Reviewed: August 18, 2003
Released: June 23, 2003
Originally released on the Dreamcast, Jet Grind Radio will forever go down in history as giving birth to cel-shaded graphics, although I seem to remember a little PC game called Willie Beamish that predated it by nearly a decade. Regardless, JGR was a huge hit on the Dreamcast despite the demise of the hardware platform shortly after its release. The franchise was given a huge boost when a superior Xbox version released several years later and now we get the handheld version of this inline skating, graffiti-painting action title.
Despite the smaller format the gameplay in Jet Grind Radio is just a large as ever, complete with stylized graphics and an original story set in a futuristic Tokyo, or rather Tokyoto. The premise is simple. You are a member of the GGís, a hip urban gang who is forced to defend their territory by marking it with colorful graffiti (tags). Of course the police donít like this, so you will be avoiding them while marking your boundaries and performing all sorts of cool grinds and tricks.
Jet Grind Radio features:
In a nutshell, gameplay consists of you skating around town picking up cans of spray paint then marking the designated areas under the pressure of a ticking clock. Paint is positioned along obvious trick lines so you can grind for days and end up with a backpack full of paint. Unlike most extreme sports games most of your tricks are grinding Ė no fancy grabs or flips in this game. For those that might think this limits the appeal you should know that the designers have put grinding to the ultimate use, creating huge and complex lines leading to areas of the city you could never reach otherwise.
For those that played the Dreamcast version you will remember the difficulty in painting your tag. You were required to do all these complex swirling patterns with the analog stick to create tags of various sizes. This complex system was eliminated in favor a single trigger squeeze on the Xbox but now itís back on the GBA. Painting your tags requires you to find the location to paint then input a sequence of moves using the D-pad. While this is functional itís certainly not as fluid as an analog stick input.
The more tags you paint the more the cops are after you and with Chief Onishima hot on your trail it gets harder and harder to paint the larger tags. You also have to keep an eye on your number of paint cans. Some of the larger tags will take multiple cans and you donít want to run out in mid-spray.
Those of you who have played the Tony Hawk GBA games will feel right at home. JGR uses the same style of gameplay and graphics engine and mixes in some polygon character art and nice bitmapped backgrounds. These all blend together nicely but can get quite confusing if you donít pay attention or arenít used to the isometric camera angle. The quirky nature of the isometric camera angle can make some out of-reach areas look accessible when they really arenít.
Despite the smaller size the characters pull off the cel-shaded look quite well and the art and level design of the maps is as close to the Dreamcast version as you can get. Those that played the Dreamcast version may even experience a bit of deíjaívu.
The framerate is generally smooth with the few rare occasions when the screen is literally filled with action. The overhead camera angle can crop your peripheral vision making it hard to see incoming enemies and the quirky isometric angle can make it hard to judge and avoid incoming missile fire from tanks and choppers.
Kudos to the design team for allowing you to create custom tags. This was a popular feature of the console versions and I would never have dreamed they would bother with it on the limited GBA, but sure enough, you can create your own custom tag. Granted, itís only 31x31 pixels and you can only use 7 colors and it can only be painted on certain surfaces, and you can only keep one custom tag in memory, but itís still a great way to personalize the game.
Those of you with friends and link cables will certainly enjoy the support for up to four skaters competing in special tag events that werenít even available in the original version. These are a total blast and go a long way in extended the value of this game.
The big selling feature of the console versions was the huge soundtrack full of underground hip-hop and techno tunes. GBA owners will be amazed at the amount of music the designers managed to pack into this cartridge. Many of your favorite Dreamcast tracks have been sampled (and downsized to fit) for this new version. The quality and variety is so good you can easily overlook the fact that most songs loop after about a minute.
The single player game will take you a good 12-15 hours to complete and the multiplayer modes will extend the gameplay indefinitely provided you have the friends hanging around to enjoy it with. You might even get caught up in trying to create the perfect tag in the graffiti editor.
Jet Grind Radio remains a unique property. With its emphasis on grinding and painting rather than going for crazy tricks and high scores, there is something fresh about the gameplay. The visual presentation is outstanding and the music is perhaps some of the best Iíve heard on my GBA. This is a great way to relive the golden days of the Dreamcast and have some challenging fun on your GBA.