – But You Should”.
You can join in on my discussion of Jet Grind Radio in this forum thread