Kandagawa Jet Girls doesn’t seem like it should work at first glance, with bits of Senran Kagura and Mario Kart Double Dash thrown together in an aquatic racing game. Here’s the thing though: it absolutely works better than expected, providing a surprisingly intricate racing game that I kept coming back to time and again.
Now, if you’ve never played the Senran Kagura games, they generally consist of volumptiously designed female anime characters participating in a range of fighting, cooking or even ‘Peach Ball’ games. They have a very distinctive visual aesthetic that consist of almost completely female casts often doing ridiculous but equally often amusing things. Kandagawa Jet Girls is not part of the Senran series, but it was developed by the same team (Honey Parade Games) and feels like a spiritual relative in every other way.
Some of the Senran Kagura characters make an appearance here as well. If you are a fan of the Senran games or anime fanservice in general – you have a pretty good idea of how Kandagawa Jet Girls looks. You basically have bright colors splashed against fairly simple environments that can look a bit rough around the edges at fast speeds – but then the focus is really meant to be on the girls anyways, right?
The music and sound effects are bouncy, light and enjoyable. There is no English being spoken here – everything is subtitled, however. The core of the story focuses on a Tokyo set in the somewhat near future where the most popular sport is jet ski racing. There is a story mode here, and outside of the tutorial, this is where I spent my early hours with the game, which focused on Rin Namiki, who is hellbent on getting ingrained in the scene while trying to figure out the mystory of her mother’s disappearance after a racing accident. She partners with Misa – because each ski is helmed by two people.
This is where the Mario Kart Double Dash comparison comes in. The girls don’t do any insane mid-race swaps of the driver’s seat, but they do function independently of one another. Now, I could argue that the Mario Kart Double Dash comparison is a bit of a backhanded compliment. I love me some Mario Kart games. I have owned them all since getting addicted to Mario Kart 64 back in college, and Double Dash is probably one of my least favorite entries in the series. So the comparison for Kandagawa Jet Girls could be seen as mixed praise, but despite its flaws I would rank Double Dash over many other battle / racing games out there, and the same goes for Kandagawa Jet Girls.
Here the ‘Double Dash’ gimmick is in who you are controlling. Most of the time, you will want to control whomever is actually steering the ski. That is when you can take advantage of the many systems built into the core racing experience. That being said, you can switch control to the girl on the back of the ski, who serves as the designated shooter – but in the gentlest sense of the word. The girls in the cast all have different personality quirks and some rivals are loosely assembled, but no one is really mean to one another. Frenemy often comes to mind.
Of similar note, the primary weapons are… squirt guns. You can pick up more nefarious weapons such as mines and such, but it is all pretty over-the-top fantasy violence, such as the super attack that unleashes a temporary water tornado behind your ski for those behind you to run into. It is a perfectly reasonable amount of variety – not an overwhelming arsenal, but I didn’t find myself using the same two things over and over again either.
Probably the biggest surprise for me in playing Kandagawa Jet Girls, was how much detail there was to the actual racing. I anticipated a rather simple ‘pick up and play’ game based on the cute visuals, but there is a good deal of nuance to be had in the actual racing. Not that you generally need it – the campaign is pretty easy until right near the end. However, if you are looking to best time trials or other players, you will want to get familiar with the different systems at play here.
There is a decent tutorial that goes over the basics, but really practicing them live during the game is the only way to really get good at them. Things like drift boosts seem easy on a training course, but making proper use of them in the middle of an actual race takes practice. There are other systems at play as well, such as hitting sections on the track that speed boost you, doing tricks in the air, having your nose up or down on your ski to impact your top speed or ability to turn and an ESD meter that can give you speed boosts or unlock the aforementioned special attacks.
The racing alone has a lot going on, and when you mix in the combat elements, it could almost be a bit overwhelming. When you swing off to control the girl in back doing the shooting, the AI steers your ski and does a perfectly serviceable job – but don’t expect any particularly cool tricks or good use of drifting mechanics to earn you speed boosts along the way. The shooting mechanic revolves around a shield each ski has, and when it is depleted, you lose speed for a time.
The AI is actually pretty passive to start. If you are experienced with racing games, you will find the going rather easy for the first two-thirds of the story mode, which sees you changing teams as it moves through a text-heavy if not particularly fascinating tale. Truth be told, I found myself far more interested in the racing than the plot here. I did not find myself needing to make use of power-ups or even attacking opponents for about the first half of the campaign, as I just focused on running a clean race.
That is one area where Kandagawa Jet Girls does struggle a bit, however. The controls just never quite feel clean. At its best, top-speeds, aerial tricks and sharp turns are a rush as the water glides crisply beneath your jet ski. However, too often the controls felt rather imprecise, like the various gameplay mechanics were at odds with one another and created an uneven experience. I learned to manage it well enough, and perhaps this is just the loose nature of an aquatic racer versus having tires gripping pavement in a kart racer.
Besides the aforementioned story mode, there are some free races and online modes that can be taken advantage of as well. There are objectives to be met in the story modes that unlock additional stuff, and just the simple act of progression through the campaign earns you more unlockables as well. The free racing benefits from these unlockables, so I spent most of my early time in that story mode. You can earn parts for cars or different outfits for the girls if you wish as well, adding a bit of collectible flavor to the mix if you like.