Saturday, December 11, 2010

Game On: Let's Play 2.02 - Jet Grind Radio

Game: Jet Grind Radio
System: Sega Dreamcast
Developer: Smilebit
Publisher: Sega
Players: Wilson Garcia
(with Ivan Kowalenco)

Game Overview

Jet Grind Radio is the first title developed by Smilebit, an internal developer for Sega formed in 2000. The team was mostly comprised of members from the recently-disbanded Team Andromeda (AM6), the development team behind the Panzer Dragoon franchise. The game was originally named Jet Set Radio in its Japanese release, but the game was renamed to Jet Grind Radio in Western locations to emphasize the game’s roller skate gameplay.

JGR takes place in the city of Tokyo-to, where people known as rudies spend their days expressing themselves with graffiti and rollerblading around the city, much to the dismay of the law. Three particular gangs of rudies have taken over the city in sections: the Love Shockers in Shibuya, the Noise Tanks in Benten, and Poison Jam in Kogane. The main protagonist, Beat, is a rudie who, after being kicked out of gang after gang, decides to create his own gang, the GGs, and that is where the game begins.

The purpose of Jet Grind Radio is to claim specific territories of Tokyo-to as those of the GGs, and the way for rudies to claim territory is simple: replace every rival gang’s tags with your own before time runs out. Unfortunately, there are a number of things in the way, specifically other gang members and the police, run by Captain Onishima. Do not expect just police officers chasing you down, though; over the course of the game, members of the SWAT Team, helicopters, and even more insane things will chase you down. Thankfully, players have roller skating abilities which allow themselves to maneuver around the three regions and escape enemy pursuers. Once every territory has been taken, the gangs must give up their land to the GGs, all until the GGs become the main gang of Tokyo-to. But first, the gang is going to need some members; over the course of the game, other people will challenge you to perform particular tricks or follow them through difficulty territory before joining the crew.

The game was originally on the glitchy side when it released in Japan, but in its future releases, the game became more refined. In America, Sega added two extra levels to the game and fixed the bugs found in the Japanese release. Furthermore, the game added the ability for players to download user-created tags for use in their games, with the help of SegaNet. Following this release, a special edition of the game was released in Japan through Sega Direct, the company’s online store. The game, entitled De La Jet Set Radio, included the added content from JGR with Japanese voiceovers and content.

Since then…

Jet Grind Radio as a franchise would continue for a couple more products, although its current existence is almost negligible. After Sega announced that it had stepped away from console production, it went to Microsoft Xbox with a number of exclusives, one of which would be a futuristic sequel to the franchise, JSRF: Jet Set Radio Future, where the villains are not the other gangs but a corporation which has begun to take over the city. A year later, Sega would commission a GameBoy Advance version of the original Jet Grind Radio, using an isometric view of the levels rather than full 3D representations. That version would be developed by Vicarious Visions (now part of Activision) and published by THQ in the US.

The current generation has not been graced by the appearance of Jet Grind Radio, with the exception of Sega character titles including Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and Sega Superstars Tennis, both developed by Sumo Digital, now an official developer in Foundation 9 Entertainment. However, in 2009, developer Headstrong Games attempted to reboot the franchise, pitching character artwork and other concepts to Sega to produce the title. While Headstrong did get the ability to reboot House of the Dead with House of the Dead: Overkill, Sega denied the Jet Grind Radio project. It is believed that Jet Grind Radio will be seeing a release on XBLA and PSN in the near future, as many Dreamcast projects are being ported to those venues as of late.

Smilebit did not continue well into the previous generation, either. The company existed officially for another four years, continuing to work on a set of Sega franchises: Panzer Dragoon Orta, Jet Set Radio Future, the Typing of the Dead series, and Derby Tsukos 2-4 (a Japanese-only horse derby series). However, Sega was not doing well financially, even after dropping the Dreamcast from production, and the company merged with Sammy, a predominantly Pachinko-oriented corporation. Following the merge in 2004, most developers for Sega were merged inward, including Smilebit.

Smilebit in its current form is now referred to as Sega Sports R&D Department or Sega Sports Japan. Since its creation, the development team has worked on Virtua Striker 4 (and its variants) and most importantly the Mario and Sonic and the Olympic Games franchise, which now sits on two editions. It is believed that the group is working on a third product for the upcoming 2012 London games.

The Let’s Play

Valentine’s Day 2009 was the date for this recording, and we had dubbed it D-Day, referring to the usage of a Sega Dreamcast to record our newest episodes. Provided to us by Ivan Kowalenco, this functioning Dreamcast was to be our method of playing as many Dreamcast games as possible for the show. Unfortunately for us, the day was also Valentine’s Day, as mentioned earlier, and despite our lauding of the event, only two people showed up to do the recording, one of which was Ivan. The other was Wilson Garcia, who needed to leave early for a dinner date with his girlfriend.

Still, he wanted to do Jet Grind Radio, so we did an hour playthrough of the game, unaware that he had almost no experience on the game at all. The end result would be the episode of Game On: Let’s Play you see before you.


Wilson did not do so well from a gameplay perspective. From the moment he incorrectly introduced himself, he met a few problems. During the introductory segments, he accidentally hit the return to menu option instead of retry, therefore forcing him to redo the entire opening segment again, this time with Ivan calling the shots.

It is a good thing Ivan was there for backup, as he would be used at least twice in order to make it through the adventure. In the hour’s time, Wilson and Ivan together would be able to venture through one mission for each of the three sections of Tokyo-to as well as add Mew to the GGs roster. There were a number of faults on their part, but they were not beyond help.

In the midst of the missions, Wilson made a half-assed RTN tag, which helps to give viewers a look at the rest of the game’s abilities, but clearly the game could not be completed in an hour.
And yet we claim that he failed. Why? His abilities did not improve greatly over the segment and required Ivan to save him multiple times. He is welcome to try further segments of the game, but without Ivan to help, the question is how well could he finish the game?

D-Day would have one more GOLP episode to its name…but what game would it be?

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