When Jet Grind Radio for the Sega Dreamcast was released in 1999, it garnered a butt-load of attention thanks to its hip and stylish presentation that can be partly credited to its use of cel-shaded graphics. At the time of its release, cel-shaded graphics weren’t exactly brand new, other games used the technique here and there (Powerstone for example), but no game consisted entirely of this cartoon-esque technique. But cel-shading wasn't the only contributing factor to Jet Grind Radio's appeal. Aside from the aesthetic attractiveness, it also had an original rockin' soundtrack, innovative play mechanics, the ability to grind nearly any straight-edge surface, and of course its semi-controversial content which had players tagging buildings and other flat surfaces with graffiti. But with all these appealing facets of the game came a slew of frustrating problems. The gameplay was clunky at best. You were given only limited time to complete objectives, and not knowing what you were supposed to do next was a persistent issue. I thought Jet Grind Radio was ok, but after a couple days it no longer held my attention in the least. Luckily, Smilebit's newest project, Jet Set Radio Future for the Xbox, all but eliminates the nagging issues of its predecessor. What, you may ask, makes JSRF so much better then the game on which it is based? Maybe its the enhanced character models that are nearly twice as large as JGR's, or the tweaked gameplay that makes insane acrobatic maneuvers a piece of cake, or perhaps its the lack of those annoyingly long load times. In all likeliness, it is a culmination of these enhancements that make Future superior.
The premise of JSRF is not unlike Jet Grind's. Corporations and government are being overrun by the Rokkaku Group, headed by the game's main enemy; Rokkaku Gouji. Rokkaku is using his power and money to mess with everything from industry and society, to the very culture of Tokyo. Luckily a small band of young kids called the 'Rudies' are set on taking down Rokkaku and his group of miscreants, and also bury Tokyo in graffiti along the way. JSRF is truly a worthy successor to JGR. With the power of the Xbox pushing this game, you can bet that draw distances go as far as the eye can see. The level of detail that went into this game, not just graphically, is astounding. Levels are layed out so that getting to a specific spot on the map is always easy if you are familiar with the stage. Smilebit created the various maps in the game for maximum speed and enjoyment.
Visually, JSRF is incredibly impressive. Every nook and cranny of every level was given painstaking attention and you will often be left in awe, slack-jawed, taking in the visual splendor that is Jet Set Radio. If this game charged by the inch, you'd be expected to drop a cool million on it. It’s the subtle nuances that make this game so endearing graphically. Grind over a streetlight and a flurry of sparks will shoot out in every direction, hit the nitro button and watch the scenery surreally melt away into a frenzied blur of high-octane speed. And where the original Dreamcast game suffered from washed-out textures at close proximity, the 4-pass bump mapping capability of the Xbox ensures that every surface of every object looks just as good when viewed from 10 inches away as they do from 10 feet away; it’s not provisional and hardly temporary. There is not a single instance of pre-rendered cinemas in this game, and there is no reason there should be. The cel-shaded graphics of JSRF look so incredibly smooth and fluid that pre-rendered graphics would just detract from its overall aesthetic appeal. The lighting effects that this game uses are nothing short of amazing. They integrate with the presentation so well that you may not even notice the work that went into this game in the lighting department. It should be mentioned that the game is prone to minor slowdown when things get busy on-screen, but its nothing that affects the overall enjoyability in any way. Streets are teeming with pedestrians that react to your movements, so much so that it rivals even State of Emergency.
The music is extremely diversified and the sound development team took the liberty to remix the beginnings and ends of known songs for easy transition between tracks, which is cool. Expect to hear everything from the played out hip-hop stylings of Scapegoat Wax to the funky grooves of the incredibly creative and underrated Bran Van 3000. The music is a mixed bag but luckily it offers more interesting and entertaining tracks than it does commercial, generic ones. The soundtrack really does lend itself to the whole experience quite nicely; it practically drives the game. I would say -- yah, it drives it. Folks with a 5.1 surround sound setup will particularly appreciate the Dolby Digital sound compliance that the Xbox and JSRF offers.
Voice acting is a tad over the top. DJ Professor K's performance is alright, it’s just the enemies in the game. Every enemy voice-over consists of one part nasal, one part whiney, and 2 parts unrehearsed. Thankfully, all controllable character's voices are limited to only 2-3 words apiece. Sound effects, like the sounds of grinding your blades on metal surfaces, sound adequate enough. I can't really think of any sound effects in the game that really set it apart – but sound effects really are only a sub-category of a category so who cares, right? Sound effects are fine. A generous portion of the game's sound clips are rehashed directly from the Dreamcast game on which JSRF is based, but tactfully so.
This is a 3rd person perspective game in which you're a guy or gal sporting skates, tagging graffiti on various flat surfaces. Spray paint can be found all over the city and controllable characters can hold anywhere from 25-35 paint cans at a time. Full 3D movement is achieved by simply pushing in the direction you want to go, while jumping is allocated to the A button. You can grind on any straight-edge by simply jumping on it. Pushing B will result in a Boost Dash which uses up 10 spray-paint cans. The X and Y buttons are for performing various tricks while you’re either in the air or grinding. The R-trigger will spray graffiti and the L-trigger aligns the camera perspective and locks onto enemy targets.
Trick Combos are essential to successfully completing objectives. One example would be going from a handplant to a jump on a half-pipe; this will result in a huge jump that would otherwise be impossible to pull off. You can also control the speed of a grind. Doing tricks will make you go faster while pulling back on the L-stick will slow you down. Since many graffiti marks must be tagged while your grinding, this extra control is a welcome addition. There are a total of 12 playable characters the first time through the game and 12 more are available if you decide to revisit the game after you've beaten it; each with their own skills and disadvantages. One skater might be low on health but may also be the best at cornering. As you come across new characters and defeat them in trick challenges, they will be added to your roster.
Objectives usually entail spraying graffiti on a set number of locations, doing battle with the Rokkaku Police, competing in races around different parts of the city, or performing tricks to obtain new playable characters. There will also be a handful of other objectives that arise as you delve deeper into the story.
While the majority of the levels are brand new, the bus terminal stage is awfully similar to the one found in the original game. Control is a lot tighter from Jet Grind Radio's sloppy play mechanics and you won't find yourself replaying parts of the game due to unresponsive gameplay. Another enhancement from the previous game is that you are no longer given a limited supply of time to complete objectives, so feel free to skate around and uncover new areas of each stage until your hearts content. The pause-menu stage maps are layed out a bit more effectively this time around, giving you a full rotatable layout that includes a 3D representation of the entire level, allowing you to not only see where targets are but also the degree of elevation they are situated at. But simply knowing where each target is doesn't necessarily mean that getting to that specific location will be easy. Sometimes you'll have to get where your trying to go by taking a path that, at first, doesn't make much sense. Once you play around in a stage for an hour or so, you'll understand the nature of the design and the logic behind it, although the game will sometimes start you off at awkward places within a level if you happen to fall off the assigned area of a map. JSRF has an entire level devoted to using various half-pipe acrobats to proceed, and surprisingly, its actually fun. It is no Tony Hawk, mind you, but it's no Jet Grind Radio either, if you catch my drift.
As is the case with most, if not all 3rd person games, camera issues are present. Comparatively speaking, JSRF does a tremendous job with its perspective, but fails in one notable aspect: you must come to a complete stop before full 360 degree viewing is possible. So making out graffiti marks in the distance can be a little tricky at times since a graffiti mark is not necessarily always in eye's shot of perfectly flat ground that you can come to a complete stop on. Aside from this minor annoyance, you will find that Smilebit developed a camera system that is very reactive and versatile, although an adjustable zoom option for locating far away graffiti tags would have been a nice touch.
It will take the average gamer around 15-20 hours to complete the game the first time through, which is not too bad for a 3rd person action game, although towards the end of the game, you will notice that the objectives you’re supposed to complete were clearly thrown in as an afterthought in an attempt to prolong the duration of the game. Aside from the main story mode, JSRF also offers some Tony Hawk-esque multiplayer games where you can race against up to 3 human opponents around selected courses, play capture the flag, Tag, or Graffiti Wars, where the object of the game is to spray as many graffiti tags as possible within the time limit. Unfortunately the cool feature of the original game, which allowed you to download your own unique graffiti marks, is not included is JSRF, but you can create your own with the built in graffiti editor or choose from hundreds of built in original designs.
What this all boils down to is that JSRF is a solid, entertaining game that delivers a high sense of speed and adrenaline. Some stages in the game will remind you of racing around in the Sonic Adventure games due not only to the speed, but also the crazy level designs that have you grinding on 360 loops and flying off abrupt edges only to barely land on another grind-spot. With exclusive games like Jet Set Radio Future coming out, Sega is primed to lead the 3rd party development teams across the board. In spite of a couple glaring camera issues of the game, Jet Set Radio Future is still worthy of a purchase due to its amazing graphics, responsive gameplay and block-rockin' soundtrack. Make no mistake; JSRF is one of the Xbox's best offerings so far.