Review: The first of it's kind and simply a masterpiece.
Once in a long while a game comes around that truly makes you stop and think. A game with such impressive character and originality that you just can't help but be in complete awe and amazement every time your little, puny hands wrap around the controller and give it a quick play. One such game is Jet Grind Radio - the very epitome of creative design. Almost far too superior for it's own good, JGR never takes itself too seriously and single-handily reinvents the novel concept that games are merely digital entertainment. And in the end, are purely meant to be just plain ?ol fun.
As the story goes, you're a street punk, a vandal if you will, and your main objective in Tokyo-to (the city in which the game takes place) is to tag every single spot imaginable, so that all of the inhabitants of this bustling city know exactly what turf belongs to whom. But tagging, or spray-painting, comes with some opposition. There are two other primary gangs that will stop at nothing to make sure their graffiti is on every conceivable street corner, Noise Tank and Poison Jam. So it's up to you to take back the streets and mark as much turf as possible.
Sounds easy, and it is most of the time. But there's a catch. Hot on the heels of these gangs are the police and the inscrutable Rokkaku Construction Group. Essentially trying to tighten their grip on the city and dominate the streets, these foes can get tricky. Lead by Captain Onishima, the "po-po" vary tremendously depending on which level you are currently playing and how far you have advanced in the game itself. The first few boards have you running from your stereotypical policemen; you know, clumsy and dumb as hell. But as the game progresses, the opposition takes things to the next level, literally.
Finally realizing they haven't got a chance on foot, the cops will later bring in the profound artillery. That means machine guns, snipers, helicopters, and even some heavy-duty tanks. This may sound a bit extreme, and it's certainly with good reason to think that, but again, Jet Grind Radio isn't really meant to be taken factually. That statement is especially evident with the Rokkaku Group, as they tend to bring out some very peculiar armaments, such as electricity suits equipped to members, flamethrowers, and flying madmen with a seemingly infinite supply of bullets.
Okay, so we've established that Jet Grind Radio is weird, but how does it all actually work? Well, the game is divided in chapters; each containing several boards scattered throughout various sections of the city. Each chapter begins with a comic book presentation explaining what's happening in the city, ala MDK 2. After the situation is reviewed, the infamous Professor K of the local radio station "Jet Set Radio" (I don't know why, but the U.S. version still uses the Japanese name for the radio station, which could cause some confusion with the new U.S. title) will discuss what's going on in the city and what you need to do. Think of him as a hip-hop loving, crack-addicted, funky-haired sage that basically knows everything about everything.
However, the information he so kindly supplies barely helps you out in the following level, because it's so straightforward that an explanation is almost insignificant. But he does do a good job of keeping the story fresh and alive, albeit a bit trite sometimes. Even still, he tops off the already amazing level of style found within the game by just being so damn cool.
Just as impressive and ideal as the game's approach, the actual play mechanics can only be described as a mix of simplicity with a dash of complexity. Make sense? No? Well, let me clarify. Only half of the Dreamcast's buttons are used for the game: A to jump, R to speed burst, and L to spray paint and/or center the camera (And of course the analog stick moves your character forwards, backwards, yada yada... you get the point). Now, I don't know about you, but that seems pretty gosh darn simple to me.
Anyways, with the three buttons and analog stick in tact, it's time to paint like a poor, drunken artist striving to make ends meat. After entering the selected level, your first objective is to find as many spray paint cans as humanly possible in order to begin having fun. After an ample supply is collected, simply locate an arrow with the handy dandy map and spray your little heart out!
Once in "tag mode," you'll begin to see the simplicity, which I was talking about earlier, once more. Each can you collect takes up one section of the total graffiti design. Depending on the size of the actual area being tagged equals how many cans of paint, or how many sections are needed to paint. For instance, certain spots on the wall may only need one quick spray and then that's the end of it, while others require many precision movements of the joystick and cans of paint to successfully complete the entire picture. The bigger ones can get rather tricky towards the last few joystick movements, although it never dares to cross the line into being too hard or confusing.
After a few successful tags, things get really interesting. Usually at this point "the man" is hot on your tail chasing, shooting, and/or sometimes trying to grapple you to the ground for a good smack with the nightstick. Obviously you want to get rid of them, and there shouldn't be any problem doing so... as long as you know the current city you're located in. You see, Jet Grind Radio also employs a brilliant trick/combo system that lets you earn extra points, evade the police much easier, and gain access to secret areas. While not quite as complex as Tony Hawk's trick system, it gets the job done with ease. Especially when considering the air tricks are automated.
I know that may not sound like fun, having your tricks mechanically done by the computer, but it really doesn't make a difference. Most of your attention will be focused on where to land next, in-between your huge (and boy can they get huge) trick combinations. In all honesty, doing tricks is my favorite part of the game. Once you learn the entire course, more and more combinations will come to mind, and pulling them off successfully for the first time is just the best feeling in the world.
As you tinker around with the trick system and learn each itinerary, the realization of fantastic level design finally hits. It's almost as if each area is designed specifically for one long-ass trick combo, and finding new ones will take precious hours, if not days from your life. And it seems that fantastic design has struck the other portions of Jet Grind Radio, as everything in the game is entirely original and exceedingly stylish. From the functional menu's, right down to each characters own personality and tasteful flare.