The original Jet Grind Radio on the Dreamcast, and its successor, Jet
Set Radio Future on the Xbox, utilized some of the most cutting edge graphics to bring you an alternate world in neo Tokyo. Cel-shading, a technique that gives 3D polygons textures that look like cartoons, was something Smilebit brought to the Dreamcast. This wasn't anything close to revolutionary though, far from it. Cartoon style animation was found in games much earlier on, including titles on the PC like LucasArts' Full Throttle or Outlaws. But cel-shading, whatever it really does (I'm not the expert to explain it), gave Jet Grind Radio its unique look and along with the groovy soundtrack, it gave the Jet series a sense of artistic style that some would call unmatched amongst games.
It comes as no surprise that Jet Grind Radio itself is revolved around artists, albeit, graffiti artists. In a futuristic Tokyo where a corporatist government and their evil henchmen have a grip on the populace, the only true voice of freedom comes through a pirate underground radio station and the distribution of seditious graffiti statements. You are amongst one of the resistance movements of artists. Throughout the course of the game, you'll meet up with rival gang members. To gain their respect, and later on, their help in the fight against the government, you'll have to accept challenges and prove you're the better one in the game. Usually, these involve races throughout the city while tagging certain spots with graffiti.
Graffiti is powered by paint cans found throughout the city. No paint means no graffiti. This encourages some exploration of the different
neighborhoods in the game. Laying down graffiti takes a little practice, as certain designs require certain button and directional pad inputs to create. This is unlike the recent Jet Set Radio Future, where graffiti was sprayed with the touch of a button. Here, a little finesse is required.
As you become more and more prominent in the fifteen Game Boy Advance levels, your actions will become better known and the authorities will send an endless amount of government authority figures to catch you.
Think every vehicle and everyone they sent for Neo in The Matrix.
Jet Grind Radio maintains some of its unique look on Nintendo's handheld. Granted, this game was taken from the Dreamcast, a system that was released four years ago, but the Game Boy Advance still doesn't have enough horsepower to meet the demands of this aged title.
I won't even begin comparing it to Jet Set Radio Future on the Xbox.
But the neon lights and the exuberant colors are still to be found here. The landscapes themselves are pseudo 3D. The depth is programmed in but not entirely visible at times. While it's not the revolutionary material that shook the confines of the Dreamcast, the presentation isn't completely divorced from its predecessor's lineage. Yes, those graffiti symbols and SWAT team members still look somewhat like the original game. On the other hand, the game's soundtrack made it verbatim into the cartridge. That's definitely a good thing indeed.
A few more features round out the Jet Grind Radio package for handhelds. One is the ability to design your own graffiti images. This, however, is not really more sophisticated than the .ICO icon editors you find on your Windows desktop. The second is the option for multiplayer, although as with all Game Boy Advance titles, it's difficult to round up so many people in front of the small screen. If you had that kind of co-ordination, why not just head to Jet Set Radio Future on the Xbox?
Genuine replay value is available though. If you finish the plot-driven missions in a specific neighborhood, you're allowed to return it to tackle other challenges. You can break records to unlock more skaters or go through every nook and cranny to find extra graffiti symbols.
The handheld version of Jet Grind Radio is vastly less ambitious than its console counterparts. It really can't even hold a candle to the recent Jet Set Radio Future. However, it doesn't help not to judge this title on its own merits. Obviously, the original concept had something going for it because even in its reduced state, Jet Grind Radio is fun. With an addictive soundtrack and a near verbatim translation of the story and gameplay, you'll find that all the praise Jet Grind Radio got for the Dreamcast is well deserved.