Kandagawa Jet Girls is a gorgeous, incredibly fun jet ski racer that will have you hurtling through complex, winding tracks of a near-future Tokyo. Combining some fun racing mechanics unique to surfing the waves and a little gunplay to keep your opponents from getting too close, it offers a compelling experience as you cleave through the water.
Rin has set out to become a jet racer like her mother before her, and circumstances stick her with Misa, someone with experience as a racer (Jetter, as the game calls them) but some skeletons in her closet. Together, they’ll strive to become the best Jetter team on the Kandagawa River. Unless, you know, you decide you want to help one of the other teams instead.
Kandagawa Jet Girls lets you play as several different teams throughout the game’s story mode, experiencing different stories and angles on the main narrative. This is good, because Rin and Misa are absolutely dull, most of the time, having backgrounds and personalities that feel like they’ve been drawn from several tired clichés. The other teams are also feel pretty one-sided, with a single trait (vain, nerdy, etc) deciding their entire character and how they behave, but their styles tend to get them into weirder situations than Rin and Misa, so they’re slightly more interesting.
That said, none of the plot is going to win much of anyone over. It’s all pretty flat and boring, and most will likely start skipping it quickly to get to the infinitely more fun racing and shooting.
Jet racing is am absolute blast in Kandagawa Jet Girls, and has some nice complexity to make it interesting. Gliding along water on a jet ski feels fast and satisfying, and steering has some nice nuance to it that you’ll soon learn to feel your way through. You can’t just turn like you would in a vehicle, but have to gently guide yourself through tight turns to go through them without oversteering. It only took a few rounds to get down, but when I did, it helped solidify that sensation of racing on water.
Adding to that is the drifting mechanic. When the other racers start fighting back harder and you need to make those turns fast, you’ll want to drift through sharp turns. It’s quite simple to do, not requiring any specific timing to do right, but the longer you drift, the more of a charge you build up in a meter that gives you a burst of speed when you finish drifting. There are three levels of this speed burst, so if you can get your timing down right, you can really blast out of there. You can also screw it up badly and end up rushing into a wall, so it adds a nice risk/reward system in just navigating a turn.
If you want to gain speed in safer ways, there’s lots of goodies along the track to keep you going, as well as tricks you can use. Speed boost platforms will help you go a bit quicker if you drive over them, ramps will let you do tricks that add to a speed boost meter you can use at will, and weapon pickups will just let you shoot other racers to get them out of your way. Lots of methods are available depending on what you feel works best for you.
Kandagawa Jet Girls’s speed boost meter is a flexible tool, depending on what you need at a given time. It can be used to give you a speed increase after it’s filled a certain amount, which can be useful in a pinch. It can also be used to strengthen your available weapon in unique ways, letting you knock a pesky opponent away. It fills quickly, so it will be a handy tool almost all the time.
Shooting opponents is varying levels of effective. It takes a fair amount of hits to damage a shield enough to slow a racer down (which usually means you’re fairly safe, too), and hitting someone with a gun while you’re driving a jet ski isn’t easy. You can even shoot behind you at opponents (your pal will auto-drive as you do this) is even harder. Not only this, but you have to hold the button to start firing your special weapons, so it gets absurdly hard to hit anything precisely unless you’re an incredible shot or have picked up explosives.
Despite the limitations in the gunplay, these mechanics combine to make for some great racing, especially on the game’s striking tracks. Long stretches of blue waves do feel a bit repetitive sometimes, but the cityscapes around them make each track feel special. There’s also something wonderful about racing in the brilliant, bright day or the glowing lights of nightfall, making for some pretty places to rush through.
While racing is appealing, it takes quite a long while before it feels very challenging. You can do free racing whenever you like and ramp up the difficulty if you find it too easy, but since most tracks (and jet ski parts and outfits) are unlocked through story mode, you won’t have many places to race. Story Mode is quite easy for a long time, so expect a more relaxed pace of racing if you’re skilled, or a great learning curve if you’re new. Or something that just lets you relax and race across the river without much pressure. Each round does feature a few mini challenges (don’t hit walls, use weapons X amount of times) that you need to do to unlock extras, so you can always choose to make things a bit harder.
The characters of Kandagawa Jet Girls also showcase a bright, cheerful art style that makes them feel charming and memorable even when their stories are boring or strange. Each is vibrant and look great, adding a wonderful energy to the game’s racing.
That said, the gang behind Senran Kagura is at work here, so expect some ridiculous body types and racy outfits, here. You can tune out a fair amount of it by flipping through the story if you’re just here for the racing (plus there are plenty of jet ski parts to unlock and buy with your points if you’re not interested in buying bikinis). If you want your dress-up time, the game offers a lot of outfit unlocks and customization options to create your own version of the racers.
Honestly, though, while the cast isn’t keen on a lot of clothing, Kandagawa Jet Girls feels less leery than many of the past Senran Kagura titles. Whether that’s what you’re looking for is up to you. Although, I still find it personally distasteful that I’m dressing up teenagers in high school. At 38, it’s getting a bit weird for me to be doing that.
As a jet ski racer, Kandagawa Jet Girls is a delightful, often relaxing time spent in the shimmering glow of summer sun against cerulean waves. It’s genuinely hard to put down, has some striking tracks to race along, and offers a bubbly cast that at least makes everything cheerful and bright. It’s story and challenge might not be there, but it’s undeniably a lot of fun.