Some genres are made for certain forms of media – video games and adventure, movies and action, and seemingly, high school anime and any activity that requires a swimsuit. With an opportunity to make a still-jiggly, but slightly less seedy game (as the developer of the Senran Kagura series), developer Honey Parade released Kandagawa Jet Girls, a jet-skiing yet kart-like racer that pits pairs of high school girls in competition across Tokyo.
The title, based on its anime, unfortunately, suffers from the same issue many licensed products also befall to – the gameplay is second in priority to the already established story.
Initially providing the player with hope that this might not be the case is the game’s presentation whose relatively in-depth story through visual novel sections are paired with crowd-pleasing visuals and an energetic soundtrack. Anyone who enjoys even the basic storytelling beats of a high school anime will surely fall for its charm. Furthermore, given that there are up to 12 chapters (each with cutscenes and a race) for 7 teams and around 125 different races, you’d expect that the game would have you hook, line and sinker.
Bursting your balloon, like the hundreds of beach balls you’ll be shooting for enjoyment when miles ahead of everyone else, is the story’s outrageously easy difficulty that negates any potential joy from being had in between cutscenes. As an example, it’s possible to completely destroy the competition in 90% of the races with blowout wins of 10-20 second margins and then feel utterly helpless in the remaining 10% with overly harsh tracks that you’ll wonder where the consistency or your ability to play video games went.
Compounding this issue is a conveyance of speed so slow that it uses speed lines – at all times – to hide the pedestrian pace of the races, like Mario Kart being stuck on 50cc instead of increasing in speed and difficulty with each cup. Add a low frame rate that’s especially noticeable when racing ahead of the pack, and you’ve got a perfect storm for a forgettable video game adaption.
What confuddles most about these racing game faux pas though, is that they are entirely avoidable. In fact, their solutions have already been implemented elsewhere in the game. The missing adjustability of the difficulty and customization modes that allow you to upgrade your machinery to achieve impressive and exciting speeds already exist in the single track mode.
Quite why they decided to conceal the most enjoyable gameplay in the least developed part of the game is beyond me, but worse than that, the single-player modes are as barebones as some of the characters’ uniforms – with single track, time trial, and an online multiplayer Vs mode being it. Considering the effort put into the story it’s a shame this aspect isn’t equally plentiful, with tournament cup modes and also offline multiplayer sorely missed. Even the feature that the concept of the story delivers on a silver platter – 2-player co-op gameplay with one as the driver and the other as the shooter (similar to that in Mario Kart: Double Dash) – is also unfortunately omitted.
When the stars do eventually align for some fast competitive racing, there is little beyond standard karting mechanics and gameplay. Bland tracks, while based on actual places and rivers in Tokyo, are very similar, and their width removes any incentive for precision driving. In addition, weapons provide little sense of control, making races a ‘footrace’ to the next power-up. This isn’t by any means unusual for a kart racer, but the best entries in the genre provide unique aspects that allow for creativity in your approach and precise or advanced controls that allow for skilled runs for those who desire it.
Pulling off special moves after jumping off a ramp and weapons that change the camera view to your rear, while putting your jet-ski into auto-drive, in order to shoot at your rivals are two interesting inclusions that do provide some semblance of individuality in the gameplay, but much like in other areas of the game, these are isolated and don’t make a larger impression. Money for your upgrades, for example, can be earned in amusing minigames, such as jet ski cleaning and treadmill running, further showing that the developer can create quick and exciting mechanics, but they are over far too soon.
On one hand, Honey Parade and XSEED games should be applauded for not simply cashing in with a visual novel release like most anime tie-ins, but on the other, in trying to expand into something more interactive, they bit off more than they can chew, and due to a lack of execution and ambition, they are unable to elevate the title from being more than just an average racer and a complimentary story game for it’s source material.
Focused more on its appearances than how it plays, Kandagawa Jet Girls is a wet, but not so wild jetskiing racer whose big wave never arrives. The warm and cuddly story and the fan service-level clothing customization may please the anime’s fans, but those looking for an immediately enjoyable racing experience with depth and execution should look elsewhere.