Jet Grind Radio (Dreamcast) review
"When Jet Grind Radio came out for the Dreamcast, it was quite a refreshing title for its time. Of course, the first thing that got everyone's attention was the graphics; the cel-shaded look made it stand out from the majority. It was also a cool, hip, or whatever you youngster's say these days, game. Most of the main characters were decked out in some stylish or unique outfit, like Beat's wavelength glasses and headphones, or Poison Jam, a gang who dress up as overall-wearing fish monster..."
When Jet Grind Radio came out for the Dreamcast, it was quite a refreshing title for its time. Of course, the first thing that got everyone's attention was the graphics; the cel-shaded look made it stand out from the majority. It was also a cool, hip, or whatever you youngster's say these days, game. Most of the main characters were decked out in some stylish or unique outfit, like Beat's wavelength glasses and headphones, or Poison Jam, a gang who dress up as overall-wearing fish monsters. Then there's the soundtrack, which is one of the best soundtracks you'll listen to in a video game. The selection ranges from hip-hop to techno, and a little bit of rock. It all fits in quite nicely, and switches from one to another real smoothly in the game. Most of the tunes will be stuck in your head for days, as you'll remember lyrics like "Who are you? What's your name? Super Brothers!" and "The music just turrrrrns me on. Funky rhythm coming at you! Ohhhhh-hooooo!".
Then there's the actual game, it too having a fresh idea. You command a group called the GGs, and you go around spraying graffiti all over the place. Obviously, it's not as simple as it sounds, as you'll have to collect spray cans littered around the area in order to actually start the process. And once you begin, you'll have to follow commands that pop up onscreen, turning and twisting your analog pad in the chosen directions. To make matters much tougher on you, the cops don't take kindly to your vandalism, and will try to stop you at any cost. The more areas you tag, the more force they'll lay upon you. Usually, at the start of a stage, you'll just have a few police chasing you around, but towards the end, you'll most likely have tanks and helicopters attempting to take you out. They really don't like vandalism.
Unfortunately, JGR has one big problem: the gameplay is crap. Your players are equipped with skates, and they're designed to move around speedily with them, as well as jump and flip around a lot in the process. However, the designs of most of the stages limits your movements as much as possible. For example, one of the very first levels you partake in happens to be a very tight city area at night. On the ground, you'll have to navigate through what's basically hallway-sized streets, and the sides are usually taken up by some vans or poles, forcing your skater to a stop if he touches them. Yeah, that's another thing, your skater is extremely sensitive to most of the things he bumps into. He'll usually get knocked back, or worse, actually get injured, if he bumps into something at a decent speed. Anyway, as if the stage structure wasn't bad enough, you'll have to move around the unstable, small rooftops. Since it's dark, you'll have a hard time telling if you should jump or keep moving. And you'll fall a lot, because you sometimes can't tell if there's a gap in front of you.
My favorite stage has to be Bantam Street, because it's basically the only one in JGR that's structured around the player's abilities. I can waste my time in Bantam Street's Jet Technique mode just flipping and skating on stuff, trying to see if I can stay off the ground for as long as possible. It's the most fun I ever get out of the game. But the other stages just put a lot of crap everywhere, making sure there's obstacles that force you to stop what fun you were trying to have and attempt to hop or walk around them. And that's difficult enough as it is with the controls being the way they are. Well, they aren't terrible, but they're iffy, being really stubborn when you're trying to connect with a rail or take a couple of seconds to position yourself in the right spot for a difficult jump.
Though, positioning yourself for something like that shouldn't be hard to start with if it weren't for the camera. The developers should have given you a couple of camera angles, because the one you have in the game can be a pain sometimes. There are moments where you'll have to place your player up against a wall in anticipation for a jump up or down a small rail. However, when you reset the camera, so that it'll be showing the area in front of you, it usually ends up looking down on your character's body. This forces you into an uncomfortable situation of nudging forward a little, and depending on the type of surface you're on, that'll be hard. Because you're wearing skates. And they tend to gravitate forward. Oh, and here's the kicker: the spray and camera button are the same. So, if there's an area behind you that needs to be sprayed, but you don't want to spray it yet, since that'll alert more police, well, then you're screwed.
Ultimately, all of these flaws makes for a very unpleasant gameplay experience. Though, since the game itself isn't really that fun to begin with, that's not much of a minus. Spraying areas, which is the main premise of JGR, just ends up being more work than fun. The police, and other people who tend to chase after you, quickly become a hassle when they attack with brute force later on in each stage. Helicopters won't let off at all with the missiles, forcing you to run all over the place like hell, until you make it to a spot where you can destroy them with graffiti. You also shave off precious time off the clock, but that's par for the course. Then, in one stage, you have these giant brutes protecting some of the tag sections, and the only way to move them away is to tempt them to follow you somewhere else. This takes time, something you sadly don't have in this particular stage. So, you're gonna have to risk it and get hit a few times. Fun, indeed. Add in mini-games that appear every two stages, where you'll have to perform Simon Says-type stunts, for the sake of adding more members to your gang, and you'll have a ball here...
It's been a few years since I actually tried to play through Jet Grind Radio as a whole, but for some reason, I remember not enjoying the game as much as I wanted. And for the longest time, I could not understand why. However, with my recent playthrough of the game, it all came back to me: it's just not that much fun. I think because, since it was unique for its time, with its cool look, the hip vibe, and the great soundtrack, that I just wanted to enjoy the game. But I soon forgot about the experience, and for good reason. And I'll quickly forget about this current experience as well. The only reason I'll ever pop the disc inside the Dreamcast again, if it's even gonna work then, is to listen to the soundtrack.
Thank God there's a BGM mode.
Community review by pickhut (March 27, 2008)
Pick any sci-fi game from the 1980s and you're likely to spot an Alien reference.
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