A few years ago, Smilebit
developed a very cool, stylish title called Jet Grind Radio for Sega’s
Dreamcast. In it, you picked a skater from the GG’s clan and went around
various cities, spray painting graffiti (or "tagging") various spots, all the
while listening to DJ Professor K’s underground radio station and running from
the cops. The game introduced a stunning graphical effect known as cel-shading,
giving it an extremely unique, almost cartoon-like look. Though many games have
since borrowed Jet Grind Radio’s cel-shading technique, few would top Smilebit’s
own sequel, Jet Set Radio Future, released just last year on the Xbox. This
title, while equally amazing, placed the emphasis on intricate level design and
exploration, rather than fast-paced action.
Now we have a Game Boy
Advance version of Jet Grind Radio. The interesting thing to note is that it is
very true to Jet Grind Radio, and rather than employing some of the simpler
features that Jet Set Radio Future sported, the game really does feel like a
mini-JGR – right down to the way you spray graffiti.
You see, in JSRF, tagging
was done simply by hitting the proper trigger while standing next to a required
wall. It made spraying a lot simpler and quicker than in Jet Grind Radio, where
you would not only have to stop at the proper spot to tag, but also maneuver the
thumb-stick in a variety of ways. You’d have to swoop from left to right, make
curves up and down, and even entire circle motions. It’s certainly a bit
challenging, but it can be fun, too. It’s nice to see that this GBA version
stays true to the original, as it also requires you to make movements with the
D-Pad. It can be a bit more difficult than using an analog stick, certainly,
but the game is a little more lenient, thankfully.
Controlling your character
is an easy affair, thankfully. By pressing up on the D-Pad, your skater will
move forward, and he’ll keep moving until he runs into something or you press
down. Pressing left or right will make him turn, and holding in the R button
will give you a speed boost. You can jump with the B button, spray with the A
button – and that’s it. The original wasn’t an entirely complex game to
control, so it translates fairly well here. You can view the whole affair from
an isometric viewpoint. It’s smooth sailing most of the time, but there are a
few little dents in the system; it can be hard to judge distances at times,
making for fatal jumps, and occasionally, structures are hidden by something
else in the environment. It’s more than bearable though, and can be a lot of
Each of the levels are also
intact here, with every railing, ramp, building, or whatnot featured in the
original. There are more than a dozen different areas, and many of them are
connected to each other, making for a very cool experience by the time you reach
the end of the game. You’ll probably put in close to ten hours before you reach
the end of the game, but you’ll probably want to go back and get the best score
possible, as you are ranked for each level based on your speed and the amount of
extra points you accumulate. And for extra replay value, there’s a multiplayer
mode – link up with up to three other people and compete in simple games like
tag or races.
And, just as in the
original, there are lots of ways to customize your graffiti. You can choose
from a number of designs to set for small, medium, and large categories, and by
finding special items throughout each of the levels, add even more options. The
game also comes with a custom graffiti editor, which is surprisingly deep and
easy to use. You can use a variety of brushes and colors to create some cool
art and use it in the game.
The graphics in the game are
good, considering the GBA’s power, and they manage to portray some of the style
that made the original so cool. Though you can’t see a lot of the smaller
details, each of the characters look nice and are animated fairly well. The
environments also look true to their original form, and even the cutscenes
in-between levels are interesting. The story is pretty interesting, and it’s
always good to see some nice art between levels.
The sound is also very well
done, and although it lacks the number of tracks that the Dreamcast version
carries, the ones it does feature are here in amazingly good form. It’s mostly
a mix of bizarre techno tracks, but each of them are fun to listen to and the
music and lyrics are very clear, considering the GBA’s speaker (or headphones).
Sound effects are also good, with realistic wheels-on-gravel noise, grinding
effects, and such. This game is audio and visual goodness.
What it all boils down to is
this: Jet Grind Radio is a faithful, surprisingly fun remake of the original
Dreamcast title, for the GBA. If you’ve played the original, the story,
characters, and levels will all be very familiar, but if you haven’t, you shall
be thoroughly impressed throughout. Though it’s lacking in a few areas –
usually due to the isometric view of the game – it never really hurts the
experience too much. If you’re a fan of the original or just want a solid GBA
game to play, Jet Grind Radio is not a bad choice at all.
Despite a few little
problems, such as judging the distance of your jumps, Jet Grind Radio is a fun
title with addictive gameplay. Spraying graffiti has never been more fun.
Though it doesn’t carry all
of the details or the outstanding cel-shaded look of the Dreamcast version (this
is a GBA, after all), Jet Grind Radio looks very good, with top-notch animation
and cool environments.
There are lots of great
sound effects here, but the real winner is the soundtrack. Each cool song is
fun and unique, and is presented in such a high-quality format that you may just
give your Game Boy a pat on the back.
Though it isn’t a terribly
frustrating title, each level is reasonably challenging. You may have to repeat
a level once or twice to find all of the tag points, but you’ll probably want to
go back through anyway to improve your scores.
Back in the day, JGR was a
fantastic unique title for the Dreamcast, with its quirky gameplay and
incredible cel-shaded visuals. Considering that this is basically a mini copy
of that same game, it doesn’t deserve as much praise as the original does – but
it still is unique enough to stand out from most other GBA titles.
Though it’s nothing
spectacular, JGR does feature a multiplayer mode with several different game
modes – nothing fancy, but fun, simple games.
If you’ve never played a Jet
Set game, this is a great way to start. It takes everything from the Dreamcast
game and adapts it to the small screen, making for a fun, stylish adventure. If
you liked the original and want to play it again, or haven’t tried it at all,
you can’t go wrong with this game.