Coming from the same developers who brought Tony Hawks Pro Skater to the GBA, here is the adaptation of the Dreamcast's biggest hit, Jet Grind Radio. When it came out, Jet Grind Radio struck everyone because of its innovative graphics style (it was the first game that used proper cell shading), but also its very simple, addictive, and fast-paced arcade gameplay, and funky hip-hop looks.
The game takes place in a futuristic Japan where hip-hop gangs battle to control the city of Tokyoto, roller-skating and painting graffiti everywhere, as the police runs after you.
You play one of these gangs, and pick one of the 5 selectable characters. You'll roam in the streets with the help of Professor K, the lead DJ of Jet Set Radio, and head of the GG's Clan, which is where you take your orders, hints, and updates from.
As you start, your first goal in a map is to find paint cans, in order to tag the walls. Once you have enough of them, you can start spraying the required locations, generally the other gang's tags. Some of them are well hidden, and you'll need to grind and slide on pretty much anything to reach them. In fact, you spend more time playing with the background doing tricks on rails, fences, ramps, or cars, than actually painting.
There are two kinds of tags: simple ones, where you only have to skate by and press the tag button, and complex ones, where you have to move the control pad and do the required manipulations. If not, you'll lose some spray cans and need to find more again. You can also create your own graffiti, in the graffiti editor, which gives enough freedom to give your tags the looks and feel you want.
It's not as simple as that though. Not only will you have to spray before the time limit is over, but also avoid other gangs, and the more you tag, the more the police will be after you. This will lead to chases with policemen, and their leader, chief Onishima, who will use bigger and bigger means to catch you. First it's footmen, then gas grenades, then tanks, and helicopters!
Technically speaking, the game looks pretty good. It features an isometric view, since it uses the same engine as Tony Hawks Pro Skater. The main problem is that occasionally slowdowns occur, when all the policemen run after you. If you've played it before, you won't feel uncomfortable, otherwise you'll need a small period of adaptation. The developers managed to preserve the same cell-shading feel to the graphics too.
One of the other key factors in Jet Grind Radio on the Dreamcast was the funky Japanese hip-hop music. Here, it was recreated quite faithfully, using the same speech samples, and effects. The downside is, they loop after a while, which tends to get repetitive. The sound effects are also quite the same as the original Dreamcast ones, and help the cartoon feel.
To conclude, this port was very fun to play. The main questions I asked myself when I saw the game coming out for the GBA was, can it be ported on this machine, and still be fun to play? After all, Crazy Taxi didn't translate that well. This time I was surprised. Obviously it doesn't match the Dreamcast version, mostly because of the camera, but it still has the same gameplay, music, and feel to it, and the cartoon graphics help a lot. You can also play up to four player at the same time and try the multiplayer modes (race, tag etc) for longer gameplay experience, or look for all the secrets and hidden places in the game.
If you're looking for the original Jet Grind Radio, you might be put off by its new view, but otherwise, you'll enjoy it a lot, because the fast paced gameplay and looks of the original are still here. Also, the multiplayer and graffiti edit modes give it a good lasting appeal. A very solid franchise by Sega.