Review by Ohio State

"This Game Is Not Tony Hawk 2"

This game is not Tony Hawk 2.

One of my favorite games, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, had been residing in that small, white cube with a swirly thingamajig on top that everyone has come to recognize as the Dreamcast. Hours of gameplay had been embedded in that particular magical circle. However, all good things must come to an end and I was ready for something new. I began my search for another title that would hopefully live up to my hopes of being just as great as Tony Hawk. I came across the likes of “Jet Grind Radio” which featured roller-skating teenagers bent on becoming the number one gang. I declared my search over after noting the rave reviews it received and especially after I observed the entire adventure was on roller blades providing me a potential reminiscence of Tony Hawk 2.

This game is not Tony Hawk 2.

Taken into a city known as Tokyo-to, the street life is presented with gangs fighting over territory and causing general mayhem and vandalism. Three gangs are responsible for this chaos: the GGs, the Noise Tanks, and Poison Jam. You assume the role of a character named Beat, a goggle laden, earphone toting, and law-breaking vandal who just happens to be the leader of the GGs. Of course, no crime lord could be complete without his partners in crime and you are immediately thrown into a challenge at the start of the adventure with two individuals by the name of Gum and Tab. (Quite the gangster names, eh?) This serves as little more than a tutorial introducing you to the controls of the game as well as the most important aspect of the game, vandalizing the “hood.”

Following your run-in with your new comrades, you begin in The Bus Terminal where some hooligans have dared to invade on your property, spraying “their” gang signs all over the place. Your mission: chase these newcomers off and retake the GGs’ area by spray painting your gang signs over theirs. Simple enough. It would be except for the constant harassment from local law enforcement that don’t think too highly of you “thugs” and will do whatever it takes to bring you down by means of simple clubs and rubber bullets to helicopters and tanks. Seems a bit extreme for a couple of spray painters, but I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.

However, this is just a mere taste of a much bigger plot. Through it all, the story unfolds by means of Professor K, a crazy DJ with a pirate radio station. Using his rapping style and loud mouth, he’ll describe what’s going on in the world of Tokyo-to in an entertaining and music filled jubilation each step of the way keeping you on the edge of your seat wondering just what rapping tunes this crazy haired freak is going to lay on you next.

This game is not Tony Hawk 2.

You must take back areas that have been invaded upon and even become invaders yourselves taking on other territories occupied by the Noise Tanks and Poison Jam. To take back these areas or acquire new lands, you must paint over rival gangs’ symbols with your own style of graffiti. You must skate around looking for these pieces of vandalism to “re-vandalize” by skating around the particular area, be it The Bus Terminal, Downtown Shibuya-cho, Eastern Kogane-cho or other Japanese sounding areas, while at the same time picking up valuable spray paint cans. Your destinations aren’t too hard to see as they are marked by very big, and very obvious red arrows helping to ease the search a little bit.

The actual painting may seem a little complicated at first, but it quickly become a very simple concept to grasp. There are three sizes of tags to hit, appropriately, small, large, and X-large tags. Each particular size requires a specific amount of spray paint cans: one, three, and seven, respectively. To spray a small tag just requires a simple press of the spray button, the L-Trigger, but the larger tags require a bit more effort on your part. When you select spray, a close-up of your character will appear in front of your target with a joystick command at the bottom. To spray the paint, you move the joystick in the appropriate direction making the character spray in that direction. This will require a bit of practice as any small error causes your player to mess up and will make you start that particular stroke over. The more strokes you do, the more complicated the pattern gets, and therefore, the more points you get for each spray.

Getting a high number of points is a fairly large part of this game. Getting a high score relies on a number of factors including: how much health you have left, how many cans you have in your possession, time remaining, and just how many points you’ve racked up from painting, among other things. Depending upon the number of points you receive, you will attain a ranking at the end ranging from Pedal to Jet. Getting a Jet rating is not essential to completing the game, but it will unlock some cool features that add to the game.

This is also where the character selection comes into play. Throughout your gang war, loners will challenge you to a test of skills. Some of these challenges range from simple skating forward and jumping to intricate grinding, painting, and racing. If you happen to complete your challenger’s tests, he or she will become a member of the GGs and become a selectable character. For some odd reason, these challengers must determine if you’re worthy of having them in your gang instead of the opposite. How arrogant. Each character has three particular stats to focus on: energy, technique, and painting. Energy is how big your health bar will be, technique is how much quicker point value will go up for tricks, and the most importantly, painting is how many cans your character can hold and how many points you’ll get for spraying.

If the character has a large painting stat, then he or she will be able to hold fewer cans but acquire more points. Also, these characters tend to have a smaller health bar. This makes it a bit of a challenge for the particular situation making you wonder weather to sacrifice health for points, or cans for technique. This usually isn’t an issue for the first few levels where a Jet ranking will come rather easily, but for the last set of levels, these decisions become crucial to getting a score high enough to earn Jet.

Also, the trick system was the biggest surprise of all for me in this game. Why? There pretty much is NO trick system. I soon realized that the focus of the game is on painting and not tricks, but there is still points you can get from doing something here of there. There are things like half pipes and such littered around almost all levels that can give you some air to flip through. However, all air tricks are single tricks and can never be linked together making it pointless to perform them, especially with the low point value. The only trick you’ll want to perform is the grind. For those unfamiliar with grinding, that is when you leap onto something like a handrail and slide across it on your skates. Grinding brings a lot of life to the game as it speeds you up tremendously making normal skating obsolete and it’s just plain fun. Another thing is that there is no need to worry about balance or anything similar, as you will never leave the grind unless you reach the end of the bar or jump off. You can really rack up the points if you can grind from rail to rail, too. In pretty much all the stages in the game, you can actually grind forever in what’s been deemed an “infinite grind” causing oodles of points to jump to your score guaranteeing a Jet ranking, but they are very difficult to pull off and are usually unnecessary except for the final few levels.

However, don’t think that the opposition will just let you take over their turf unscathed. After a few times of claiming new land, you will eventually enter a gang fight where you must defeat the other gang in a limited amount of time. But how do you defeat such ruthless thugs? Why, armed only with a can of paint and your wits, you must tag their backs! After spraying each member ten times in the back, thereby spraying a small gang symbol, he will collapse to his knees and remain motionless until the end of the level. I guess they break down in tears because they don’t think they’re mommy will take too kindly to them getting their clothes covered with paint.

While this never really became important to me, it is possible to change the particular graffiti you use during the game. You have a symbol for each tag size that can be switched at any point with any other tags you happen to have earned. How do you earn them? Scattered around the streets and building tops of Tokyo-to are little icons called Graffiti Souls that can be collected and each add another tag to your arsenal. Also, for each character you earn, you receive another set of tags that you can choose from. Ultimately, you can end up with over 100 awesome and different styles of graffiti symbols to use. And even for those of you who get sick of these, you can make your very own style of graffiti using the custom tag maker creating an unlimited amount of tags that you can use.

This game never has a dull moment. I loved every minute of playing from dodging police and evading helicopters to grinding up rails and just plain tagging. The boss encounters were always a thrill and the ranking system provided even more, although unneeded, incentive for me to continue playing. I always loved the thrill of getting a Jet rating on an extremely difficult level and I’m sure everyone else will love the feeling of satisfaction.

This game is not Tony Hawk 2.

One of the most interesting features that really makes “Jet Grind Radio” stand out is the graphics. An amazing coloring display is used that is known as “cel-shading.” It gives a very cartoonish look to the character and his or her surrounding environment. Yet this is a very different type of look than say, the characters in Evolution or something similar. This is a much flashier, far more vivid display of color than has ever been seen before. I was always a fan of the explosions that took place from the cops launching tear gas at you with the tremendous flash of red and orange that was set before you. There are also thick black lines surrounding each particular thing to make it stand out, just like I was taught in kindergarten, but there is nothing kiddy here with a spectacular array of lights, colors, and anything else you can think of that make this one gorgeous piece of artwork. It’s no wonder that many more titles are popping up using just the same technique of graphics.

This game is not Tony Hawk 2.
(Although with this awesome soundtrack, you might think it was.)

The sound and music emanating from the television set will tingle your eardrums every world, every level, every step of the way. Only one word could describe this soundtrack: phenomenal. Well, stunning, brilliant, and delightful wouldn’t hurt either. Presented in a hip-hop type of style, the music is great from each track to the next without any problems. The mute button and volume control will become nothing but an illusion for you as your ears yearn to hear each and every note of every single song. The sound effects are also masterfully done. The sound accompanying a successfully completed tag is a lethal combination. From the sounds of foes defeated and rails grinded to the sound of bones crunching when falling off skyscrapers (obviously when a buddy of mine is playing), each one is delightful giving you a spectacle of sound with each animation on the screen giving your senses a field day.

This game is not Tony Hawk 2.

Nearly flawless, the controlling of your do-gooder (perhaps do-vandaler would be a bit more appropriate) is something that will remain on good terms with you. A very simple interface encompasses a tremendous game with only the two triggers, “A,” and the joystick. Whether your dashing, jumping, skating, or painting, each command you input is easy to perform and is very responsive. Although, one should take note, the camera positioning and paint button are both occupying the L-Trigger. This rarely becomes an issue here except for the boss encounters. The enemy is in motion while you are trying to spray him or her with the L-Trigger as well as yourself. Therefore, you will constantly be getting out of range of the foe as it’s fairly difficult to keep a steady pace with the enemy. The camera-positioning button places the camera directly behind you and zooms in just a hair. While your busy trying to keep up with the rival gang member, an endless cycle of zooming in ensues creating an almost “strobe-light” effect. Again, this is a very minor problem, but it may cause some people to vomit repeatedly from the violent ride. Or maybe they'll just find themselves saying “that’s annoying.”

Another minor issue here is some of the maneuvers you can pull off are insanely difficult. Things like skating backwards or doing a turn around jump require very quick fingers and precise timing. I’ve spent upwards into a quarter of an hour trying to perform just this task finding it next to impossible. I wouldn’t even bother with this, but there is a tutorial at the opening screen you can take to help you learn the controls that requires these two moves to advance to the next objective. What does this make the tutorial? In short, harder than the actual game. I’ve completed the game quite a few times. Times I’ve completed the tutorial: Uno. Ouch.

This game is not Tony Hawk 2.

No, my loyal readers, (or perhaps just someone doing RotD), this game is nothing like Tony Hawk 2. And to tell you the truth. That’s not such a bad thing. With stunning visuals, astounding soundtrack, and spectacular gameplay, Jet Grind Radio is nearly perfect. However, length is an issue with this game making it possible for newcomers to beat the normal game, fairly easily as well, in about four or five hours and then maybe adding an hour or two if you try to get those “Jet” ratings and Graffiti Souls.

Therefore, make sure to pick up this title as it is a wonderful experience you’ll not soon forget. Especially, since I’ve seen it going for less than $10 at local retailers. And if there’s one thing you get out of this review, I want it to be this:

This game is not Tony Hawk 2.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 07/09/02, Updated 02/27/03

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