30 Days of Dreamcast – Day 15: Jet Grind Radio

Jet Grind Radio
Developer: Smilebit
Publisher: Sega
Genre: Action
Release Date: 10/30/00

(A note: I shall refer to this game as Jet Grind Radio in lieu of Jet Set Radio as I am in North America, and that is what it is called here. I also refer to Honey from Fighting Vipers as Candy, M. Bison as Balrog, Balrog as Vega, and Vega as M. Bison. To make amends to the people for whom this trend is worrisome, I shall refer to the sport of football as American Football in the context of this piece.

You’re welcome.)

Jet Grind Radio seems to make perfect sense when I play it rather than when I describe it. You play as Beat, a punk with magnetic rollerblades, whose lean build and constant sunglasses/ mega-headphones combination make him look like some sort of insectoid Norville “Shaggy” Rogers. As Beat, you build up a street gang called GG, face down rival gangs, and attempt to take down an oppressive government armed only with some cans of spray paint you find randomly left behind on high fences and such. To guide you on your quest is a Jamaican DJ running a pirate radio station, and pretty much everyone around you seems like they sprang from some sort of fanfic crossover of Hackers and The Warriors.

So, it’s safe to say that this game is AMAZING.

1. Story
You’re in the alternate reality city of Tokyo-to, a dystopian, uh, present. . To the west is Benten-Cho, run by a group of weirdoes dressed up like robots called the Noise Tanks. It always seems to be night there. To the east lies Kogane-Cho, the turf of the Poison Jam who are a gang of rollerbladers who dress up like fish monsters. It is always dusk there. The south contains Shibuya-cho, where the sun is always shining. There you will find the Love Shockers, a bunch of angry punk rock chicks, and GG, our own ragtag group of misfits. You face off with rival gangs, protect and expand your territory, and dodge some cops who are not above sending the SWAT team after some skating 17 year old kids.

In lieu of violence, disputes between the gangs are settled by means of tagging, or spraying graffiti. Occasionally, you will be tasked with tagging the back of a rival gang member a certain number of times, but you aren’t going to execute them or mutilate their genitals or do anything mafia-ish. Most of the time, you just cover up walls, billboards or the tags of rival gangs.

You start the game as Beat, but soon you recruit Gum to your gang. Gum is a teenage runaway who wears a short dress, but long sleeves, gloves, and what looks to be a 1920s style leather American Football helmet. (Promise: Kept) Shortly after you pick up Tab, a be-jump-suited b-boy in a knit cap. Soon, you can add Garam a dark-skinned chap who is even more insect-like than Beat, the tiny lady-speedster Mew, master-spray painter YoYo, a Goth chick named Cube, a gorilla-ish black man called Combo who sports a giant boom box (Racist? You make the call!), and a few others, including some secret characters.

If you are really good, you can even recruit members of the other gangs.

The game is presented as a series of missions, selected from a map at the GG home base. There is no set way to beat the game, and the order in which you play the missions does have an effect on the plot. While far from a sandbox game, this does create a sense of investment within the story.
jet-grind-radio 2

2. Graphics
Jet Grind Radio was the “first 3D video game to feature true real-time cel-shading”, and it still looks good.

Quite good, actually.

In fact, I’d say that this nine year old game looks significantly better than many of the games for the Wii.

The cel-shading style perfectly matches the tone of the game. The character designs are all interesting, and are both complimentary to their personalities and to the world of Jet Grind Radio. The backgrounds are richly detailed, making Tokyo-to feel like a functioning city. There is a wide selection of pretty spiffy graffiti, as well as an option to design your own tags.

3. Sound/ Music
When it comes to games with a soundtrack instead of a score, I can’t think of one whose songs stick in my head more than Jet Grind Radio. Mostly, it is that strange song “Super Brothers” by Japanese Indie band Guitar Vader. The game also features a track by Rob Zombie (“Dragula”), “Improvise” by Jurassic 5, “Patrol Knob” by MixMaster Mike, and a bunch of catchy J-Pop by Hideki Naganuma.

The characters of Jet Grind Radio tend to sway back and forth in lieu of standing still, and the music seems designed to make it easy for the players to sway along.

The voice acting ranges from decent to charming, and it is hard to not want to yell, “Jet Grind RADIOOOOOOOO!” like the games DJ Professor K.

prof k

4. Control / Gameplay
You know how in the Tony Hawk series you learn an increasing difficult combination of button presses that must be intricately timed in order for your skater to pull of a nifty trick and not land on the top of his head?

Jet Grind Radio is absolutely nothing like that.

In order to pull off a trick, you just need to maneuver with the d-pad and press the “A” button to jump. If you are going fast, you might do some flips. If you land on a rail, you grind. If you are near a wall, you skate on it.

It is deceptively simple: easy to pick up and play, but difficult to master. This difficulty is mostly due to the fact that no matter which character you are playing as, he or she will be on wheels. We’ll talk about this more in the balance section.

Tagging is done by tapping “L” near a hot spot. Small ones will require only this thing. Medium and large spots will require you to follow a copy a series of movements with the joystick that are displayed on the screen.

Tapping the R trigger will speed up your character.

You can ignore all the other buttons.

In terms of gameplay, there is a decent variety of missions. Some are races, some are chases, in some you have to tag X number of spots before time runs out, and others are recruiting missions where you have to copy the tricks of another character.

All in all, and most importantly, Jet Grind Radio is fun to play.

5. Replayabilty
There are branching storylines, secrets to unlock, and a nice selection of characters from which to choose. The differences between the characters are more than superficial. They skate faster or slower, have tags that are easier or harder to pull off, hold more or fewer cans of paint, can take differing amounts of damage, and so on and so on. After beating an area, you can return to it with Trial mode. Here you can choose to spray all the graffiti points within a set time limit, get the top score within a time limit, or race a skater to a spray point.

There are many reasons to return to this game. However, I must say any sort of multiplayer mode or easily accessible free skate would vastly improve the replayability.

6. Balance
As stated before, the game is easy to learn, hard to master. While tricks can be pulled off automatically, things like getting through a gate can be problematic. One particular staircase exit out of a half-pipe, haunts my dreams. There are some parts of the game that require old-school platformer timing.

The game forces the player to learn a certain subtlety of movement, and never presents a task or problem that seems insurmountable. The game can be difficult, but the learning curve is a fairly smooth one.

7. Originality
Jet Grind Radio is the first cel-shaded game that I ever played. It was probably the first game a played that contained songs I had heard on the radio. It is the only game I played where gangs battle each other by means of spray-paint.

It might also be the only game wherein you can earn the right to play as a rollerskating teens dressed like fish-monster.
jet grind 3

8. Addictiveness
It’s easy to play this game when you are making progress, bouncing back and forth to some weird J-pop, spray-painting some billboards, running away from Big Brother who is trying to keep you down. Many hours can be lost.

I tend to get stuck on some of the recruiting missions and things of that nature. These little missions, less than three minute long, wherein I will get a mental block and make a series of foolish mistakes. I can spend hours trying to pass these things.

Hours, of pushing “A” past the storyline set-up, trying and failing the same two minute long mission.

And I will have fun doing this thing. . .

I imagine that this makes the addictiveness level somewhere between Nicotine and internet pornography.

9. Appeal Factor
Jet Grind Radio has a bit of a cult following, and its characters are rumored to be appearing in next year’s Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.

Sure, no one rollerblades anymore or talks about Jurassic 5, but we are all still against The Man, right? We all want to fight the power, right? Now, here’s the sum total: One gang could run this city! One gang. Nothing would move without us allowing it to happen. We could tax the crime syndicates, the police, because WE got the streets, suckers! Can you dig it?

10. Miscellaneous
It is rare to find a game with as much personality as Jet Grind Radio.

That being said, I would just like to take this opportunity to endorse Tab as my go-to man. He holds a lot of cans, and has easy tags. Plus, I’ve always wanted to wear a jumpsuit.

Although, don’t trust me and my endorsements; I use Toad in SMB 2.

The Scores:

Story: Good
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Incredible
Control/Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Good
Balance: Good
Originality: Amazing
Addictiveness: Amazing
Appeal: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Score: Great Game

Short Attention Span Summary
Jet Grind Radio is not a flawless game, but it is a charming and memorable one. It is the sort of one player game that you could play with a bunch of friends, passing around the control until one of you bested a mission. It’s the sort of game that makes you want to sing, “1,2,3,4,5 a super brother!”

You know, that sort of thing.

A Wii sequel was pitched, but rejected. I would like to say here that I would like a Wii version of this game.




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2 responses to “30 Days of Dreamcast – Day 15: Jet Grind Radio”

  1. Aaron Glazer Avatar
    Aaron Glazer

    Whoever rejected the Wii version should have their kneecaps removed.

  2. Chuck Platt Avatar
    Chuck Platt

    One of the greatest game of all time. I bought an XBOX just to play the lackluster sequel.
    If you have an XBOX, buy this game!!!

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