Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball review
Shallow Beach Fun
Beautiful to look at
Fast paced action
Doesn't take long to get used to the controls
Loads of swimsuits and accessories
Audio can be a pain
Camera can be an issue at times
What do you do when your fighting franchise has had a number of successful entries already? Try out some remakes? Mix up the gameplay? If you're Temco then you push out a spinoff game. The mix of a fighting game and volleyball makes little sense, but yet here is Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball. What's more surprising than anything is that this is actually a pretty decent game.
Okay, let's not try and pretend otherwise here. The target audience is evidentially young males that are quite happy to catch some female flesh, even if it's of the virtual kind. Therefore a magnificent visual presentation is pretty much a requirement, lest the game utterly fail in its primary aim.
Thankfully, the game scores highly in this regard. The character models of the playable girls are well defined and possess a sufficient level of detail. Their bodies have the typical "too perfect to be true" trait that most virtual females seem to have though, which does knock the realism a bit.
Huh? Oh, oh yeah. Volleyball. I'm here for the volleyball...
The animation is also done very well too. The characters move around convincingly, with a variety of running, diving and hitting animations. All these tend to be relevant to the situation, meaning that when your character passes the ball to the team mate she won't just use the exact same animation every time.
The way their hair flows over their bodies (in the case of girls with long hair) is also done relatively well. Sometimes the hair will curve around a bit awkwardly but usually it follows the shape of the body, so that when it sweeps over the shoulder it doesn't clip through anything.
One neat touch in the game is how all the girls keep looking at the ball in play. Even better is that this looks so natural. If the ball bounces past them they will actually twist their bodies to avoid some kind of exorcist nightmare appearance when tracking the ball.
While one may have expected the characters to look good it may be surprising to see that the environments have had a similar amount of work put into them. The sand and water both look pretty realistic, with some solid effects used when either is kicked up. The backdrops of the various courts are also pretty nice to look at, offering up some nice variation.
The casino graphics are impressive as well. Seeing the slot machines lined up and the designs on the playing cards is cool. However, the lack of any other people visible is a strike against it. Are we playing against ghosts?
I'm not sure where to stand on the issue of the game's music selection. Unlike most games DOA:XBV makes use of a collection of licensed tracks to listen to. I found that there are some pretty solid tracks in here that definitely fit in well with the whole vacation theme, but a lot of them feel too random and not something I found myself liking all that much. Even worse is how most of the tracks sound like they're from the pop music genre. It's alright if you love that style of music, but if you don't then a lot of this will drive you up the wall.
On the plus side is the game's radio shack. First of all is the ability to choose which songs play, thus allowing you to turn off the ones you don't like. Sounds handy, although it alone isn't enough to make up for things if you're turning off over half the collection. However, this feature also allows you to play your own songs out during the game. They may or may not match the theme of the game, but listening to your own favourite songs is definitely a plus.
The game also includes full voice acting, but it's a decidedly mixed affair. Here's something to think about. The good news is that the original Japanese voice acting is included. The bad news is that the original Japanese voice acting is the only one included. Nobody bothered to record an English set of voice clips to insert into the game, and while some enthusiasts may proclaim Japanese voice acting as inherently superior there is no denying that actual having the option is easily better than having one forced upon you.
That said, the voice work is actually pretty good. You could easily imagine the girls sounding like they do in the game, and the voice clips match the situation. A depressed sigh sounds downbeat, which enhances the gameplay.
Another problem arises during matches though, which is how limited the collection of voice clips actually is. Does every well executed serve have to be accompanied by "Nice Serve!" from your team mate? Yes, you want the praise, but can't she ever say anything else? This lack of variation even extends to the celebration and disappointment clips, which are continually recycled over and over. You won't notice it for the first few matches, but by the fifth match with one character you'll have heard everything she has to say all too much.
The game also has the expected set of sound effects, like the splashing of water and the thunder-like thuds of hand connecting with ball. There's not that much variety here but they do a solid job of creating a convincing game.
...wait, there's a story? Apparently so.
Having won it big at a casino Zack buys himself an island and names it after himself. He subsequently declares that the next DOA tournament will be held there. However, the only invites are sent to female fighters and it turns out there is no tournament. Still, the girls don't think a vacation is a particularly bad idea, so they take the chance to relax.
Yeah... a story it may be but it's far from being Shakespeare. Still, chances are you're not playing this for the story so you probably won't care.
Despite that, there's a surprising amount of personal data about the girls. You get things like their hobbies and favourite colour, which is used when forming bonds. They even have rivalries and auto friendships in there, and while that system isn't all that deep it does add something to proceedings.
Not awesome, but not a total loss either.
DOA:XBV offers up two game modes for the player. Zack's Island is the extensive single player mode, and chances are it's where you're going to be spending most of your time when playing by yourself. Exhibition mode simply allows players to dive straight into a volleyball match without working through a story or anything.
Exhibition is the shallower of the two modes, since it is designed purely for quick play. In addition, you can play two player matches here too. The lack of a four player mode is both disappointing and utterly perplexing. Two teams. Two people on each team. 2 + 2 literally equals four. Alas, only two players can compete, on opposite sides of the net.
Exhibition allows for some control over the matches, such as setting which characters are in play, their swimsuits (from those that have been unlocked), the court to use and their mood. Mood? Don't worry, this is just another term for the skill level of the computer controlled players. The term makes more sense in Zack's Island mode due to how it's handled.
This is the closest you'll get to a training mode, giving you the chance to practice the skills to take into the main single player mode. You're well advised to do so as well, since the main game isn't too interested in giving new players an easy time.
Zack's Island is the main game mode and is what you could call the real meat of the game. You start by picking a girl to take through the vacation and then you're treated to a nice little intro sequence. After that you're taken to Lisa (or Tina if you chose to play as Lisa) who greets you, informs you of the deceit and then offers you a tour of the island. First time through you don't get to decline, although in future playthroughs you can. Completing the tour sets Lisa (or Tina) as your volleyball partner.
Your vacation lasts for fourteen days, with each day split into four segments that consists of morning, afternoon, evening and night. Most areas can be visited during the day but the hotel is only accessible at night (and the only option at night).
The main point of this mode is to play volleyball matches to earn money to spend in the shops. During the day segments you'll find the other girls hanging around in various spots. If there are two girls together in the same spot then you can challenge them to a match if you also have a partner with you.
The volleyball action plays out in a similar way to the exhibition game mode, except you don't have control over various options. Matches consist of two teams of two girls each. Generally, the first to seven points wins but the win must be by two points or more. If play reaches 9-9 then the game reaches the match point stage for both teams, meaning one more point either way will win.
Each round starts with a serve. The team that serves first seems random, but every subsequent serve is given to the team that scored the last point. When serving you initially hold a direction on the left analogue stick to determine the type of serve. Holding away from the other team produces an unmissable weak serve. Not touching the stick does a normal mid-power serve that's easy to time. Holding towards the other team does a strong serve that's harder to time. Once the A button is pressed then the analogue stick's function changes to aim the serve, while A is pressed again to hit it over the net.
Control over your character is kept to a simple input. The left analogue stick moves your girl around the court, as well as directing passes and strikes. B is the pass button, which receives the incoming ball and lobs it over to your team mate or directed to a suitable spot for a set strike. A is the strike button, used to knock the ball over to the opponent's side of the court. The strike used is context sensitive though, to offer some level of complexity.
Sending the ball high or getting the ball sent high sets up a spike opportunity. The girl leaps into the air and smart timing of the A button smashes the ball down to the other side of the court. These hits are harder to return and will be the most used tactic. Precise timing can perform powerful smashes that can actually knock other girls off their feet too.
Spikes aren't the only options available though. Press A by the net when the other team is returning the ball to your side to attempt a block. This can be a useful way to block a spike as it is near impossible to recover from an opponent's successful block. Unfortunately, there's no point trying to use this. The timing is too awkward and pressing B when going for the spike counters it by lightly knocking the ball over them. Even worse is that a block may still fail against a powerful spike.
Control may seem rather awkward at first because the game uses a rather dynamic camera. Instead of one fixed viewpoint the game has a camera that swings from one side of the court to the other, depending on which side the ball is on. Due to this and the angle it tends to use, it can be a bit difficult to get your bearings. Heck, sometimes you can't even see your girl if she's at the backline.
Fortunately, the game compensates for this with some rather generous automatic movement. If your girl isn't exactly in the right spot then she'll move to it automatically when you press to receive the ball. It does backfire occasionally (I've seen Ayane dive for a ball that was going towards Kasumi anyway) but it does work pretty well most of the time.
Of course, you're not playing alone. This is a team game, so working with your partner is of vital importance. Generally speaking, the computer takes control of your partner and does most of her actions automatically. However, you can offer some form of an order with the analogue stick. You can tell her to stay by the net, stay by the backline or move according to your position. Honestly, I found the orders a bit useless. When in the thick of the action it's difficult to remember to change orders to account for your own movement, and the computer responds very accurately to where you are anyway so it's much easier to leave the movement to the computer.
So the play boils down to fast paced button timing. Hammering the buttons won't really work because you'll just end up tossing out a load of weak hits. The aim is to receive the balls and create setups for return strikes. If you like fast paced action then you'll like the flow here.
Winning these matches is the primary method of earning money. Most of the reward cash is determined by the points difference at the end. There is little reward for barely scraping through, but destroying the opposing team with a 7-0 victory earns a massive 150,000 dollars. In addition, the game also offers extra cash through nice plays. Basically, nice plays involve things like hitting a serve perfectly, winning a point with a nice spike or slamming the ball into an opposing team member's face. Money is earned if your partner compliments you for any of these, although she won't say anything if you don't have a good relationship with her.
Unlike Exhibition there's actually a very strong team building concept in this mode. You don't get to just go and pick any girl to partner up with here, as that's a fast way to get rejected. Instead you need to build friendships with the girl you want to partner up with.
So, how do you do this? It's all about the gifts. During your stay you have the option to present gifts to the other girls in the game. This can be the otherwise pointless items from the Zack Of All Trades, accessories or swimsuits. However, spitting out random gifts won't help you. Each girl has her own set of interests. Give her a gift she doesn't like and she'll likely wind up throwing it away and worsening her affection to you.
Gifts can be presented either by meeting girls in different locations on the island or by sending them to their rooms at night, although you can only send one gift to each girl each night. The second option is also the only way to send gifts to whoever is your partner at the time.
This isn't just for getting a partner though. Keeping your partner happy is also important, as her relationship to your girl affects how well she performs. A strong relationship results in a highly skilled partner, but a poor relationship results in a more clumsy partner. Allow her mood to drop enough and she'll leave you.
It's a fairly solid system, as it involves learning what each girl likes and dislikes. However, it is also pretty unkind to those new to the game. A lot of the gifts can be obscure as to who they should go to, and trying to figure out who wants what at the beginning can quickly lead to being left without a partner. Getting Lisa/Tina at the beginning is designed to help with that, but that doesn't last long.
Moods can change rather quickly in this game. Lose matches and forget to gift your partner and you'll wake up one day and find you've been ditched. When new to things this can become rather frustrating, but even without that then it can take a while to get the girl you want to like you enough.
Another issue that sometimes occurs is that your desired partner may not even be around. I've had times when I've been trying to get one girl on my side, only for her to not be around to ask for several days.
When you're not playing volleyball then you can take time out by the pool. You can sort through your items here and see the changes instantly, but there are two other specific options of interest here. Choosing to relax provides a mini-movie with your chosen girl. There's no real point other than to check your girl out though. The other option is to play a hopping mini-game. This is purely about timing button presses to hop across floating platforms in the pool. Successful completion gains some money, although not as much as winning volleyball matches. In addition to being different it is an ideal way to being in some cash when you don't have a partner.
Clicking on one of the court areas when nobody else is there results in a mini-movie with your girl, in much the same way relaxing at the pool does. Again, there's no real point to this other than to look at your girl, but it may interest some people if you're not too worried about an ingame reward.
The last daytime activity to cover would be shopping. There are three shops in the game, although one isn't open right away. Zack of all Trades opens after several days, and is where you can buy various gifts for the other girls. The items there have no other uses though. The sports shop is where you can buy various swimsuits. The selection depends on the chosen girl and the day, but it's fair to say that there is a pretty large collection. Accessory shop sells exactly that - accessories such as hats, shoes and glasses. These can be worn or given as gifts.
When night falls all other island activities cease and you're sent to the hotel. Here you'll receive a gift from Zack, as well as from any girls you have a strong relationship with. Some of the gifts received cannot be bought anywhere, like unique swimsuits or demo videos for other DOA games.
Anyone wanting to test their luck can head on over to the casino for some gambling fun. There are a variety of gambling games to be found here where you can put your money on the line in the hope of big returns.
Poker tends to be the best of these options, since it offers a variety of options and winning combinations. It even includes an extra game of "guess where the joker is" if you get the joker card. Blackjack is a lot more limiting in options but requires some skill in deciding when to take an extra card or not. Playing the slot machines offers you a number of machines (one based on each girl) with different payouts and odds. Roulette is pretty much lacking in actual options and just about placing bets and seeing where the ball lands.
Oh yeah, I'm feeling lucky tonight.
Of course, the problem is that all these rely heavily on luck. There's not much you can do when dealt a bad hand or the ball doesn't fall where you want it. If you're looking for skilful games then you won't find them here.
Sounds wonderful in all, but there is one glaring disappoint - the inability to actual explore the island. Unfortunately, moving around the island doesn't exist. You just pick options from the menu, which then proceeds to load matches or cutscenes or more menus. Being able to actually walk around areas would have been great. There's something unfulfilling about just picking menu options to get around an island.
The lifespan of the game is a difficult one to gauge. The vacation only lasts for fourteen days, but once over the player can start the vacation over with all girls possessing the same items and money they had previously. Unfortunately, this does have the effect of resetting relationships everytime as well.
The biggest issue of all is that the gameplay also doesn't vary that greatly, meaning that if you do tire of the volleyball action then there isn't much to come back for. The problem is that, with the way the game is simplified, the whole volleyball action feels like a mini-game more than the meat of the product. Sure, it's fun, but that fun only lasts so long until you start to wonder if there's anything more to it. An odd water platform game and some casino games isn't enough to distract from the action either.
Despite the obvious marketing tactics this is actually a rather fun, solid game. Unfortunately, it also lacks variety and feels a little awkward in some places. Regardless, DOA:XBV offers up some fast paced action that's easy to get into and enjoyable.
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