I like weird games. Nothing makes me happier than a game like Katamari Damacy, Car Battler Joe, Pocket Card Jockey, Duel Love or Chulip. Naturally, I wanted Drive Girls to be good. It is, after all, a game about women who also happen to be cars and both fight and race giant, invading robot bugs. Instead, it squanders a novel premise and takes you on one of gaming’s worst road trips.
Drive Girls takes place in a weird, wild place in a world where people can become cars. Specifically, it is set on an highway-filled island where an infestation of Bugs, the mechanized creatures that, at their smallest are the size of large dogs and at their largest twice as big as a car, has begun. Who better to tackle such a horrifying and unpleasant situation than a group of high school students? Lancier, along with Galaxa, RR Thirty-Five, Regalith and Seven, are the only ones who can tackle the 24 missions that will result in the extermination of these baddies and save the day.
Now that I have gone ahead and summarized Drive Girls’ plot, do me a favor: forget everything I just said.
Now that I have gone ahead and summarized Drive Girls’ plot, do me a favor: forget everything I said. None of it matters. The story is of no merit here. It is not entertaining, funny or even “so bad it is somehow good.” It is there to attempt to provide some sort of purpose for a game where warrior women who are sometimes also cars and bash or bash into enemies. The voice acting isn’t bad? I suppose it is pleasant to listen to what is happening, even though it is unpleasant to actually watch the proceedings.
Drive Girls is actually a beat-’em-up along the lines of the Musou series, rather than a racing game. Well, a more limited Musou game with a smaller cast of generic enemies. In most of the 24 episodes, you are on a highway in different locations and clearing out Bugs. Each of the heroines has a different sort of style based on her weapon. Characters like Lancier and Regalith both solid warriors who use swords, as an example, while the speedier Galaxa and Seven wield chakram and daggers. You chain together combos and special attacks to take out foes. Occasionally, you can change into a car to more quickly move through areas or use two basic ramming attacks.
Here’s the problem. Nothing about any of this is designed to make you want to do such things for extended periods of time. The enemies all look alike and, after about six stages, start becoming damage sponges. The attacks and combos are nothing special; I found myself chaining the same few attacks together one after another. Enemies constantly stun you with attacks, making using stronger ones that consume SP less attractive, as they drop your own guard. The characters don’t behave all that differently, so you are best off choosing the character whose design you like best. And the driving, while competent, isn’t ideal due to so many highways being small spaces with rampant mines and obstacles that can only be easily avoided when your heroine is human. If you can find someone either locally or online, you can cooperatively fight Bugs, but I do not recommend it. Please, do not force someone else to suffer through Drive Girls with you.
Here is something you should also think about. How weird is it that a game called Drive Girls does not actively encourage any kind of driving? You would think there would be plenty of opportunities to go head to head against Bugs or your fellow heroines. But no! There aren’t! There are a handful of racing segments in a game with over 20 assignments. But maybe that is for the best, because the actual races are horribly executed. There is only one track. You only need to accelerate and brake, because drifting is totally unnecessary. But worst of all, you can inadvertently turn from a car to person during a race. Pressing circle makes your car boost; holding it makes your car become a girl. So you can be driving along, doing fine, accidentally tap a button too long and wreck things for yourself.
Here’s the problem. Nothing about any of this is designed to make you want to do such things for extended periods of time.
Oh, right. You can spend money on things in Drive Girls. There are stickers that show up on the girls’ car and human forms. Except… they do not actually influence stats all that much. Getting a full set helps a bit, but it really feels like they are there for decorative purposes. You can apply collected gears to their physical, strong and accel stats to make them more effective in battle! That does have an effect! There are also various healing items that can be purchased to help you survive missions. Do that. Especially in later episodes when enemies become overwhelming and ready to stun you at every opportunity. It will help you survive.
Finally, there is the fanservice. Tamsoft is the developer that has given us games like Dream C Club, Senran Kagura, Oneechanbara, Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed and SG/ZH: School Girl Zombie Hunter. Of course there will be excuses for the Drive Girls to get half-naked. Taking damage can lead to a moment where the women suddenly bust out of their armor and appear in a compromising positions. It is there? It exists? It is not as bad as it could be, but it probably did not need to be there.
I like the idea of Drive Girls. There are times when I pretend there is an alternate reality where it is essentially a spiritual successor to Car Battler Joe, with multiple missions, varied objectives, upgradeable parts that make a real difference and maybe even races I would want to replay. Nothing about Drive Girls makes me want to replay it. But hey, it is only six hours long, so at least those who do choose to register for the race will not suffer long!