DOAX Beach Volleyball Review
Tecmo had some pretty good success with Dead or Alive 3, which debuted with the launch of the Xbox. It sported a somewhat simplistic fighting system, great graphics, extra costumes for the fighters, and some of the most gorgeous gaming women ever conceived. It was loved or hated specifically because of the women, most of which had large, perfect breasts - the fighting was almost a secondary conversation.
And so it is with Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, an interesting venture for Tecmo. It's rated M (Mature) for the copious amounts of bare skin that is everywhere, and it does have a flash of actual nudity in the game's intro cutscene. But don't let any of this fool you - despite all the bouncing breasts, there is actually a decent game here. It has you going on a sort of vacation with one of the DOA girls, playing volleyball, betting at a casino, and buying presents for the other girls in hopes that you can keep a decent partner for the actual volleyball game.
DOAXBV is one of the first games I've seen that fully integrates the controller's pressure-sensitive into the main form of play. Pressing the buttons at different strengths will give you different shots while out on the court, while you can aim where you want the ball to go with the analog stick. If you want, you can turn off this feature and stick with pressing different buttons for different strengths; it's a nice option to have, especially for the more cheaply-made controllers on the market.
At first, the game's actual volleyball seems very shallow, as there are only two buttons to use, and the right analog stick vaguely controls where you want your partner to be on the court. There are many subtle ways in which the volleyball is actually challenging and deep, though, most of which come out after a couple of hours of play.
One thing that is a little annoying is that the game will automatically set you up for spiking the ball, as your character will automatically jump in order to set up a shot. The camera angle isn't too great for this, though, as it will swing back and forth a little too slowly. Sometimes, your character will be off-screen, in the air ready for a spike, and you won't even know it. The loss of points to things like this gets aggravating after a while. I've heard that if this game is played in Progressive Scan mode on a wide screen HDTV, that this is never a problem, but most players don't have this luxury. Some basic camera controls would have been very helpful in these situations.
Of course, the most important thing to look at here is the actual women of DOAXBV. They look better than ever compared to the previous fighting games of the same name, with smooth animations and tons of stuff to wear. Not all is perfect, though; some of the characters' hair will clip right into their bodies, and the animations don't always smoothly transition together.
The hair is a bit of a nitpick, but the animations are just kind of weird. Any character that stands still for more than a couple of seconds out on the court will go into some sort of idle preening or stretching animation, and some of them just look really awkward for someone who's supposed to be in the middle of a volleyball match. On top of that, they will suddenly pop out of whatever they are doing very abruptly, especially when it actually comes time for them to hit the ball. For a game whose presentation is so close to being immaculate, I figured they would have spent more time on this.
The game has plenty of locations on the island for you to play volleyball at, plus shops to buy accessories in, as well as a mostly-finished casino. The volleyball locations are very well done, with some wide-open spots as well as a jungle-type arena. The casino was a decent effort, but they should have fleshed it out a bit more; you will never see any actual people (no dealers, not even your own character) inside the casino. The best you get are little character portraits and some sound bites while at the roulette table.
So, this is supposed to be a volleyball game, right? Yes and no. While you will probably spend the first couple of hours just exploring the things you can do in the game, you will find that the best way to make money in the game is to play more volleyball. Since actions like lazing around at the pool or courting the other characters (usually in order to get them to partner with you) take up game time, you will probably want to spend most of your time on the court.
Each character does have her own strengths and weaknesses, some of which will not come out until later on in the game when the matches become more challenging. At the same time, certain combinations of characters are better than others - If you are playing a power-oriented character like Hitomi, match her up with someone like Lei Fang who will sit in the back, recover the ball, and feed Hitomi perfect shots to spike.
It's not all volleyball, though; there is a lot of gift-giving and courting in the game, which you will need to do in order to get a specific player to partner with you. There is a huge selection of bikinis (all of which can be seen during the v-ball games) which can be bought for yourself or to give as gifts. There are also hundreds of accessories to wear as well as gifts specifically for wooing the other characters.
This is the area where some players will just plain refuse to participate in this game, as it is a bit "girly". It reminds me of dating games which are very popular in Japan, but are almost unheard of in the States. Here, it's not exactly dating that one is doing, but it's actually pretty close - the difference is one is trying for a better volleyball partner rather than, well, you can probably guess what the goal of a Japanese dating game is.
There are a few ugly parts of the game, though; if you lose your partner (which can happen very suddenly), you will have to court someone else and get her as a partner. If you're out of money, it means you'll have to play a little of the "hopping" game and then hit the casino. The hopping game is one that tests your proficiency with the pressure-sensitive buttons, but it's mainly only a last resort; you make far more money playing volleyball. Still, if you have no partner, you can't play, so it's your only choice. The idea is to get a partner you like and keep giving her gifts so she stays with you.
The game runs over a 14-day stretch; each day is split up into morning, day, and evening segments, which basically translate to an anount of turns for that day. At night, you can play at the casino all you want, check out the items you've collected, and send gifts out. During the day, you can also present gifts to the girls in person, which can help you talk them into becoming your partner later.
What happens when the two weeks is up? You'll get an ending, and then you can restart the two weeks as a different character. After the first time, you are allowed a bit more freedom, and more and more swimsuits (including some very revealing ones) will be available. Any money or items a character had will still have them if you go back again to that same character. How you actually do in the volleyball doesn't seem to have much of an effect on anything, other than that you can win prize money to buy more stuff with.
The game does include the ability to do an exhibition volleyball match, and also allows two players to go at it against each other. It would have been nice to see some cooperative two-player support, or even some four-player action; how hard would it have been to throw these modes in?
Some people are going to hate the elements that give lasting appeal in DOAXBV - namely, the swimsuit/accessory collection, and the relationships with the other characters. Sure, you will receive a few videos, including a trailer for Team NINJA's upcoming action revival of the classic Ninja Gaiden, but these won't last long. The actual volleyball is pretty good, but it can't carry the game completely on its own. I imagine that only the people who dig the sim/dating game elements are going to keep on playing this one after a few days of play.
DOAXBV includes a fairly generous soundtrack of pop and reggae tunes, as well as a few other bits and pieces of music. It's more than what is supplied in most games, but there are definitely a few in here that I just didn't like at all. This game includes support for your own soundtracks, and actually has probably the most complicated playlist system of any Xbox game I've seen so far (not that I have seen them all). You can pick separate tracks - not just separate albums, but separate tracks - and then configure different playlists for the different periods of the day.
Of course, Tecmo forgot to let you change the casino music, and there is only one track allowed for the casino. If you spend any appreciable amount of time in there, that song is going to get annoying quickly. The only solution for this is to quit out of the game and turn the music volume down, then go back into the game - and then quit out and turn the volume back up to get music back. Very annoying.
As was with all other DOA games, the character voices are all done in Japanese with English subtitles. The one exception is for the Zack character, who owns the island that is the setting for the game. He's voiced by basketball star Dennis Rodman, who delivers some terrible lines even worse. It has to be intentionally cheesy, because no serious designer would let his voice acting stay in the game.
All of the volleyball and casino sounds are pretty accurate, although the constant high-pitched Japanese barks might get on your nerves after a little while as well. Apparently, this one was expected, as they included an option to turn down the voices separately from the music or sound effects. Thanks!
DOA: Xtreme Beach Volleyball is a bit of a gamble for Tecmo, as it includes a combination of genres that hasn't really been tried in the US. In essence, it crosses Animal Crossing or Japanese dating sims with a sports game. It's a decent game with some pretty fun volleyball, although only the diehard sim fans are going to keep going after the first few days of play.