From the start, Kandagawa Jet Girls set high expectations. Developed by creators of the Senran Kagura franchise, with its vibrant colors coupled and j-pop surf rock hybrid soundtrack, the game promises fun in the sun with water gun racing shenanigans. Seeing as the game is based on an anime, this is no surprise. Even without knowledge of the show, the game meets expectations set through its gameplay.
The intent of any racing game is to win. Kandagawa Jet Girls is no different. Race, shoot, enjoy glory of Kandagawa Cup victory. Modes of play include story, free mode, online multi-player, and mini games. Story mode progression unlocks tracks, characters, and jet machine related items. Initially players are limited to Rin and Misa and their jet machine Orcano. The character roster does end up opening more choices and there is planned DLC to expand the roster more. Bonus characters Ryona and Ryobi from Senran Kagura are included in the North American release. Each mission also has sub objectives to unlock cosmetic items the girls can wear such as outfits and accessories. This can be done in the club room or before races. Cosmetic customization is appealing. Dressing up the characters and playing with their aesthetic is fun, and I get to show off my bias towards the color blue. Changes do delightfully update in cutscenes, a nice detail from the developers.
The story itself uses tropes and stereotypes. It is most obvious in the otaku levels of California team Unkai Surfers who are questing to be shinobi. Every conflict is also settled by jet racing, anime throw-down style. In spite of tropes, Kandagawa Jet Girls does a good job of character development by showing each team’s unique motivation and sharing their flaws and strengths. For example Team Dress shows they are willing to admit when they are wrong. Cutscenes are totally skippable, a great time saver on mission repeats, yet worth watching first playthrough.
In Free mode the player can set up their own races against AI teams. These are the same tracks from story and pretty standard for a racing game. Multiple routes add variance in the courses by changing layout and lap lengths. The color palette gives that water sport feel to the tracks, even night modes have a cheery brightness associated with summer and water. Enjoying the sunset while face planting into a wall is also plus and very much a me problem. Honey Parade Games included a nice blend of boost gates, balloons, and other object placement among the courses that adjusts race difficulty.
Ochano Mizu: Hijiribashi (rain) is one I enjoyed spending time on most. This track creates an enjoyable pace with its mixture of sharp and smooth turns while reinforcing the use of drifting and good jet machine control. Ochano Mizu also features whirlpools that can suck racers underwater causing slow downs. Camera splashes on the screen are a nice aesthetic touch. Tokyo Resort City and Neo Nihonboshi stand out also; both have more physical obstacles and the flow of the turns require a bit more attention for those looking for more of a challenge in their races. Free mode also has time trials and these two tracks are a bit more fun for that since they are more of a challenge.
I did not spend much time with the online multiplayer feature, just free mode online with up to four people. There is also a ranked mode for more competitive players. Taking the time to unlock jet machine items through story will count most here as they really are the stars of the game. The jet machines can have a limited number of upgrades at a time, so players need to be mindful of to strategize. Steering, drifting, acceleration, speed, and EP gauge upgrades are pretty nice. EP controls both boosting ability and special actions of the weapons items. Mixing and matching of course gives the player a bit more control of how they race. Showing off cosmetic skins and fancy jet trails is pretty fun. Thankfully they do not use precious set cost points.
While racing is primary over shooting, it’s still fun to explore and use weapons to your advantage. They are handy and very satisfying when breaking an opponent’s shields. Shield breaks temporary, tragically, slow the jet machines. Shields do recover but every second in a race matters. All teams have a default rifle and there are eight possible weapon items via randomized pickups on the track, very Mario Kart in style. They can be used as is when picked up or when the EP gauge is at max, players can burn it all for a special. Specials are tied to the item’s location, with different actions occurring in different places. Seeking missiles are always useful while directional attacks or double items can be more limited in scope but still effective.
If Kandagwa Jet Girls had a montage, the four mini games would be it. All are located in the club room along with shopping and the art gallery. Jet machine cleaning is a sequence of button presses. Mopping involves moving left and right using the analog stick with correct timing. Treadmill utilizes controlled button mashing. Aerials is jump practice on a special track with ramps. Joysticks are used for four kinds of jumps, the last being special for each individual shooter. It is a good place to view them all while getting practice and racking up points to buy parts and items. Without the mini games, the game would feel a bit more of a grind as the points to shop can take time to gather.
With all the modes, the mini games, Kandagawa Jet Girls has solid replayability. Just like its upbeat soundtrack (which I have in my music rotation), the intuitive controls (but still visit the tutorial) make it easy to jump in and escape into some fun racing. Be sure to visit the game’s official website here for more information!