Review by AkumaZ

"An instant classic- Sega on a creative high!"

Sega is not afraid to take chances. While most video game companies churn out sequels and games lacking originality, Sega has always managed to create unique and creative games. Classics like ''Sonic the Hedgehog'', ''Altered Beast'', ''Streets of Rage'', and ''Virtua Fighter''-among others- have altered the way people look at video games. Their games have always been better suited for the hardcore gamer- not the casual ''I only love Sony and 3D games!'' gamer- the type who values gameplay over graphics and innovative experiences over craptastic sequels (Tomb Raider, anyone?). Sega's Dreamcast is their latest-and perhaps their last system, and their recent release, Jet Grind Radio, deserves to be mentioned among the classics listed above. From the innovative graphics, to the stellar soundtrack and awesome gameplay, this is a game that should not be missed.

Like many older games from the days of the NES, Genesis, and Super Nintendo, Jet Grind Radio's story seems pretty basic- at first. You are a member of a Japanese street gang -the GG's- in a fictional city (Tokyo-To… very unique…). Your turf, Shibuya-Cho, has been taken over by rival gangs who use their graffiti ''tags'' (their ''calling card'') to gain more territory. Meanwhile, the police are always on your tail- hoping to put you behind bars or kill you in the process. Armed with your magnetic roller blades (!) and spray cans, your gang must regain their turf and take over the territory of rival gangs. While this may sound cheesy, the underlying story of conspiracy against the street gangs, and the police state-like society is intriguing and very interesting. The police stop at nothing to wipe you out.

The graphics alone should warrant the game a second look. The character graphics are a breakthrough for a videogame, and are already spawning wannabe clones on other systems. The cel-shading -which refers to a black outline drawn around the characters- makes them look like flat cartoons instead of 3D models. The backgrounds are gorgeous- drawn in a realistic, yet cartoon-like style (imagine New York meets Japanese anime). The animation is fluid- giving the characters lots of life. For example, if you let the character stand around for a few seconds, he/she will start dancing as if they're listening to the music. Speaking of the characters, there are over 10 selectable players- most have to be earned- that have their own unique characteristics and personality. For instance, some characters have more power than others, and some are faster than others.

The music is some of the best I've ever heard in a videogame- an eclectic mix of hip-hop, rock, and funk to name a few. Artists like Rob Zombie, Cold, Jurassic 5, and Mixmaster Mike of the Beastie Boys lend an American rock /rap/hip-hop influence, while the majority of the music- by Japanese artists- is a stunning combination of rock, funk, hip-hop, rap, and salsa (for starters). Almost every song has been stuck in my head at some point, and on CD thanks to Napster.

The gameplay is solid and user-friendly- for the most part. The control is solid, and the techniques- mainly jumping and spray-painting become second nature. Skating around the cities is a cool experience in itself. Almost any surface can be skated, or grinded on, such as rails, stoplights, billboards, and rooftops. Using the turbo button, you can pull off Tony Hawk-inspired, but computer controlled, aerial maneuvers- which becomes easier when you figure out the timing of your jumps and your speed. Words cannot explain the rush of skating on building rails, jumping and pulling off a somersault in mid-air, and landing on another building rail. The longer you stay off the ground- in the air or grinding on other surfaces, the more points you earn, and the bigger the combo.

Graffiti plays a major role in the gameplay. In order to advance to the next stage and regain your turf, you have to tag your opponent's graffiti with your own. You can earn extra graffiti tags-, which are cooler than the standard tags- by collecting special symbols. Your total score at the end of the stage determines your ranking, ranging from ''Pedal'' (or, ''You suck!'') to ''Jet'' (the best ranking). Receiving the best rankings allow you to earn new and better characters.

Not everything in this game is perfect though. One major problem hampering the gameplay is the camera. Attaching the camera control to the graffiti button is asking for trouble, especially trying to focus forward- only to stare at a wall needing a graffiti tag. Imagine trying to outrun cops while facing forward (with the camera button)- only to mistakenly stop because you are next to a wall needing graffiti. Also, the camera switches to weird angles when backed up against a wall or in a corner- making simple functions like moving forward and jumping hard at times. Those are the only blemishes on a truly innovative game.

While people have been slow to buy Jet Grind Radio- in Japan and the U.S. especially, it should not be missed. This game is classic Sega on a creative high. If you have a Dreamcast, Jet Grind Radio should already be in your collection. If you don't have a Dreamcast yet, try the game out. With the price of the system at $99 and killer games like JGR, it's a no-brainer. This game is easily a system-seller.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/20/01, Updated 03/20/01

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