For all you see and hear, Jet Grind Radio is possibly the coolest game ever made. The art direction for the game is amazing and hits that narrow target of hip that other games miss—almost everything you see and hear melts your heart with an effortless style. The beautiful characters groove to the music and pull off tricks like a slow drawl; they may be on the chase from attack helicopters, but that doesn't mean they need to rush. The game's cityscapes capture many different shades of a single city—the bustling commercial district filled with window shoppers, the dark and cramped inner city, and the chaos of the construction zone. Just as the color blue swallowed Metal Gear Solid whole, the cities in Jet Grind Radio coat themselves with shades of dirty red, clean white, slick black, and greasy yellow.
Special note must be made to the game's enemies and the in-game cinemas that introduce them. The rival gangs look awesome, with the Poison Jam dancing in their Creature From The Black Lagoon garb, and the Noise Tanks terrorizing the streets while jacked into the wearable computers. The ever-increasing police force struck me with amazement a number of times. The way the attack helicopters first soar onto the screen is breathtaking, and the plumes of cartoon smoke that the missiles create are nearly worth the price of the game. The camera work for the cinema portions of the game show the best sides of the art—it is pleasing to see a game with such great art supported by such solid cinematography and presentation.
The only real downside is, like Ben said, that Jet Grind Radio is more enjoyable to watch than to play. Even the best art direction I've ever seen is unable to save this game from its own misguided gameplay elements.
Most levels in Jet Grind Radio involve roller blading around and tagging marked areas with the spray cans you pick up. After the player tags a few locations, the police reinforcements continue to arrive until you complete the level. The roller blading is fine, playing like a very floaty version Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. There are fewer things to grind on, and you have no control over the tricks as you do in Pro Skater, but the most joy of Jet Grind Radio is to finding the long combos of grinds and jumps that allow you cross the entire level in one continuous move. Tagging, or spray painting your gang's logo onto various locations, feels tacked on and interrupts the fast action. It was too much of a shift for me from going to the smooth flowing to the levels to stopping in one place and repeating controller movements to paint the logo. I never found it enjoyable—rather I found it to be a pointless hurdle in the game.
The biggest mistake in the game involves the camera and the opposition that chases you throughout the levels. Jet Grind Radio breaks one of the fundamental rules of 3-D games, which Jason Rubin of Naughty Dog describes as "keep the action in front of the player." This means that anything of interest that happens in the game should occur in the player's view. The way Jet Grind Radio breaks this rule is when the opposition arrives on the scene (may it be police on foot, tanks or helicopters) the player is supposed to run away from them. This makes sense, but it puts the enemies behind the player and therefore out of site. As a result, the player is in a constant state of confusion. Are cops close on my tail? How far is that rocket behind me? Does the chief with the gun have a clear shot? Because the action is occurring out of the view, the player never knows exactly what is going on behind them. Smilebit did a good job making unique sound effects for each of the enemies and tried to include enough sound cues to make the game work, but most of this information cannot be appropriately expressed through audio. The result is that the game feels unfair because the player does not know what is happening behind them.
To add insult to injury, another effect of keeping the camera off-screen is that the game's enemies, in my opinion the best art in the game, are not seen except for the cinemas. I played the through the game and never recall seeing a single helicopter, jet-packed soldier or tank during the gameplay segments.
Unlike Ben, the gang chases caused huge headaches for me. I didn't feel like there was good enough feedback for how close you needed to be in order to tag the gang members on the back. I would get close behind them and then rapidly tap the L button trying to tag them them. Since the tag button is also the camera reset button, I would treat myself to a snapping, dizzying camera and a heap of frustration. But I completely agree with Ben about the races. The races through the full cities were the most enjoyable of the different playing styles in the game because they focused on what Jet Grind Radio did well—the grinding and the levels. I also liked when they would put the various city levels together to create a full inter-connected landscape. Unfortunately, you have to practically beat the (rather short) game before you have a chance to really stretch your legs in the streets.
Even with these flaws, I played through the game almost non-stop, yelling at it all the way. My dedication surprised me, because my head knew that I wasn't having fun, but the game is too pleasing to the senses to be put down. It was only when I had seen all of Jet Grind Radio's levels, enemies and characters that I could finally put the game down, with no desire to ever pick it up again.
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