Drive Girls is a 3D action title from Tamsoft. In this game, players take control of girls who can transform into cars. With this setup, it manages to mix elements of driving games into its hack and slash formula. This also seemed like it could bring a unique aspect to the combat. As I usually enjoy the genre, I decided to give this one a try.
*Copy purchased by reviewer.
After failing the test to join the ERT, Lancier Revolution becomes one of the Drive Girls instead. This small organization fights to reclaim an island from the dangerous Bugs that have overrun it.
Throughout the story, the Bugs seem to be a step ahead of the team. Even when the group seems to gain the upper hand, their opponents reveal more of their capabilities and bring the team closer to defeat. However, much of the dialogue consists of comedic banter. Since most of the writing tries to be silly, attempts at telling a serious story are hampered by the lighthearted atmosphere. Furthermore, it seems obvious that the character in the most peril will later become playable. This suggests that no real harm will come to her, removing any tension the situation may have had.
Over the course of the game, we learn a bit of each character’s backstory. However, none of them seem to have much depth. On the bright side, their archetypes work well together for creating humour. The writing is hardly compelling, but still entertaining.
There are a few typos in the translation from Rising Star Games, but nothing particularly noteworthy. Most of them only involve punctuation. The meaning of every line is clear and the terminology remains consistent.
Due to the total evacuation of the island, only six characters appear in Drive Girls. During conversations, the main protagonists move their eyes and mouths, but not Naviko. Since her appearance is just a hologram, such things are not necessary for her, but it still makes her look out-of-place. In addition to these minor movements, all characters can change poses in the middle of delivering a line. The transition may not be smooth, but it adds plenty of emphasis to the emotion of a line.
Players can change the in-game appearance of the playable cast, but there are few options available. Each character has five slots for decals, and that is the full extent of the graphic customization system. These decals are rather small in fighting form, and even in drive mode they do little to change a character’s overall look. This is probably a good thing as the stickers also alter stats. It is easy to choose function over fashion when the latter is hardly noticeable.
There is also a clothing destruction system in the game. When the girls take enough damage, most of their outfit vanishes, leaving them in their undergarments. Clothes only have two states: intact and destroyed. Finishing a stage after an outfit falls apart grants an additional 500 points on the results screen, encouraging players to take a beating. If a character’s state of undress affects gameplay in any other way, the game does not make it clear.
To make the most of their transformation abilities, the Drive Girls primarily operate on roads. This means most stages of the game take place on fairly similar-looking highways. Even in the city map, players can not stray from the road, though they can move through a few rooms in the tunnel area.
As the name may suggest, most Bugs resemble bugs. The game has a decent variety of these foes and each type has a few reskins for stronger variants. Not every enemy clearly telegraphs its attacks, so there may be some frustration to be had there. Some also have a habit of dashing to the side at high speed, making them difficult to keep on the screen. There is a lock-on function in the game, but it only activates when a target is visible.
Due to all the sound effects and other audio cues, the music in Drive Girls does not really stand out during normal play. While listening to the in-game music player, I learned that it mostly consists of electronica and rock. The songs sound alright and none of them are annoying, but they add little to the experience.
The game features full voice acting in Japanese. Each member of the cast put in a decent performance and none of characters sounded annoying. Still, no scenes required much nuance or intense emotional output. The voice acting is perfectly alright, but none of it is particularly memorable.
It is difficult to fully understand the combat system in Drive Girls as the tutorials cover very few aspects of the game. For the most part, the game plays similarly to other titles in the genre. Battles unfold in real time and the player’s primary means of offense consists of mashing the attack buttons. However, there are a few gimmicks that make the game stand out.
Unlike other games, heavy attacks require energy. Since energy has other uses, this makes such attacks feel rather inefficient. Instead, players can use energy to charge the gear meter, which enhances stat multipliers. Once the gear meter is at maximum, the character’s special attack becomes available with a cost of one full meter of energy. Though the game never mentions it, long-range weapons also require energy.
Obviously, one of the main gimmicks in Drive Girls is the protagonists’ ability to transform into cars. Not only does this provide a means of quickly moving from one group of enemies to another, it also provides options in combat. While in drive form, players can damage enemies just by ramming into them. The girls are also capable of performing a spin attack in this mode. Since the cars are relatively large, this is a great way of dealing damage to a large group. Unfortunately, changing forms is not intuitive. Even though there are buttons available, transformations require holding a button. This makes it inconvenient to change during combat.
Naturally, since the girls can change into cars, there are a few racing missions in the game. However, these are rather few in number. They also provide very little challenge. There are few proper obstacles on each track and rival racers are somewhat slow. As long as the player hits the boost button every now and then, they should come out far ahead.
The item menu in the game is rather clunky. Rather than just pressing buttons to switch the current item, players must also press an additional button to confirm the choice. If a foe tries attacking while you are in this menu, pressing the dodge button will close it, forcing you to start over. For whatever reason, switching to ranged combat also requires use of this menu. Even with a fully inventory, the default selection is empty, which feels somehow insulting.
All stat modifications are tied to items. This means players spend money to level up rather than experience. It also means they can always choose not to get stronger. The primary method of leveling up involves the purchase of gears. Players can use gears to level up one of three meters, though it is not clear what stats each modifies. They can also buy and craft stickers that come with various benefits. For some reason, it is impossible to close the customization screen until a character’s updated appearance finishes loading, which is annoying. Interestingly, recovery items are a one-time purchase with free refills between battles.
Drive Girls starts out easy, but it can be difficult later on. Bugs spawn in large groups, and they do not wait their turn to attack. Since there is no period of invulnerability after getting hit, enemies may stagger the player endlessly. Unfortunately, these foes are not as unsteady on their feet and may attack with little warning. Some quick ones like to move quite a bit, so trying to chase them down and land a hit can be frustrating as well.
Drive Girls has a multiplayer mode with its own set of missions and even exclusive enemies. Combat remains mostly the same, but this mode allows players to team up online or via Ad-Hoc play. If you lack people to play with, this content is still accessible while playing solo. While there is still a selection of missions requiring players to exterminate regular enemies, multiplayer mostly focuses on boss fights.
Stats, items, and money persist between the game’s single player and multiplayer sections. The characters available in multiplayer also depend on story progress. Since the majority of the multiplayer missions are harder, it is generally a good idea to finish the campaign first.
Communicating with other players involves a series of pre-written messages. In both the lobby and combat, players must open a menu and scroll to the line they want. Each character has their own unique version of the messages, which is a nice touch. However, since quick communication is not possible, do not expect to get much feedback from your party in battle.
Just about everything that makes Drive Girls stand out from its competition feels poorly executed. Transforming is clunky, the story is hardly compelling, and customization is lackluster. Still, since the core gameplay does not stray far from what is typical in the genre, it manages to remain fun. The jokes are hardly original as the humour relies on interactions between common archetypes, but they are still somewhat funny. This is not a game I would recommend over most of its competitors, but I did enjoy my time with it overall.