A Splashtacular Journey

HIGH Now that’s how you end a videogame.

LOW Why can’t I drop weapons I don’t want instead of having to use them?

WTF That supervillain storyline gets WEIRD.

If there’s one thing that motivates the developers at Marvelous and Honey Parade, it’s a profound desire to avoid making another mainline Senran Kagura for as long as possible.

Estival Versus, the most recent game to move the Senran Kagura plot forward, came out five years ago. Since then, fans have received remakes, pinball, a massage simulator and a third-person shooter which was literally about a mysterious entity (representing the developers) trying to keep the SK girls from having to go through the horrific events of the next game by trapping them in a pocket dimension.

The latest attempt to put off dealing with the still-unresolved wrath of Senran Kagura‘s demon king is Kandagawa Jet Girls, a jet ski racer set in the SK world, although the stars of SK appear only as DLC bonus characters.

As a spiritual successor to Peach Beach Splash, Kandagawa features a nearly identical story structure, with each of the jet ski teams getting a narrative about racing their way through a tournament for their own reasons, with a ‘final battle’ campaign opening up only after all of the character arcs are complete.

As is almost always the case with these devs, the character writing is the best part of the game, and every team is delightful in their own way. Whether the stories are about proving themselves in the world of pro jetski-racing, California otakus who’ve come to Japan to learn how to be ninjas, or living weapons trained from birth for nefarious purposes, each one of the arcs is a dramatically satisfying experience.

While the writing leans heavily towards comedy — this is even lighter and more frivolous than SK most of the time — there’s still room for more serious issues to be broached. There are lessons about defining one’s self-worth in comparison to the achievements of siblings, and also about taking time to enjoy activities rather than focusing on winning or losing, for example. It’s an positive experience all-around, and absolutely lives up to the series’ script standards.

Kandagawa‘s racing is smooth and accessible. The tracks are all set on the titular river so there’s not much room for exploration or freestyling, but the developers have managed to build an impressive number of courses. Not only are there half a dozen distinct environments, each one has numerous alternate paths that are opened or closed in different configurations to create courses with entirely different feels.

While simple to jump into, Jet Girls‘ racing has quite a bit of depth. Each track has numerous special features like speed boosts, giant balloons that need to be shot, and jumps that allow players to perform stat-boosting aerial tricks. The bonuses help, of course, but success is based almost entirely on the player’s ability to finely control their craft. Not only can players drift to speed around corners and build up boost power, but they have to keep an eye on the nose of their jetski. Pull it out of the water and they’ll build speed but risk slamming into walls, pushing it down will allow the player to make tight turns at the cost of speed.

Kandagawa is beautifully balanced, with difficulty increasing gradually over the course of the campaigns, which are meant to be played in a specific order, although it isn’t enforced other than the first and last two.

Completing races not only unlocks the costume and decal options one would expect from a SK-related game, but also jetski mods that boost stats and make later races manageable. And, just like in Peach Beach Splash, unlocked upgrades can be used by every team, reducing the need for repetitive grinding. There’s still a little grinding, of course — parts and costumes are pretty expensive — but the game goes out of its way to make it as painless as possible via four minigames that offer far more points than even high level races do.

Despite how anxious I am for the devs to continue the mainline Senran Kagura story, I can’t deny that they’ve put out an exceptional title here. The racing is thrilling, the characters are wonderful, and the story has charm to spare.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Honey Parade and Marvelous and published by XSEED/Marvelous USA. It is currently available on PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4.
Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 2 hours were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB this game is rated T and contains Suggestive Themes, Fantasy Violence, and Language. The Teen rating is dead-on. There are some fairly suggestive bathing suits in the game, but nothing even lightly pornographic. Even younger teens shouldn’t have much of a problem with it.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without sound and encountered no difficulties. There are no audio cues of note. All of the game’s dialogue is in Japanese, and subtitled in English. The subtitles cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Daniel Weissenberger
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