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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Classic Review

Jet Grind Radio (Dreamcast)
Mixing alt.anime graphics, hip-hop influenced character designs and one of the coolest J-pop soundtracks to ever appear, Jet Grind Radio was a brilliant, artistic game that came out of nowhere to ensnare gamers everywhere with its dazzling mix of style and action. Unfortunately, despite being one of the most uniquely stylish games ever to come out, Sega's Jet Grind Radio arrived near the end of the Dreamcast's lifespan and never infiltrated the mass-market the way it should have. However, a well-received follow-up on the Xbox and a decent GBA port have kept the series' cult following alive. Join us as we take another look at this under-rated, yet brilliant title and explain why it's still worth seeking out.

With most retailers and online stores clearing out their remaining inventory of Sega's Dreamcast, many die-hard gamer and collectors out there are discovering a hidden gem in the console's library; Jet Grind Radio. While the game didn't sell well enough at launch to save the console, it's definitely worth seeking out.  The game's unique look and feel remain largely unmatched to this day, and make it one of the most original and addictive Dreamcast games on the market. In Jet Grind Radio, you play as one of a group of outlaw roller-bladders called the GG's. These hip, young rebels are trapped in a futuristic city that oppresses creativity, especially music and tagging. The cast of characters is quite cool and include Beat, a cool young kid in a yellow shirt, or a mysterious girl Gum who's sexiness is only matched by her hipness. As you progress through the game, you can recruit and unlock more cool characters such as the hip-hopper Tag to join the GG's gang. To help you stay motivated, the game's funky DJ Professor K appears between levels to update his listeners on the status of the gangs and the police crackdown on them.  During the game, your main goal is to battle rival gangs to control the various areas of Tokyoto. You mark your turf by tagging your sign in certain sections of your area. Once you have completed one tag, you have to find the next one. Sounds simple except the levels can be quite large and tag points can be hidden in obscure sections. Some of the areas to mark require you to perform elaborate stunts to reach them such as large jumps. JGRís gameplay system offers a surprisingly large number of tags, and completing these makes for a unique challenge.  

While the rival gangs are after you, the police want your head even more. On each level, you have to watch out for the police who are looking to shut your gang down. While the initial few tags on each level can usually be completed without interference, once you've completed enough tags, the psychotic police chief Captain Onishima will be agitated further by your presence and come after you with guns blazing. Or tanks. Or Helicopters. The definitely adds conflict to the experience, but you can escape their pursuit at times by jumping or grinding to an out-of-the-way area. Once they corner you, they'll sap your energy. The clashes with them are intense, with the player usually having to outrun a number of cops simultaneously. Not the easiest task in the world. Your success will only enrage the cops, and as you gain more fame, they'll hatch ever more elaborate attempts to capture you. The early levels are fairly easy, but the game becomes increasingly difficult as you progress. The gameplay's appeal is further enhanced by the intuitive controls which are simple and very easy to learn, thanks to a series of tutorial/challenge levels that begin the game. Grinding and jumping is ridiculously easy to perform, and allow you to jump right in without of effort. Making the game more accessible are the level designs, which are fairly straightforward. Mastering the timing from performing stunts and skating around to tagging walls will take some time but once you get used to it, the controls become second nature making a for an irresistibly fun game that you canít put down.  

Jet Grind Radioís incredible graphics are quite impressive and utilize cel-shading successfully in a manner that doesn't feel like a gimmick. While it's been used in many other titles since, JGR still looks unique. It creates an brilliant  fusion of anime and hip-hop that seems like an edgy cartoon come to life. The gameís exaggerated characters and environments creating a heightened surreal experience few other games can match. It doesn't hurt that the silky smooth frame rates and evocative environments create a hyper sensation that defies easy categorization, even today nearly four years after release. JGR takes place in an evocative futuristic metropolis called Tokyoto. This isn't some static environment, instead the developers created a teeming urban environment full of life, passion and creativity. The streets are filled with pedestrians and each level in JGR bustles with energy throughout. The cell shading techniques with their bright colors make the game look completely unique and incredible Ė add in the light sourcing and you have an absolutely amazing  environment in which to skate. JGR moves along at a smooth silky pace that is fast and consistent. Itís incredible graphics engine  is only enhanced by the incredible animation of the main characters who move realistically yet with an exaggerated sense of reality that gives the game a unique edge. Additionally, the design and imagination in the gameís environments are unmatched  - everything feels natural and consistent Ė the clothing the characters wear, the signs on the streets, the exaggerated simplicity of the objects in its cartoon world, nothing since possibly the first Wipeout has had such an immediate and unforgettable visual impact and is proof that there was a lot of power under the Dreamcast's white hood.  Jet Grind Radio is obviously a visual knockout punch but the music in the game is also incredible. Very rarely has a gameís music been so integral and enjoyable, while complimenting the action perfectly. The alternative pop and hip-hop tracks are instantly memorable and enhance the Ďoutlawí feel of the title in a way that feels incredibly fresh and innovative. JGRís soundtrack remains one of the high-water marks in the industry, it's a shame that few titles since have matched the title's visionary fusion of art and sound. 

While Jet Grind Radio's aesthetics were incredible, itís challenging and addictive gameplay where Jet Grind Radio really stands apart, and stands the test of time. At first, it seems that JGR shares some superficial elements with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and its ilk, but the game's unique 'tagging' elements and the run-ins with the police give it a unique personality all its own. What's most impressive about the game is its forward-looking design, which anticipated the rise of other Free-form titles like GTA. JGR expansive levels and non-linear goals allows players to go anywhere on the level as they try and locate the tag spots. Once the player is in front of these areas, they can spray-paint their gang's tag over the existing sign. This is done using a series of motions on the D-pad that mimic the use of a spray can. This is a small touch, but it definitely makes you feel more in-tune with your character. While tags on the early levels are relatively easy to make, the complexity of some of the larger graffiti designs in later levels makes them quite challenging to complete. Intially, you only need a single can of paint for each tag, but later on, there are large murals that  require multiple motions and movements, not to mention many spray cans to complete. While you can explore the levels freely, you also have to contend with a timer, that gives you a set amount of time to complete each level. The timer seems endless on the early stages, but later levels throw more challenges at you and there isn't as much time for sight-seeing. 

What really makes the game special aren't these above-mentioned elements, but the way that Jet Grind Radio fuses them so effortlessly to create one of the more unique experiences on the Dreamcast. The game's visuals fit the action perfectly, with outstanding, creative character designs that make for appealing protagonists. The game's consistency lends itself to the environments as well, which creates a cohesive and exciting world throughout. It isn't all flash, with  many expansively impressive areas to explore, which should keep players occupied for hours. Jet Grind Radio's play balance offers an excellent array of speedy action, cool grinding stunts and wild pursuits, mixed with the ever-ticking clock and the need to complete your tags before time runs out. In total, this is one of the most addictive, creative and interesting titles released on the Dreamcast. Sadly, the game's brilliance was largely ignored despite having all the elements of a successful release. The game's lack of success is all the more baffling considering that "extreme" sports titles were all the rage at the time. Obviously, the Dreamcast itself wasn't as successful as Sega and many gamers had hoped, but Jet Grind Radio had other things going against it. While it was an amazing achievement for its time, from both a technical and aesthetic viewpoint, many gamers probably felt it was too 'weird', especially with the odd hip-hop style graphics, graffiti-tagging and its J-pop soundtrack. Despite the game's failure in the marketplace, Sega persisted with the franchise, releasing an excellent sequel on the Xbox and a semi-decent remake of the original game on the Game Boy Advance. Still, it seems the franchise has slipped under the radar of most gamers. The good news is that with the discounting of Dreamcast consoles and games at many retailers means that Jet Grind Radio may finally be able to reach the audience it deserves. 

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