Jet Grind Radio sets cool standard
Bombastic yet cool. This is the dichotomy you encounter in the atmosphere of Jet Grind Radio. There’s nothing quite like it — except its sequel — and that’s a blessing because I don’t think the world could handle anything else. It’s quirky, futuristic, stunning, and undeniably cool when you get down to it: Jet Grind Radio is the future.
Set in a futuristic Tokyo, Jet Grind Radio features a wide cast of rollerblading graffiti gangs vying for supremacy and struggling against an egomaniacal madman and his conglomerate, which are attempting to take over the world. The storyline serves its purpose but it’s the characters that are the draw here. Each character — including the unlockable — has an interesting look and story going on. They are the lifeblood, and it’s fun to learn about them and their motivations.
While we’re loving the characters, let’s also give love to the art style that brings them to life. The art style is gorgeous and still holds up after 23 years. The graffiti cel-shaded look has aged well; graffiti never fails to be awesome and impactful, and Jet Grind Radio looks phenomenal. It’s the first game to use this technique, and it set the standard in 2000 in terms of presentation. The backgrounds are also well done and inspire runs through the game. It’s clearly an early 2000s game, but that only portends good things about the Dreamcast and what it was capable of.
And as good as the game looks, the graphics almost don’t hold a candle to the soundtrack. This is one of the best soundtracks ever done, and it will have you bopping while you’re running around on inline skates. This is one of those soundtracks that you put on while working and you get some of your best work done. Funky and pop-centric, the soundtrack has so much going on thematically that there’s bound to be something for everyone.
And in terms of appealing to mass consumption, the controls are a common denominator kind of sensibility. The immediate comparison here is Tony Hawk, which isn’t surprising since the Hawkman had just released his first game — Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater — a year earlier to critical acclaim. Jet Grind Radio doesn’t necessarily grind on Hawk’s coattails, but you’re bound to say to yourself at least once, “These controls sure feel familiar.” And you wouldn’t be wrong. That’s a good thing, because it plays like early Tony Hawk, you know when it was good.
While everything is great in terms of presentation and control, I’d be remiss in mentioning that there is one bothersome flaw with Jet Grind Radio. While the controls are easily analogous to early Tony Hawk games, it wasn’t easy to pick up the game and know what’s going on immediately. It’s a little too inaccessible at first, like it’s asking you to have some in-depth knowledge ahead of playing for the first time. You may not be familiar with the concepts the game is throwing at you, and it’s the game’s responsibility to ease you into the fray. Thankfully, the surrounding game is so good that you’ll come back to get more in-depth with the trappings of Tokyo-to.
The Jet Grind series has lasted into the modern era with re-releases and a rumored reboot, and the original game details exactly why. Easy controls, varied modes, an engaging cast (love Pots, Piranha and Beat!) and popping soundtrack make for an immediately unforgettable experience. Get in-line to get down with the fantastic Jet Grind Radio.