Review by: Mike Laidlaw
Published: January 12, 2001
Jet Grind Radio‘s setting is a mythical city known as Tokyo-to, where rival gangs are battling for supremacy and looking to expand their turf. Rather than relying on weapons or bloody street brawls, however, these gangs fight a propaganda war and mark their turf with graffiti sprayed across whatever flat surface seems appropriate. The player assumes command of the GGs, a fun-loving bunch when compared to their competition. Their rivals include the cybernetic wannabes known as the Noise Tanks, the monster-mask wearing Poison Jam and the all-female Love Shockers, who’ve angrily sworn off dating forever. Standing outside this power struggle is the omnipresent groove laid down by the pirate radio station known as Jet Set Radio. (This was the original title for the game for its Japanese release, but the North American concept of the affluent “jet set” wouldn’t agree with the urban sounds and environments.) With its hyper-kinetic host, DJ Professor K., and 24-hour stream of phat beats, Jet Set Radio is the music of choice for the warring gangs as well as a source of information on the goings-on in the underground of Tokyo-to.
Shortly before the story’s beginning, the municipal authorities decide that the graffiti and gang problems have both gotten out of hand, and bring in an enforcer to act as chief of police. Known as Officer Onimisha, this roughneck’s guiding philosophy is to shoot first and ask questions later. To this end, he is more than willing to call in foot troops, riot squads equipped with tear gas, paratroopers armed with machine guns and even Comanche helicopters armed with graffiti-seeking missiles. Such drastic measures might imply that the GGs and their ilk are gangsters in the “Mafia” or “Pulp Fiction” sense, but in truth, these artists are young kids who cruise the streets in magnetically assisted inline skates.
The “grind” in Jet Grind Radio is a reference to these inline skates, as the art of sliding down a pipe, curb or other horizontal surface on blades, skateboards or snowboards is known as grinding. This activity is a major part of the action, as the characters will often have to ride fences or other bars to fully explore the different sections of Tokyo-to. In each level, there are key areas that must be covered in graffiti in order to establish the gang’s dominance. These spots are marked by large floating red arrows, making most of the locations impossible to miss. Each level, however, is quite large, and players may find themselves stumped in their search for the last few spots to paint their mark, despite the inclusion of a level map. While the locations are marked on this handy reference, the map is two-dimensional. In many cases these locations are only accessible by riding a rail, or a combination of rails, upwards, a trick that requires quick reflexes and tight control over the skater’s movements. By way of example, one location is high up on the wall of a junkyard. In order to get there, players must travel to the other side of the map and jump onto a power line, then jump to another line, and finally time and angle a jump so that they can slide a bit further along the wall before replacing the enemy tag with their own.
There are two types of graffiti in Jet Grind Radio: the small decals and the more involved pieces of wall art. In order to begin spraying, the player must depress the left trigger while near the target location. First, however, they require the painter to have a good stock of supplies, and while there’s plenty of canvas in Tokyo-to, paint is not so easy to acquire. Rather than bringing their materials with them, the GGs elect to search out the floating cans located at various points in the level. Once discovered, these cans are an endless supply, but they take some time to respond, meaning players in search of copious amounts of paint must plan a route to make their pickups. As might be expected, paint is fairly easy to grab, usually requiring an easy grind or a jump. Some cans, however, are colored blue and provide five doses of paint with a single pickup. Of course, these cans are much harder to find and usually necessitate combining a grind and a perfectly timed jump before their bounty is added to the reserves.