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Review: Kandagawa Jet Girls

25 Aug 2020

There are some creators where one just knows exactly what kind of game they’re going to get from them. Kenichiro Takaki is one of those creators. If Takaki’s name is attached to a project, one can typically expect…well, lots of fanservice. Fanservice that crosses so far over the line of “offensive” that it wraps right back around and becomes hilarious.

Most of Takaki’s work involves taking a basic gaming genre and filling it up with well-endowed anime girls, with the results being varying degrees of success. We’ve seen him tackle beat-em-ups (most famously), third person shooters, rhythm games, pinball, and…uh, petting simulators?

The game we’re looking at today sees the madman jump into a new genre: racing. Jetski racing to be more specific. But how well does Takaki’s style mesh with the genre?

Developed by Honey Parade Games and published in the west by Xseed Games, Kandagawa Jet Girls was released on August 25th, 2020, for PS4 and PC. The PS4 version was played for this review.

Work It Out On the Water

In what appears to be the near future, jetski racing, or Jet Racing, is the new hotness. Japanese high schools have racing teams, musical idols form their own racing squads, and students from America even make their way over to join in on the fun.

It’s in this world that we meet Rin and Misa, a pair of schoolgirls who both aspire to become the best Jet Racers around. The two opposing personalities form an unlikely partnership as they begin working together to realize their dreams. Along the way they meet numerous other Jet Racing teams with…unique…personalities.

Much like most of Takaki’s Senran Kagura games, the storytelling here is hardly high-stakes and is full of eye-rolling humor. Apparently everything can be solved by racing jetskis, from deciding who gets to practice in what river to being a bit too selfish when praying at the local shrine.

Kandagawa Jet Girls includes storylines for each of the seven Jet Racing teams in the game, but they all kind of play out the same. Each of the teams are having some kind of personal issues, and the only way to solve them is with the power of friendship and jetski racing. Rin and Misa’s story makes up the core plot of the game, alongside the story of their rivals, Kaguya and Kuromaru. The other teams are more just side stories to flesh out their characters.

On the plus side, though, the characters are surprisingly entertaining. I can’t say any of them are written well, but the way each of them stick so hard to their one-note personalities, often to the point of pure absurdity, is somehow endearing. However, this is likely assisted by the knowledge of knowing what to expect when jumping into one of Takaki’s stories.

Running Out Of Gas

I’ll admit, I was kind of excited to see just what a “fanservice jetski racing” game would be like. Unfortunately though, when it comes to the core gameplay, Kandagawa somehow crafts the most boring racing game I’ve played in recent memory.

The general setup reminds me vaguely of Mario Kart Double Dash, in that each racer has one driver and one “shooter.” The shooter is armed with a water cannon that they can fire at other racers to knock out their shields, essentially making them come to a dead stop for a few moments.

There are also items on the track that can be collected to give the shooter special weapons, ranging from sniper rifles to proximity grenades (all water based of course, no violence here!) that can be fired forwards or backwards. Lastly there’s a boost meter that can be built by doing tricks off jumps, driving through rings, or other little things during the race. The player can use 20% of their meter to activate a boost, or let it fill to 100% and dump it all on a special attack, dependent on what weapon the shooter is currently carrying.

…and none of the above mechanics matter as it’s very likely that you’ll be so far ahead in first place within the first thirty seconds of a race that there will be no racers to target.

This is honestly one of the easiest racing games I have ever played. Get a good boost at the beginning of a race, grab a weapon from the first place you can, fire it backwards to destroy enemy racers, then take a nap for the rest of the race as your opponents have absolutely no chance of catching up. Seriously, there were moments I wasn’t paying attention, ran directly into walls, and even accidentally drove backwards down a track for a few moments, and the opposing racers never even got within spitting distance of me.

Difficulty does pick up slightly when doing one of the non-main character stories. This is quickly mitigated by jumping into the jetski customization menu, buying one or two upgrades for your machine, and then going back to laughing your way to the finish line.

Increasing the pain is the fact that Kandagawa is also one of the slowest racing games I’ve ever played. Max speed on an un-upgraded jetski (i.e. all you’ll need for 90% of the game) feels like a crawl. The tracks are all unnecessarily long, with most clocking in at 4-5 minutes to complete, and most only being two laps. With the first thirty seconds really being all of a race that matters, the game certainly gives you plenty of time to be alone with your thoughts as you slowly putt your way to the finish line.

To its credit, Kandagawa does attempt to include some unique mechanics. Speed and steering can be affected by tilting the jetski’s nose up or down. Various tricks can be done when jumping off ramps that can increase stats such as shields and boost gain. Again, though, none of it really matters when opponents never put up a challenge.

Modest Bathing Attire

Takaki’s experiments are often hit or miss, but Kandagawa is an outlier even amongst those for one reason. The reason many fans play his games. The fanservice aspect.

The over-the-top sexual themes in Senran Kagura and other titles from Honey Parade have always been take-it-or-leave-it for me, but even I notice just how toned down this title is. Sure, Kandagawa still features anime girls with back-breaking endowment, but if you’re here for the titillation, don’t expect much more than that. Hell, the game managed to get a Teen rating, compared to Senran Kagura’s endless stream of Mature ratings.

Stepping aside from the fanservice aspects, Kandagawa is still a decently attractive game. Characters animate well during cutscenes, and the racing portion runs relatively smoothly on a base PS4 with little-to-no slowdown. I can say I honestly enjoyed the game’s weird near-future-but-not-really aesthetic.

As far as audio, it’s basically what you’d expect from the studio behind Senran Kagura. Bright bouncy music throughout, some of it actually managing to worm itself into my skull. Voice acting sounds straight out of a cutesy anime, which makes sense since this game was developed alongside a Kandagawa Jet Girls anime series.

Tilting in the River

Honey Parade’s games have always been niche, and to this point its felt like the studio had gotten crafting games for this niche down to a science. Knowing this, I really have no idea what happened to Kandagawa Jet Girls.

The racing gameplay is slow, tedious, and much too easy. The story is ridiculous, but doesn’t quite reach the inane peaks of the Takaki’s other games. Those here for the fanservice aspect will be disappointed by just how toned down it is.

Kandagawa Jet Girls completely misses the marks that this niche expects from its games. Even if the toned down fanservice is a ploy to bring in more general gamers, the weak racing mechanics aren’t going to keep them around for long. Give this one a pass.

~ Final Score: 4/10 ~

Review copy provided by Xseed Games for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.