Drive Girls (Review)
The plot of the game revolves around the titular (very much the intended word) Drive Girls, an elite force tasked with fighting off a secret plague of mechanized bugs that have taken over the island. There’s a bit more story than that, as players are first introduced to Lancier. She’s a young woman who wants nothing more than to join the Emergency Response Team to rescue people in distress much like she was in her past. Missing the test period for the paramedic/firefighter position, she is offered a chance to do a make up exam. This exam involved beating the crud out of bugs. She passed and was told that she was now a member of the ERT. Upon arriving for her first day, she learns that she was actually recruited into the Drive Girls, a team that utilizes *sigh* “Carms” to fight the bugs that are infesting an evacuated island. It is an established fact that Lancier is incredibly dumb, even by anime standards. This silliness of the story, and the stupidity of the characters, could be forgiven were it amusing or entertaining. It is not. Indeed, the entirety of the plot manages to take the concept and run it into the doldrums, being a combination of trite, predictable, and just plain boring. To take a concept as wokka-wokka wacky as this and render it dull takes a special kind of talent.
The combat itself doesn’t help matters. The levels are broken up into battles with a group of bugs and driving portions to the next part. Occasionally, there are races. Each of these segments falls flat. In combat, the camera system veers wildly off track, with the player mashing attack in hopes of staving off damage while trying to steer the viewing angle back into position. There is a lock on function, but it requires taking the thumb off of the left stick and pressing up on the D-pad. It also has a tendency to select the exact wrong creature, just based on the fact that there are swarms of these things on screen. As each section has one or two specific enemies that need to be defeated in order to clear out the mess, this function really should just ignore the rest and choose one of those. Swinging the blades themselves does work, with systems in place rewarding extended combos with increased damage and defense, and numerous offensive options. However, the game also tends to throw in numerous extended stun lock situations as the it goes on, so even this benefit is tempered in the flames of suck.
Drive somehow fares even worse. Sections that are meant to utilize this mechanic are often intentionally blocked with a sting of landmines. Some have enough space to get around, but most don’t. There’s also a huge disconnect between the vehicle and the road, with zero sense of weight or speed felt by the player. As there are missions specifically dedicated to racing, the lack of any excitement or skill required leaves large portions of the game feeling like nothing but filler. Quick strategy guide for these sections: run over a couple of bugs in the road and collect EX to power the nitro boost. Keep pressing the button when the last use runs dry, as the next group of bugs will show up before emptying the tank. Doing this will win every race, assuming the player understands not to run into obstacles and stop for minutes at a time.
On top of all of this, the controls are atrocious. Basic attacks are fine, and actually moving a character works okay, but so many mechanics are mapped in bizarre ways. Activating the “super” EX skill requires holding down the L trigger, even though nothing else is mapped there in human form. Enjoy the free hits, bugs! Switching between modes also require long presses, meaning it’s common to trigger a boost when trying to revert from car to human. Utilizing the long ranged weapons is a fool’s errand. To access them, one needs to select it on the item list with the D-pad, and pressing down, all the while praying to a preferred deity that the game will understand the request and implement it. Again, this requires taking the thumb off of the stick, relinquishing control in the face of constantly attacking enemies. A simple rethink of the controls really should have been considered before releasing this, as it feels more like fighting the interface than playing a game.
Finally, there is the upgrade system. Instead of leveling up, improvement is done via stat boosting stickers on various parts of the character. This isn’t a terrible idea, but there isn’t a huge variety of these in the game considering that the stickers serve as both cosmetic customization and growth. There is also a separate system of gears. The player purchases these cogged implements at the in game store at no small price and installs them across one of three stats, Phys, Strong, and Acc. It’s not explained anywhere, but I believe “Phys” boosts hit points/defense, Strong improves attack strength, and Acc is for acceleration. There is no penalty for respeccing Gears. Since there are only three different states for this, though, it doesn’t matter. It’s not really possible to make a wrong choice or try different builds.