"It's easy to lose yourself in the game's enormity, frustrated at your inability to find the deviously hidden final tags or even simply at the fact that you have to backtrack halfway through all creation to reach them."
JSRF is bigger. Holy shit, is it ever bigger.
While the original game's environs were nothing to scoff at, JSRF's simply crush them in terms of sheer magnitude. Rollerblading around these monstrosities is a joy, as there's always something fresh to see in the cartoon-styled Tokyo presented here. With segments ranging from a sprawling, blue-tinted sewage complex replete with vertical rails that you can grind around on to an equally expansive residential district filled with decrepit billboards and winding telephone lines for you to defy gravity with, JSRF's interconnected world is impressive, even daunting, in its scope. They're not just dull, lifeless stretches of space, either: they're positively crawling with detail, whether it be packs of civilians huddling around the Shibuya bus terminals, satellite dishes and office buildings amid the vertigo-inducing Skyscraper District, or easily-frightened pigeons lining the aforementioned telephone wires. Surely, the game's sense of scale is impressive.
That isn't necessarily a good thing, though. Somewhere along the line, developer Smilebit kind of forgot that the point of the game was to hose the local locales down in your very own graffiti tags (mine's a cheeseburger). Humongous levels would be appropriate were exploration the name of the game, but it's not. It's easy to lose yourself in the game's enormity, frustrated at your inability to find the deviously hidden final tags or even simply at the fact that you have to backtrack halfway through all creation to reach them. Plus, some of the spots you'll have to get to are way out there. Having to trick off of the pipes and signs of ten office buildings in a row just to reach one lousy target may exhibit the game's enormity, but is it truly fun? No. The original title's more sanely sized maps granted, above other things, a sense of coherency. Their parts interlocked nicely, which made tagging all the requisite spots a quick burst of fun rather than a Rare-esque scavenger hunt. JSRF just doesn't have that quality.
At least the game packs an expectedly beefy punch in the soundtrack department, the previous outing's eclectic mix of weird J-pop and loud rock returning in what might even be an even finer fashion than before thanks to its spacier lyrics. Come on, you know you want to listen to a drugged out Japanese woman sing about birthday cakes, the Vietnam War, and a headache... and you know that a man telling you to fly like a butterfly while his female counterpart orders you to feel like a bulldozer is even more enticing. The surprisingly tolerable hiphop tracks are a plus, too, ranging from the almost techno-like Me Likey the Poom Poom to the more "let's talk over a beat" style Rockin' the Mic.
Unfortunately, JSRF fails to do an equally good job of preserving the original's all important challenge level; see, somewhere along the line, Smilebit kind of forgot about Jet Grind Radio's hearty opposition, the deranged bastards it had hanging around the world at large. Whip-toting assassins, hulking maniacs capable of harnessing electricity, police snipers, jetpack soldiers, helicopters, tanks--clearing the first game's stages wasn't simply a matter of hosing down all the prerequisite targets, but rather a grueling task that forced you to avoid your foes or, even better, elude them via some sort of daring move that they couldn't possibly hope to follow. Too bad none of that made the cut in JSRF. There are some cool bosses, like an enormous spider-robot equipped with chainguns and tear gas launchers, but these isolated encounters do nothing to fill the gaping hole left by the missing militia.
At least the game ups the ante in terms of speed. No longer are your grinds limited by the fact that you perpetually slow down as you keep going and going; now, your characters are like the Energizer bunny in that they can keep at it for as long as they want. There's also a hell of a lot more for you to put them to use on; the original game may have presented you some nice handrails and such to trick off of, but JSRF is littered with wires, pipes, rails, and other objects, making it a snap to hop on something and just get going. Even early on, you'll be able to speed along a set of pipes while tagging the third-story windows of adjacent buildings, and by the end of the game, you're barreling along a red fucking roller-coaster track trying to decorate the backs of your mask-adorned rivals. Make no mistake about it, JSRF is definitely a speedier game than its predecessor.
Too bad getting to spray your own graffiti got cut in the streamlining process. Back in the original, it was a grand time. Once you started off on one of your larger canvasses, the game would present a series of directions to you, and you'd have to wiggle the Dreamcast's lovable analog stick all over the place as if to simulate actually using a can of spray paint. It was interesting, silly, and, above all, fun. But that's gone now. I suppose it doesn't even matter, seeing as its appeal was how its time consuming nature mandated that you carefully plan your attack around the now-missing opposition, but it's still disappointing to see such a sweet thing go the way of the dodo. Now, leaving your mark (mine's a cheeseburger) is just another noninteractive button press.
Despite all these aggravations, though, this certainly isn't a bad game. I love its unique semi-cartoon look, and the... erm... interesting music is also great. It's not even so poorly off in terms of design... it just doesn't have shit on the original. Even if blazing about JSRF's massive locales thanks to the increased focus on speedy grinding is a hoot, it all just doesn't work as well as the original's more concise and difficult stages. JSRF may be bigger, and it may be faster, but there's one thing it's not: better.
Staff review by John L (April 24, 2005)
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