Jet Grind Radio
If you’re an avid reader of Cyberphile, you know I love the original Jet Set/Grind Radio on the Dreamcast. However, I am in the uncommon camp of disliking the rest of the entries in the series. Neither of them, in my opinion, can even compare to the original. I’ve beaten Future, and while it’s not an entirely bad game, I wanted Jet Set Radio 2, not Jet Set Radio Future. Beggars can’t be choosers.
But lets move on to this review of Jet Grind Radio for the Game Boy Advance. On a whim, my friend and I, both avid Jet Set/Grind Radio fans, decided that on the principle of our love for JSR, we had to try out the Game Boy Advance version. And man, were we disappointed. Before I really get into it, please note that I was emulating it, and so, it probably plays just a little bit better on an actual cartridge.
Firstly, you must know that the game was published by THQ and developed by Vicarious Visions, the same group who developed the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Games for Game Boy. Their style is all over this game. Unfortunately for this review, I never really got into the Game Boy Tony Hawks, and as a result, I’m not a big fan of this style. The game is played in a 3/4ths isometric view. The control is probably the biggest enemy of this game. Press up once to start moving, then down to stop. You steer your character with left or right, but turning is relative to your character, meaning you character turns right whenever you hold right, regardless of which way your character is facing. This can get kind of confusing for jumps and what not. B lets you jump and A lets you spray paint, while R lets you dash, pretty similar to the Dreamcast classic. The control is plagued by a number of glitches though, like getting stuck in one spot if you get hit while trying to spray paint, causing you to take massive damage in what should have only been one hit. This will lead to game over more often than you’d like. The mechanics, story, music, world, and general gameplay is faithful to the original, focusing on fast-paced arcade style action, jumping, grinding, and spraying paint according to on-screen prompts.
The graphics look probably about as good as they could do on Game Boy Advance, and they even manged to take some stills from the Dreamcast game, but the characters in gameplay look awful. Each character is a different colored amorphous blob that oozes in whichever direction they so choose. The characters don’t look so bad during character select, but once you see them overhead, you’ll wonder what the hell you’re looking at. This being said, it might be unfair to bash the graphics, I’m sure that they did the best they could do with the Game Boy Advance, but when I see detailed sprites in other Game Boy Advance games like Pokemon, I just can’t help but wonder.
If you’re familiar with Jet Set Radio, you’re familiar with the rocking soundtrack. Jet Grind Radio on the Game Boy Advance tries to faithfully reproduce that by taking the same songs and painfully chopping them up into 15-45 second loops, obviously sounding much worse than the original. The rest of the sounds are also taken directly from the Dreamcast version, which definitely helps to remind you that you’re playing a Jet Set Radio game.
The levels are very strange as well, going from boringly easy to mind-numbingly difficult. The levels are recreated from the Dreamcast game, and keep many of the iconic ideas and themes, but lays them out in a way that makes them work isometrically. Some stages are actually really well put together, but most of them just make me pine for the original game. The biggest enemy in this game is the time limit. In fact, most enemies will hardly bother you, it’s all about being as quick as possible. The first few stages take it easy on you, sending you into a false sense of security, but by the latter half of the game, it demands you to be quick and clean about your runs through Tokyo-to. The first half of the game gives you the chance to fumble with the awkward controls before expecting you to be a master Rudie. The last few stages (Explosion for instance) required multiple runs of increasing perfection, figuring out the perfect route and not making any mistakes, lest I had to start over. These late stages, intended to be the most difficult, give you over 15 minutes to complete on the Dreamcast, while this GBA version gives you less than half of that. Some of the tougher stages actually tricked me into liking the challenge and puzzling aspect of piecing together the perfect run. Oh, and during one part of the game, they just mashed two of the Dreamcast stages together and make you play the same stage twice. Really?
If that wasn’t bad enough, let’s talk about the character challenges. After every few stages, you get a chance to unlock a new character to play as. In the Dreamcast version, you were welcome to skip these challenges if you found them to be too difficult. Not here! Not only that, but the challenges, requiring you to match the tricks of the AI are not programmed properly. You can do a run perfectly and still fail the challenge. Other times you can screw up miserably and still pass. Some characters require you to race them, and this is easily THE MOST FRUSTRATING PART OF THE GAME. Not only are the other characters faster than you (in Dreamcast, every character is the same speed) but they get PERFECT runs every time, and don’t bother to wait for you to catch up, like in the Dreamcast version. The race with Yo-Yo sticks out in my mind as the worst part of the game; I was only able to beat him due to some weird jumps that somehow worked due to the isometric view that would have never worked in 3D. I also had the game freeze on me on the same rail almost every time. Again, this may have merely been the emulator though.
The story is the same, but added some lazy dialogue that never existed in the game. For instance, one injustice I cannot let slide is calling Poison Jam Monster Jam once. Seriously?
The Bottom Line:
- It’s definitely Jet Set Radio.
- Retains the fast paced arcade style gameplay.
- Bad controls.
- Poorly looped tunes.
- Unbalanced difficulty.
- Lazy gameplay with glitches and bad added dialogue.
Final Score: 5/10
Ultimately though, if you need a pocket-sized dose of Jet Set Radio and don’t have a PlayStation Vita to play the HD remake, this can give you that quick hit of Tokyo-to. Ultimately, it’ll just leave you pining for the real thing, though. I feel like I disliked playing this game about as much as the developers disliked making it.