Love it or hate it, I don’t think any list of unique and console defining games for the Dreamcast is complete without mentioning Jet Grind Radio (Jet Set Radio outside of North America). Jet Grind Radio is the story of a young rollerblader named Beat who starts up his own gang of bladers and taggers (The GGs) to take part in a turf war around the fictional city of Tokyo-to. In addition to the turf war and rival gangs, you’ll have to watch out for police response to the vandalism you are initiating. The plot takes a different turn the further you advance in the game adding an evil corporate conglomerate enemy attempting to take over another city via a demonic LP that can summon demons. Sounds pretty straightforward (and weird) and it is, but there’s a lot going on in this game and much of it is positive.
First off, the look of Jet Grind Radio is nothing that had really been explored prior to it’s 2000 release. The designers utilize cel-shading graphics (think Legend of Zelda-Windwaker) which lends itself nicely to a game that celebrates anti-authority notions and an underground ethos. Secondly, the music is a phenomenal mix of hip-hop, rock and electronic with numerous sub-genre’s mixed in. DJ Professor K acts as not only spinner of these awesome tunes but also as a sort of narrator for the early plot of turf wars and graffiti tagging. With the combined elements of graphics and music, Jet Grind Radio already has made a name for itself. So how about the gameplay?
You start out with a few tutorials to help you understand your own abilities and what the world of Tokyo-to has to offer then you’re thrust with your two new gang members into the first small level. The goal of the first level is to tag certain buildings, vehicles and structures while evading the overzealous police force and their trigger happy police chief with floppy hair. This goal is the same in most future levels as well but as you progress you’ll recruit new members to your gang and you can control any of them to complete a level once they join the GGs. You must tag all of the spots with red arrows, tag the spots with green arrows if you wish, collect spray cans to ensure you have enough paint to do the job, stay alive by avoiding police fire, getting hit by cars, falling off buildings, etc. and do so in the time limit allotted for each level. All while mastering the rollerblading tricks needed to access every tag point. The grind in the title refers to the skateboard term for grinding on rails, walls, etc. and you’ll be doing a lot of this in order to build up momentum and speed needed to make the jumps necessary for tag spot access and also to get away from the police.
Jet Grind Radio has a lot going for it and offers hours and hours of gameplay for those dedicated with a desire to finish the game. However, I find the game quite difficult and get frustrated when I can’t pull off the tricks necessary to advance. Sometimes its the camera angles that really hurt your progress and just when you think you’re going to land on a rail after a jump you find yourself plummeting down onto the street or right into police fire. All because you misjudged your land based on the camera angle you had. Because of this high level of difficulty, I can’t recommend this game for everyone but I certainly think every Dreamcast owner should at least give it a shot to see if it’s for them. Despite not being a huge seller, JGR is not an expensive game to own so you have nothing to lose in trying it out for yourself. If nothing else you’ll see one of the most uniquely cool looking and sounding games ever made.
Currently in my collection: game, manual, case