Jet Grind Radio has made its way to the GBA thanks to Vicarious Visions ? the folks responsible for the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater GBA games ? and it is every bit as fun as its DC and Xbox brothers. To be more accurate, the GBA Jet Grind Radio is actually a very ambitious port of the original Dreamcast game. The graphics obviously aren't as good, but the overall visual style is still very much intact. In fact, this is one of the most impressive GBA games that has come out in quite a while and is definitely worth checking out.
In Jet Grind Radio, rival skate gangs mark their territory by tagging buildings, busses, and everything else with graffiti in the near-future city of Tokyoto. Graffito-tagging everything in sight is looked down upon by "the man", and the game's police force, known as the keisatsu, will chase you down and beat you with sticks if they catch you. Even worse is the gun toting Chief Onishima who likes to shoot first and ask questions later. With the help of the dreadlocked Professor K, the man behind the microphone at pirate station Jet Set Radio, it is up to you to help the GG's fend off rival gangs while avoiding the police.
The gameplay in Jet Grind Radio is innovative yet eerily familiar. You skate around the levels and spray your logo on various spots around the map that are marked with arrows. There are various sizes of tags you are required to make and all of them require slightly different manipulation of the controls. Small tags require you to only press the A button when you reach the spot and some of the most satisfying tags are those you can make at high speed while grinding a rail. Larger tags can only be completed by performing motions on the GBA d-pad or, better yet, the analog stick on the GC controller if you are playing the game through a GB Player. Some of these commands are as simple as holding straight down or straight up, but a lot of the time they require quarter-circles or even complete rotations that are petty hard to pull off if you're in a hurry. In order to complete any of these tags, you have to collect spray cans that are located throughout each level. The spray cans are plentiful and they respawn after a while, so you will rarely run out of the tools you need to complete your dirty work.
On top of all of the spray-painting goodness going on, you can also grind on most of the surfaces in the game. Grinding is much simpler than in the THPS games as you don't have to worry about balance, but it is still fun. Most of the spray cans are located along grind lines so it is pretty easy to pick up more than enough cans on your way between tag locations. In order to reach some of the tag locations you have to find the correct grind line and ride it to where you need to go. All of this is pretty easy to do and is definitely a lot of fun.
All is not so perfect in Tokyoto, however. The game is shown in an isometric 2-D perspective rather than the full 3-D of the DC original and Xbox versions. This is understandable since this is the GBA we're talking about, but it presents a few problems unique to the GBA version. It is hard to tell just where some of the onscreen items are in relation to your characters. Sometimes it is impossible to tell if a spray can is right in front of you or fifteen feet in the air. Also, completing some of the longer grind lines where you have to jump from one rail to another is made more difficult because it is hard to tell where you are in relation to everything. You learn how to better handle these situations the more you play, but it is very tricky for beginners to figure out.
Another thing that may turn people away from Jet Grind Radio are the funky controls. It uses a control scheme a lot like Resident Evil in that your character moves like a tank. Pressing up moves your character forward in whatever direction they are facing and pressing left or right makes them turn left or right. For a slow game like RE, this is fine, but for a game that blazes along as fast as JGR, you have to spend a lot of time going slow so you can turn your character around. Again, you get used to it, but beginners may become frustrated when they can't move the way they want to because of the controls.
A surprising inclusion in the GBA version of Jet Grind Radio is the graffiti editor. You can create your own 32x32 pixel, 7 color graffiti tag and use it in the game. You can only save one custom tag on the cart at a time, but the fact that this mode was included at all is astounding. It is always nice to be able to include some of your own custom things in games, and it is even better when you can do it on you GBA.
Once you do figure everything out, Jet Grind Radio on GBA is every bit as fun as its console brethren. It is very challenging, though. Finding all of the tag locations and completing some of the trickier controller movements in order to finish the larger tags all while the fuzz and Chief Onishima are breathing down your neck can get pretty intense. On more than one occasion I finished a level with just a few seconds to spare. The relatively simple gameplay combined with the frantic pace is addictive and very enjoyable.
The graphics in Jet Grind Radio are very impressive. The environments will remind you of the THPS games, but that is all right since they look great already. The real highlights as far as the graphics are concerned are the characters and other foreground objects. Spray cans and the keisatsu are presented in a style that looks very much like cel-shading and manage to capture the look of the console games very well. The playable characters are nicely animated and, because of the cel-shaded style, they look great. There is a hint of slowdown when a lot is going on, but it doesn't affect the gameplay very much.
Just like the graphics, the sound is outstanding. There are lots of voice clips in the game and the sound effects are perfect. More impressive is the music. There are several tracks taken from the Dreamcast version featured in the game. They were cut down to only about 45 seconds each, but this music has always been great and these tracks are of amazingly high quality.
Overall, Jet Grind Radio on the GBA is an extremely impressive port of the DC original. The story is the same and the levels are as close to the same as possible, and the graphics do an amazing job of maintaining the style of the JGR series. There are some issues that you'll have to work through in order to fully enjoy the game, but once you master the controls it is hard not to have a good time. Jet Grind Radio is one of the more impressive games available on the GBA and I highly recommend it.