Breakin' the law, breakin' the law!
In a city called San Francisco, kids are being oppressed. Not too long ago, Sega held a contest to celebrate the coming of Jet Grind Radio. A handful of graffiti artists were flown out to the Bay Area to demonstrate their skills and compete for a cash prize. Willie "Da Mayor" Brown, in an attempt to carry out the city's "No Tolerance Project," denounced the event and called for its cancellation.
Far away in the city called Tokyo-to, kids are also being oppressed. Captain Onishima, in attempt to carry out the city's "21st Century Project," calls for police forces to crack down on all those who try to express themselves. Wow, I guess art does imitate life!
Take a pair of jet skates, a few cans of spray paint and a motley crew of kids, mix them together and you've got Jet Grind Radio, Sega's newest action title. This game will have you running around on inline skates, laying down some sweet tags, and dodging the coppers in an all out battle for the freedom of expression. This game's got it all, from great looks to great play.
As a member of a street gang called the "GG's," you've got to defend your turf by tagging certain spots all over the city. Sounds simple enough, but when you throw in hordes of angry cops, rival gang members, and attack choppers, things begin to get a little hairy.
It doesn't take long to realize that Jet Grind Radio sports some of the most awesome graphics on the Dreamcast to date. An innovative cell shading technique brings to life the 2D-style cartoon characters in a completely 3D world.
And what a world it is. Each of the game's five cities is huge and there will definitely be more than a time or two when you have to refer to the map. The environments within these cities are completely interactive, giving you the ability to knock over bicycles, run through buildings, and send crowds of pedestrians fleeing before you. Cars also pass by in the streets, so look both ways or become roadkill. It's amazing just how much this environment mimics real life.
Character movement is also a sight to behold as each of the skaters move with a fluid grace captured by real life skaters. Yup, there's some serious mo-cap action going on and it looks fabulous.
As you progress through the game, other types of play will be required to advance. For example, some levels require your character to race through a city against a rival. Others scenarios have you spray painting the backs of other gang members.
The game's control scheme is simple and easy to pick-up and play. It's basically an extremely simplified version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Instead of riding on skateboards, your characters perform tricks on their jet powered inline skates.
You don't really need to worry much about how many combos you can pull off in one stunt, though, because all the tricks are performed automatically. Jump on a rail and you'll automatically grind it. Leap into the air and you'll instantaneously perform one of your character's special maneuvers. It really would have been nice to be able to perform your own tricks, but surprisingly, the game's action does not suffer in the least.
One problem with the control, however, is the jumping. Characters sort of float when they jump, which makes for some hellish landings. Trying to pinpoint land on a rail can be frustrating and will occasionally prevent you from reaching one of the spots that must be tagged.
Another small problem lies with the game's camera. It isn't very dynamic and often has you staring directly at the wall your character is standing behind. It also will unexpectedly change angles and flip your directions around making it difficult to remember exactly which way you were going. Fortunately, you can center the camera behind your character with a push of a button, but having to do this becomes a bit irritating after awhile.
In keeping with the game's major themes, Jet Grind unleashes a musical assault, urban style. Mixing tastes from the hip-hop scene and the alternative scene, the game's soundtrack fits perfectly with your characters' urban commando missions. The only track I had a problem with was Rob Zombie's "Dragula." Thanks Sega, but I really don't need to be reminded of the disaster that was Nightmare Creatures 2.
Seeing as how half of the game is about tagging, Sega has done a good thing and recruited HAZE, a founding member of the SoulArtists who introduced graffiti into art galleries and media outlets. Some of his tags that were designed for the game make great additions to the urban jungle that have been created within the cities of Jet Grind.
If you think you can do better (or if you've just got plenty of time on your hands), Jet Grind Radio also includes a Graffiti Creator where you can design your own tags to use in the game. And when you've finally created your masterpiece, you'll be able to share it with the world via the Dreamcast modem. Why confine yourself to local areas when your tags can be seen on DCs everywher?
Sega should be proud of their accomplishments with Jet Grind Radio, a game that brings out the best of the Dreamcast. With its fresh attitude and fun gameplay, this is a great alternative to sniffing paint cans in the morning.