Review by nintendosega
"The visuals and music draw you into this bizarre and extremely creative world"
The Dreamcast was home to undisputedly some of the most creative, quirky, and genre-defying games in video gaming history. One such game is Jet Grind Radio, which was not only among the first ever cel shaded games, but also one of the few to feature aggressive inline skating, graffiti tagging, and probably the only video game ever to feature some of the songs from this bizarre but very catchy soundtrack. It's a winner and one of the many classics that landed on Sega's final console.
Graphics: When this game first released I'd never seen anything like it. The cel shaded visuals on display here perfectly resemble a comic book. Characters have features that are intentionally exaggerated, environments are all loaded with a colorful visual palette, and everyone just looks, somehow, like cool people to chill with. This is especially noticeable as the camera pans through the Garage (where all the characters chill before going out to spray graffiti) and you see each character hanging out, doing his or her own thing. Unfortunately, like many Dreamcast games, the load times seem a bit longer than they should be, and the framerate stutters very frequently. But this is still a very nice-looking game and to this day remains one of the best uses of cel shading I think I've ever seen.
Gameplay: Admittedly the controls are a bit loose, which can lead to very frustrating moments, as does the framerate. It's also too easy to accidentally leave a level and therefore lose your progress. But otherwise this is nearly a perfectly-playing game. You play as a very likable character as you go out and spray graffiti, keeping the "soul" of Tokyo alive. You also battle against equally bizarre gangs......plus, these guys go through the city on inline skates, grinding rails and hitting jumps, avoiding the police, who send everyone from SWAT teams to helicopters after you...excellent stuff. Despite the subject matter there's very little actual gang-related violence here, it's all done in a very "fun" type of way. Levels are timed and you find big red arrows and must tag them by following onscreen prompts with the analog stick to successfully complete a tag. You can use your map to help you find others and the game rewards you both for how quickly you clear the levels as well as for doing tricks by giving you a rating at the end of the level. Between levels you are given spoken dialogue from Professor K, the DJ for Jet Set Radio, a pirate radio station. He plays the awesome music throughout the game and gives us the lowdown on what's doing on with these gangs throughout the streets and their fight against the corporation trying to run Toyko. Throughout each level you can pick up new tags which you can then apply from the Garage, which acts as the character and level select screen between missions. You can also create your own tags. Throughout the game new characters will show up at the Garage and you can then attempt to get them to join the gang by completing various challenges, like races.
And that's pretty much it. What really makes Jet Grind Radio the experience that it is is the fact that while playing it, you simply realize that you've never done ANY of this before. It's a truly original game that borrows nothing and that keeps the great gameplay, atmosphere, graphics, music and storyline going throughout the entire (admittedly fairly short, but completely worthwhile) experience.
Storyline: The world created here doesn't seem to be based much on the real world. Tokyo-to (which everyone calls "Tokyo," a narrator informs us at the beginning) is a city where a corporation's trying to grab hold of the freedoms and "style" the street has and turn it into big business. The GG's, the gang the story focuses on, are one of many who try to bring the "soul" back to these streets with their tags. They start out by simply dealing with rival gangs but then the conflict begins to reveal itself and grow into situations much bigger than what they originally thought. By the end of the game the entire world's on the brink of destruction....it's all pretty crazy stuff. This is all communicated to us between the levels by the funny and very well-written Professor K at his underground radio station. At one point in the game 2 new characters get involved and the plot thickens and actually becomes very compelling. It's a story that tries to embrace its wackiness and just have fun, and that's what it does.
Sound: The soundtrack here contributes to the extremely bizarre feel of the game. It goes for a collection of deliberately obscure songs both from Japanese and US artists and yet they all have one thing in common: a "party" atmosphere. Yes, the songs are weird and yes, at times I found myself wondering how the hell these can be "real" songs, they're just so "out there." But it works so well and contributes to this quirky world. The exceptions to this are the songs that play during the flashback to Combo and Cube's storyline, which features music from Rob Zombie, Cold, and Jurassic 5. As jarring as this might seem on paper, it actually works very well in this much darker part of the game and it wouldn't have worked nearly as well without it. The voice acting (Aside from Professor K and Combo) is pretty sparse, although when it's there it's well done. (Much else of the game is done in subtitles, but aside from Professor K there's not much dialogue anyway,) and the sound effects, especially in Benten Cho, "City of the Night" are perfect.
Overall: Jet Grind Radio's the perfect example of a game that's so weird that it feels like an imported title...and I mean this in the best possible way. Everything from the energetic soundtrack to the funny characters to the fast and fun gamepay to the bizarre storyline contributes to Jet Grind Radio's greatness. It's a complete original, the type of game you've never played before, and although a short length, sometimes frustrating controls, and major slowdown do leave a negative mark, they really don't stop this game from reaching greatness and it's definitely worth checking out, both for Sega fans and anyone interested in playing something unlike anything they've ever played before.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/25/08, Updated 10/06/08
Game Release: Jet Grind Radio (US, 10/30/00)
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