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Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Team Ninja
Publisher:  Tecmo
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Sports
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  No
Accessories:  Custom Soundtrack, Dolby Digital, HDTV 480p, Memory Unit
Date Posted: 

7-3-03

I’m sure the less prurient minded among you are sitting there wondering, just what the hell does a standout fighting game series like DOA have to do with volleyball, of all things?  Of course, asking this betrays a short memory.  Back in those halcyon days (a whopping 3 years back, as I recall) before the Xbox’s gorgeous DOA3, and even before the late lamented Dreamcast’s equally standout (for the time) DOA2, there was a tacky little fighting game for the pre-digit suffix PlayStation called Dead or Alive.  While not a bad game in and of itself, there was little to make it stand out among the blockbuster fighters of the day, like the Tekken series, or the many Street Fighter entries…except the prurient interest.  As most gamers know, doubtless through excited whispers in the school halls, by inputting an absurdly advanced “gamer age” in the options prior to the start of gameplay, the virtual girls on display would…well, bounce their assets in time to the fighting (the lower the age, the less bouncy the action).  That’s it.  Really, no kidding.  That was the selling point.

Which takes us to today, with the eagerly awaited (and hot-selling) DOA: Xtreme Volleyball for the Xbox.  But there is a surprise: while the cheesecake factor is not merely evident, but in fact prominent in this bizarre side-entry into the series, the game is not only surprisingly fun and addictive, but in reality, far less sleazy than its (similarly far less amusing) GameCube counterpart, Beach Spikers (!)

Here’s the plot, such as it is:  the girls of DOA wind up on a small island in the Pacific, in answer to a summons to a fighting tournament.  But surprise: there is no such tournament to be held.  How can this be, you ask?  The answer to that doubtless burning question lies with our Dennis Rodman inspired friend, Zack.  (In an ironic nod back, Rodman himself has been tapped to supply Zack’s rather lifeless dialogue, which he does sounding like he just woke up off a bender throughout.  Hollywood pundits please take note: colorful though he may be, this man is no actor.)  Having somehow won the last DOA tournament (oh, really?  How?), Zack has purchased an island for himself, suckering the DOA girls into paying a visit.  What would motivate the man to do such a thing is never stated outright, so we’re stuck with a gaping hole in the game’s plot: they show up, and then find they have nothing whatsoever to do, but shop for clothes and gifts for themselves (and each other) in his 3 shops, play the odds in his casino, lounge about, and of course, play volleyball.  Particularly since you never even see the man standing about ogling the ladies (unless you count one early cinema with Christie), this seems like a rather motiveless gesture; and much less so, given his resorting to trickery to accomplish it.  Given this glaring script deficiency, we’re left with no option but to accept his beneficence at face value.  Wow, isn’t Zack generous?

The controls are simpler than Beach Spikers, and more intuitive.  While the computer may in fact be responding to your skillful combinations of button pressure and joystick movement (see how often you get “nice spike” as compared to the far easier “nice serve”, and you’ll see the truth in that statement), it’s all subtle and below board.  There is no practice mode, as in Beach Spikers, and you aren’t really graded on whether you land the ball in the box, pull short for a fake-out, or just plain slam it over the net, as you were in that earlier variation on the volleyball theme.  Just do your best, and hope to win.

What makes the game amusing, and stand head and shoulders above the competition, isn’t just the pleasant graphics (which, as expected for contemporary entries in the DOA series, are truly state of the art) or the smooth gameplay: it’s in the whole little social world the game postulates, and by whose rules you must abide to succeed.  Without a few wins, you won’t have any money to A. feed yourself, so you don’t suck on the court; B. buy outfits and accessories for yourself, so you have nicer things to ogle at; and C. bribe the girls into being your friends, so you can have somebody on your team.  If you don’t win, you don’t get money.  If you don’t have money, you can’t buy bribes of gifts (and each girl has their own specific likes and dislikes – give them the wrong thing, and you’ll get a message saying they threw it in the ocean).  Without bribes of gifts, nobody will want to play on your team.  And that means you’ll be doing nothing for the full 14 virtual days of gameplay.  While this whole paradigm proves disgustingly shallow and capitalistic, it does have some unfortunate real-world parallels; and if you can get past your initial disbelief at these girls’ utter vanity, it even makes things rather fun, in a tongue in cheek sort of way.  Makes me wonder if this is what it’s like to be a guy, sometimes, in a world full of California-style bimbettes and hip-hop ho’s livin’ and givin’ exclusively for the bling bling…

As noted earlier, DOA:XBV is not just about volleyball: there are a few mini games to keep you from getting too bored with the main theme.  During the day, you can hone your serves and returns, practicing the use of varying button pressure by playing a “hopping game”, using floating pillows to cross the pool.  At night, the girls can go to the casino and take their chances at the slots, blackjack, poker, and roulette.

It’s truly subversive to think that a game so obviously marketed (and accepted) on the basis and level of cheesecake for the guys has a hidden agenda: the use of roleplay to get it’s nigh-exclusive audience of hormonal teenage boys in touch with their inner female.  I mean, if bribing each other with gifts and compliments as a prerequisite for friendship isn’t a girl thing, I don’t know what is…

Highs:

  • Gorgeous graphics.  What did you expect?
  • Far more addictive than it has any right to be.   Even the vapidly peppy top-40 soundtrack really grows on you after a while.
  • Lots of costumes and items to purchase, for yourself and for bribes.  This alone can really keep you playing to see what funky outfit or ensemble you’ll be able to try on next…
  • Far less sleazy than the competition.  While Hitomi and Leifang do “ride the tree branch” in a fairly suggestive manner, this is about as far as that sort of thing goes, and probably represents the single glaring instance of prurience in the game.  So if you’re expecting Beach Spikers’ (as a male friend described it) “erotic” post-game roaming hand embraces, forget it.
  • Less picky scoring and far more intuitive gameplay than the competition

Lows:

  • Dennis Rodman’s phoned in out of bed performance.  Uh, Dennis, as far as your acting career, if you were looking for one, that is…can you say “Brian Bosworth”?
  • Some odd camera angles throw the matches off a bit.
  • Despite what the presence of the “radio station” and it’s little check boxes would seem to indicate, there is no removing irritating songs from the playlist…no matter HOW badly you wanted to get the painful fake-ska of “Reel Big Fish” the hell out of there.  On the plus side, there is a little trick to skip annoying songs with the press of a button (but I’ll let you suffer through their 2 lousy songs a few times before you find yourself scrambling to figure it out for yourself).
  • The inappropriate “mature” rating.  For what, the gambling?  America is wayyyyy too uptight these days…any of you squares out there remember the 70’s? 

Final Verdict: 

Say what you like.  It’s tacky, it’s cheesy, it’s the worst excesses of a capitalist mindset, and like living for the acquisition of goods, rather pointless.  But the one thing you have to admit, despite all the natural aversions of the thinking man (or woman) towards such blatant nonsense as this game represents…it’s fun.  A lot of fun. And I mean, addictive fun.  Go out and get it.  You won’t regret it.  …good God, I just ended on a rhyme.  See what this game will do to you?

Overall Score: 9.0

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