Jet Grind Radio – Dreamcast
Platform: Sega Dreamcast
Developer: Sega (Smilebit)
Release Date (NA): October 30, 2000
Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
Welcome to the year 2000. A time riddled with rapidly growing video gaming technology and an ever-elusive quest for ultra real-to-life graphics. How closely can we emulate real life on our television sets? Truthfully, the answer used to be, “very little,” but that didn’t stop developers from trying, and thank God because take a gander at some of the most realistic games currently on the market in 2014/2015. Insane. But despite this crusade for the gaming holy grail, one company chose to introduce a new look and style unlike anything we’ve experienced in popular entertainment. That company was Sega, a business known for innovation and pushing conventional limits, and the game was Jet Grind Radio.
Jet Grind Radio, or Jet Set Radio as they called it in Japan and nearly every other place on Earth, was a highly stylized rollerblading action and graffiti video game developed and published by Sega for their newest and hottest video game system, the Sega Dreamcast. One thing Sega was famous (infamous?) for was creating very unique and strange video games, often failing to understand the ways and wants of Western audiences. But Jet Grind Radio picked up in America and was the talk of the town for a decent while before the Dreamcast was eventually shut down just 1 year later. And good thing it popped off because this is one of those games that will stay with you for a long time.
Using their new-age magnetically-driven netrium battery powered in-line skates, these skaters, known as Rudies, roam the streets spraying graffiti to express themselves, that is until turf wars begin to tear the cities apart and cause trouble with the local government. Right now there’s a 3-way stand-off happening down in Tokyo-to, a city in Asia similar to Tokyo. Three gangs are duking it out with graffiti to mark their turf. The Poison Jam, the Noise Tanks, and the Love Shockers. And if those freaks aren’t enough of a problem, the Tokyo-to government and the Rokkaku Construction Group have started the “21st Century Project,” a movement to increase their grip on the city.
That’s the story and premise behind Jet Grind Radio and it’s narrated by Professor K, DJ and captain of the underground pirate radio station: Jet Grind Radio. He’s a wacky 6’1″ afro-dread-headed superstar DJ who spins the tunes you listen to throughout the game. He covers a variety of genres, whirling over 30 original and licensed songs into your earholes. While most of the music lies in the J-Pop genre, there are various songs in the funk, hip-hop, and electronic genres to name a few. If variety is the spice of life, then Professor K is the Bobby Flay of Tokyo-to as he tosses an assortment of upbeat tunes right into your flaming hot Wok. Furthermore, Sega kindly included some recognizable tunes for the North American and PAL versions, including Rob Zombie’s “Dragula” and Jurrasic 5’s “Improvise,” helping round out this eclectic soundtrack into one helluva spicy stew. The music is the driving force behind Jet Grind Radio‘s overall tone and emotion, adding to the already hyper-stylized look for a unique experience. I can’t say enough about Jet Grind Radio‘s soundtrack as it engages me and makes the game much more enjoyable and fun than it already is.
The game starts off with a tutorial in the style of a gang initiation, with Rudies Gum and Tab (these are people’s street names) making Beat (played by you) perform some various moves like tagging police cars, skitching to get uphill, and grinding rails. This was a pretty inventive way to teach some gameplay control details to the gamer in a fun way. They will show you how to perform the move and then you match it. Once you match all of their moves, they will join your gang! And this is where the game actually starts with Professor K breaking down the story for you before you go to the garage. The garage is your central hub for everything, where you can connect to the internet, create your own special graffiti, load/save, take it to the streets, or simply listen to Professor K spin records!
Tokyo-to is split into 3 separate areas, Benten-Cho, Shibuya-Cho, and Kogane-Cho. Each district is controlled by a different gang, and it’s up to you to try and take over their turf by marking it with your specific brand of graffiti. Your gang, known as the GG’s, will have to fend off the rival gangs, the ruthless police Captain Onishima, and the SWAT! When you start playing Jet Grind Radio, you will instantly feel uncomfortable with the controls and the camera system especially. Some of the this will come to you over time as you fine tune the control system, but the camera system is very problematic from the start and doesn’t get any easier/less erratic. The Dreamcast controller is pretty decent for this game, but in hindsight it’s easy to see that a 2nd analog stick would have been awesome.
One of the neatest features in Jet Grind Radio‘s gameplay lies in the graffiti-spraying system. Locations that you have to tag are extremely easy to locate as they have HUGE green or red arrows over them in addition to being shown on the pause screen map. To tag a location, the game presents a series of analog stick motions that must be performed in succession to successfully spray the entire picture. Early in the game these are simple, such as moving the stick a half rotation counter-clockwise followed by a half rotation clockwise. But the difficulty ramps up pretty fast and before you know it you’ll be prompted to perform huge combos of full rotations, directional holds, half rotations, and more in all sorts of various random formations in a short time frame. While it can be challenging and frustrating at times, it’s a unique aspect in the way you tag locations, which is meant to be an integral part of the gameplay.
With an abundance of exceptional tunes paired with a hit and miss control scheme, how are the graphics in Jet Grind Radio? Well, to put it quite frankly… They are absolutely stunning. Instead of opting for the ultra-realistic graphics, Sega chose to use a shading technique that makes cartoonish animation/graphics look 3D, also known as Cel-Shading! This awesome technique provides Jet Grind Radio with its impressive visuals. The stylized graphics are the one thing that people talk about over and over when they reminisce on this incredible game. But Sega didn’t just input cel-shading into the game’s visuals, they used crazy vibrant colors, gnarly graffiti art, and a mostly squared look for anything that would typically be curved making for truly unmatched eye-candy galore. You’ll be blown away!
The further into the game you get, the more you might start to feel frustrated. It can become quite troublesome trying to gather up all the spray paint you need, perform the various gestures required to tag, avoid the rival gangs, avoid the SWAT team, and battle the camera system/environment all within a certain time frame. That is my biggest gripe. Something should have been done to keep the game challenging but not frustrating. Controls and camera are the biggest issues in the game, by far.
All-in-all, Jet Grind Radio is a one-of-a-kind game released during a time when Sega was still in the console race. Good thing too, because Sega was one of the few companies out there who would push conventional wisdom in an effort to make new experiences for the gaming world! Jet Grind Radio‘s soundtrack, visual style, and overall theme will suck you right into the game for hours and hours in complete immersion. One of the best things is that it is almost perfectly balanced between being a casual pick-up-and-play game and being a game for the more hardcore gamers. No matter what kind of gamer you are, there’s a little something to enjoy in Jet Grind Radio. This game has stood the test of time exceptionally well, and I still enjoy playing it today, nearly 15 years after its initial release!
In 2012, an HD version was released that featured updated camera controls, taking care of the original’s biggest issue! You can get this classic via Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, iOS, Android, or Windows. So why wait? If you haven’t taken part in this once revolutionary experience, now is the time! And there’s no excuse. This game is so great, it’s actually on my All Time Top 10 Favorite Games list!
Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10
Reviewed by Nerdberry
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