Getting Back to the Grind
It’s been nearly two decades since Jet Grind Radio made its debut on the Dreamcast. Yet despite the passage of time, the game, which blended flashy skate tricks and colorful graffiti tagging, remains fondly remembered by fans of SEGA’s ill-fated sixth-gen console. Hover, the latest release from Midgar Studio and Fusty Game, is an obvious homage to Smilebit’s cult classic. Set against the backdrop of a sprawling futuristic metropolis, it transplants the trick-based gameplay of Jet Grind Radio into a massive open-world environment.
No doubt about it, Hover does a great job of imitating the aesthetics and core ideas of the game that inspired it. However, much like the pesky security robots that pursue our spray can-wielding protagonist, janky performance and repetitive gameplay ultimately keep it from leaving a lasting impression.
You gotta fight for your right to party
Hover plops players into the center of Hover City, a bustling, futuristic metropolis. Once a pleasant, fun-filled place to live, the despotic Great Admin now rules the city with an iron fist and outlaws all forms of entertainment. Thankfully, not all of Hover City’s denizens are so easily controlled and a resistance is born. Players assume the role of a newly-minted member of this faction and attempt to overthrow the tyrannical regime through the power of…parkour. Confused? Me too. Just roll with it.
Hover’s paper-thin premise is all just an excuse to hit the streets (and power lines and walls and flying cars) of Hover City and go nuts. The concrete jungle is designed like one big parkour gym that you’re free to explore. Grind rails, bounce-pads, and ramps dot every corner, and there’s little to stop you from running amok around town the way Jet Grind Radio’s bumbling patrolmen would.
Well, that’s not exactly true. Sure, there are E-Cops floating around the city who’ll hunt you down if you’re spotted by any of the security cameras that litter the city. But being nabbed by Robo Johnny Law is nothing more than an inconvenience. Your inevitable capture never results in more than a literal time out in an energy cage for a few seconds. After a brief hiatus, you’re back to pinballing all around the game’s urban playground right where you left off – no harm, no foul.
Running off the rails
To rise through the ranks of the resistance you’ll need to tackle quests that are scattered around the city. These missions typically range from things like one-on-one races, speed trials, and courier missions where you’ll be tasked with delivering packages to fellow resistance members. All of these objectives are pretty straightforward. However, the game’s insanely floaty controls can make navigating the world a seriously frustrating experience. Honestly, I spent much more time battling the imprecise controls than I did the clock during most of these tasks. Even simple actions, like getting your character to grab a nearby ledge or grind a specific rail, can feel like pulling teeth at times.
Seriously, there’s nothing more maddening than watching your character drift slowly over a nearby platform, only to tumble to the streets many stories below for the tenth consecutive time. Thankfully, a rewind feature allows you to zip back to your previous location at the touch of a button. It’s just a shame that a feature that should have been a handy bonus becomes a necessity due to nothing more than the game’s twitchy mechanics.
Gameball is an activity you’ll need to participate in more than a few times to progress through the story. Similar to basketball, teams need to take control of a cube and toss it into the opposing team’s goal. Sadly, the perfect storm of (again) the game’s sloppy controls and a framerate that completely craters—both in online and offline modes on Xbox One X—make for a borderline torturous experience that will test the patience of even the most zen players.
As you complete missions and raid chests littered throughout the city, you’ll be able to enhance your character with various upgrade chips. These chips can be used to augment your speed, strength (which comes in handy during those blasted Gameball matches), hacking, and energy levels. While unlocking new nodes and upgrading your character seemingly adds a welcome layer of depth to Hover, in practice it feels largely superficial. I never felt like these choices made a real difference when it comes to the moment to moment gameplay.
Perhaps more ambitious mission types that cater to these specific traits would have made it easier to appreciate their effects. As for me, I found it best to just dump my points into crafting a totally balanced cyber vandal was more than enough to get the job done.
Resistance is futile
When it comes to presentation, Hover is a bit of a mixed bag. The world is colorful and pretty massive. The problem is the game (perhaps intentionally) looks like it could have easily been developed for the Dreamcast. Low-quality textures, blocky character models, and nearly constant dips in performance harken back to console generations long gone. The soundtrack, however, is nothing short of fantastic. Crafted by Jet Grind Radio composer Hideki Naganuma, its upbeat urban arrangements are sure to please fans of the series, and are a perfect fit for Hover’s funky, dystopian world.
Despite the many issues I had with Hover, there were genuine moments of fun to be had. When everything comes together, zipping and flipping across Hover City’s skyline — especially online with a group of like-minded hooligans— can be a real treat. The problem is that these moments feel few and far between and are mostly overshadowed by the game’s unpolished controls, lackluster performance, and dull mission objectives. And honestly, that’s a real shame. Because with a little more fine-tuning and more meaningful missions to undertake, Hover could have been a wonderful love letter to Jet Grind Radio. As it stands, it’s more like a cute haiku written on the back of an Arby’s napkin.
Hover is not bad.
It’s no Jet Grind Radio.
Wait till it’s on sale.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Switch, PC ; Publisher: Playdius ; Developer: Midgar Studio, Fusty Game ; Players: 1-16 ; Released: September 18th, 2018 ; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on review code given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.