It’s no secret if you have been following the podcasts that my all time favorite system was the Sega Dreamcast. It was short lived thanks to not having a DVD player among other things, but it had some amazing games. Part of the reason for this is it ran a variation of Windows, which made programing games for the system a snap. One of the reasons the Dreamcast is loved by old school gamers is the creativity of several of the games for the system. There were some truly ground braking and trend setting games on the console, including the game many have credited with starting the Cell Shaded Graphics trend: Jet Gring Radio.
Crossing In Line Skating with…graffiti?
Jet Grind Radio takes place in Tokyo-to, a city loosely modeled off of Tokyo. The city is divided into three quadrants, each ruled by its own graffiti gang. Shibuya-cho is ruled by the Love Shockers, Benten-cho by the Noise Tanks and Kogane-cho by the Poison Jam. You start out as Beat, a runaway “rudie” who has decided to form his own gang, the GGs. After proving you can both skate and tag, you are joined by Gum and Tab. Your first mission: tag the Shibuya-cho bus terminal to prove to the Love Shockers that you intend to be the rulers of the area. That’s right, I said tag. Graffiti plays a big part in the game, As you skate throughout the game, you run across areas you need to tag. Sometimes, all you need to do is hit the button to spray a quick tag. Others,especially when creating a big bit of graffiti, require you to follow the arrows on the screen using the analog stick on the controller. Failure to do so will waste spray paint, and you cannot afford to do that, especially not in the latter stages. So the gameplay is basically just those two things: skating and tagging. Sounds a little repetitive and boring? Trust me, it is anything but.
The intricacies of the game
As you may imagine, there are people who are trying to stop you. One of these groups is the cops, lead by Officer Onishima. The main group of cops are…inept may be too nice of a term. Think the Keystone Cops of the silent film era and you have an idea of just how bad they are. Still, if they get a hold of you, they will slow you down. Onishima is another matter; he carries a rather nasty over sized pistol, and he will send you flying if he hits you with shots from it. If you can get behind him, however, you can tag him, keeping him from shooting you for a time. Then there are the gangs. First they will just try to tag over your graffiti; then they will start being more and more disruptive until finally it becomes time for a showdown. This showdown involves you choosing one of your team members to try and chase down the members of the other gang and tag them enough times that they give up and allow you to claim their turf. As you move on, things become more difficult. The police start to bring out riot cops with tear gas, tanks and helicopters that make it much more difficult to hit your tags before your time or you life bar run out. There is also something much more sinister at work, which you begin to uncover as the game goes on.
As you make your way through the game, you are guided by your ever present ruler of the airwaves, DJ Professor K. K runs Jet Set Radio, a pirate radio station reaching out to the the skating, tagging rudies like the GGs (you knew I had to define the term rudie at some point). He gives you updates on what the police are doing, what the other gangs think of what you have done and a little bit of an inkling to the rather sinister plot to suck all the unique character out of Tokyo-to. At once both entertaining and over the top, DJ Professor K helps tie the game together between missions, giving you the felling of being in a living, breathing world. Of course it helps that the graphics are just amazing.
This game is gorgeous
As I mentioned earlier, Jet Grind Radio was really the leader in the cell shading craze, and the game just looks amazing, even now. Seeing these cartoonish characters running thorough the 3D world of Tokyo-to is impressive. Each section of the city has its own feel. Shibuya is a shopping district bathed in daylight, Kogasne is a residential area built on the water that is always on the verge of sunset and Benten is the overnight entertainment district. You go from the waterways and playgrounds to the neon lights to the crowded malls, all without missing a beat.
The graphics for Jet Grind Radio set a standard that many other games tried to match.
Then there are the animations. Your character is never really standing still, always moving to the music even when you are just sitting there. Get enough air on a jump, and your character will go into beautifully animated tricks from spins to flips. Large tags are painted by your characters almost in a type of dance step. Even DJ Professor K’s exaggerated updates are just a joy to watch. The level of care taken with the graphics of this game is just impressive.
Not everything is as polished as the graphics
Unfortunately, not everything in the game is as well handled as the graphics. Though most of the controls are fairly well laid out, the camera will drive you insane, especially in levels where you are constantly making rapid turns. You will find yourself hitting the center camera button a lot, which doubles as your tagging button, which can be a bit of an issue. Then there is the one trick that is just really difficult to master: wall riding. Though you will not have to use it a lot, there are a couple of missions later in the game where you have to wall ride to reach certain tags, and one in particular that is just a pain in the but to reach. Try as I might, I really struggled hitting that one within the time limit of the level. Don’t let those issues keep you from playing this game, however. Oh, and don’t think you know all about this game if you have played Jet Set Radio Future. As interesting and fun as this sequel is, it cannot hold a candle to the original Dreamcast gem. Jet Grind Radio gets a 5 out of 5.
Three fives in a row. What can I say? I’ve just hit a high point in my reviews.